St Anton, Austria: High Ropes in the Arlberg
Learning the ropes in St. Anton, Austria. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
By Ed Wetschler
"St. Anton is more sporty than Lech," a local told me. "Lech has charm, but we have more demanding ski terrain that attracts a younger crowd."
Good point, one that helps explain why St. Anton has more late-night bars than Lech, to the west. Still, I might have replied that St. Anton, with its house museum and traditional hotels, has plenty of charm, too. Or that St. Anton's fast railroad connection with the Zurich airport is more charming than any dirndl.
But I wasn't there to sell St. Anton to locals. I was there to test myself on the high ropes course, one of many activities that make summer in the Austrian Alps such a splendid season.
Judgment day began with a three-mile guided hike on wide, easy paths through the Rosanna Gorge, following the river upsteam. Along the way we passed fir trees, trout-filled rapids, and a salamander as black as a Goth teen's hair.
I had a flash of self-doubt when I saw the high ropes course. Designed by a couple of mountain guides, it's an obstacle course suspended in trees about 20 feet off the ground. Logs, trapezes, rope slings, and other devilish things hang between eight trees, and the challenge is to get from A to B and eventually to H without embarrassing yourself too badly.
High Ropes Basics
Two guides greeted us, tall Harry and not-so-tall Ollie, who was separated at birth from Austin Powers. They gave us helmets, which made us look like dorks, but that's what helmets do. They fitted us into safety harnesses — good ones that could catch your weight without wreaking havoc on your love life. Then they showed us how to clip and unclip the harnesses to safety lines as we moved from tree to tree.
Testing your mettle in the Arlberg. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
We started with a warm-up, crossing a 15-foot log suspended between two trees just 5 feet off the ground. One young man from Atlanta made it across without ever grabbing the safety line. This looks easy, I thought, but later, when we walked a log connecting two trees almost 30 feet off the ground, it sure got harder faster. And even that was not as hard as walking across the third log — this one, hanging from ropes instead of being connected to the trees.
High Ropes Rules
By then, though, I'd figured out three axioms:
1. If your arms are strong, you can cheat on this course by hanging onto the harness line with one hand, sort of chinning your way from tree to blessed tree.
2. After putting my left foot on a trapeze and noting, in terror, that it zagged up and away to my left, I was reminded that the most important thing on trapezes, beams, ropes, and such is to keep your feet and your weight centered. Sounds obvious, but saying it and doing it are different.
3. Halfway through, you forget you're way up high, where you don't belong. It dawns on you that the life of a squirrel is reasonable.
The Joy of Bauerngrostl
Finally, one by one, each of us grabbed something that looked like a chinning bar and held tight, trying not to scream too very much while zip-lining down to and across a brook, then back across the brook, then forward, and then back again until the pendulum stopped a few feet above terra firma.
For lunch that day we stopped at Senn's WunderWanderweg, a restaurant-garden-nature walk place in the hills above St. Anton, where we tucked into a Tiroler Bauerngrostl — a traditional meal containing heroic quantities of potatoes, butter, eggs, bacon, wurst, and cheese. I'm sure this dish sells a lot of Lipitor, but with the high ropes course behind me, I ate it and I enjoyed it. All of it.
St. Anton in summer.
Visiting St. Anton
As mentioned, a train from Zurich stops right in St. Anton. Can't beat that.
I stayed at the Skihotel Galzig, which is modern, not quaint, but there's a lot to love here: Double rooms in summer start at just $120. My room had a huge bathroom with one smoked glass wall, so it was bright and cheerful, and the bedroom was a big, clean space with one glass wall and a curtain; think Frank Lloyd Wright, only comfortable. The balcony looked out on traditional, alpine buildings so you knew you were in the Arlberg, and the people at the front desk could not have been kinder.
For more information on the high ropes course (and St. Anton's sprawling new fitness center), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a classic day hike in the Arlberg, read a story on Lech.
Visit the St. Anton tourism office at http://www.stantonamarlberg.com. Visit the Austrian Tourist Office or call 212-944-6880.