Winter has arrived in the Alps, which means it’s the season of checking snow reports to spot an incoming dump of powder. For many of us, the times of being able to carve seven days out of a busy winter schedule are over. And variable snow conditions mean that it pays to be able to react quickly to new snowfall.
This is the era of the short break, so ski resorts that are easy to travel to, close to the local airport and offer good accommodation, right next to the gondolas, are primo. Time your travel right and you can hit the slopes as soon as you arrive, squeezing 2-3 days of leg-shredding piste bashing, off piste or park into a single long weekend.
The South Tyrolean resort of St Johann, Austria is close to the local Salzburg airport with its direct flights from London, so RSNG travelled there to see how you can get the most out of a long weekend, and to review the latest kit from Burton Snowboards...
1. Time Your Arrival
Salzburg airport is just a 40-minute taxi transfer away from St Johann, which means you can travel with your snowboard or skis, drop your luggage at your hotel and then head straight out on arrival to squeeze the maximum snow time out of your mini break.
RSNG stayed at Verwohnhotel Berghof, which is located directly opposite the Alpendorf gondola up to the mountain, which also has a ski rental shop in case your gear needs any attention before you head up. This also meant I didn’t have to take a single ski bus.
2. Storm The Pistes
St Johann’s attached ski area is Snow Space Salzburg with its 120km of well-groomed pistes, covering three resorts (St Johann, Flachau and Wagrain.) The pistes have a rewarding variety of terrain, from wide open motorways to drops through the trees, and they never felt too busy and didn’t degrade into mogul fields by the end of the day. The gnarly faces of steep alpine peaks rise all around, creating a truly adventurous atmosphere. There are 81km of red runs so you can really put the hammer down and cover a lot of ground in a day.
I used the fast, G-Link gondola to cross the valley over the town of Wagrain, cutting out the old ski bus transfer. In fact, Snow Space Salzburg is also connected to the humongous Ski Amade area (with its 760km of pistes), which can be included in a single lift pass. Using this link meant I managed to ride 38km of pistes in a single day, not bad on a snowboard! Using a guide – in this case the amazing Jule Jenfeldt – means you can avoid wasting time and get the most out of a quick trip.
‘Ranks of icy pyramids march off into the distance as the sun beats down out of a true-blue sky’
3. Hike To The Top
The Alps are a serious mountain range. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you’re on a ski slope because you’re up at 2,000m above sea level surrounded by the kind of knife-edged ridges and pointed summits that would place you in a survival situation without the assistance of ski lifts and piste-bashers.
Charging the pistes is made just so damn convenient that it’s easy to forget the wildness of these places. Sometimes it pays to remind yourself, so we aim for the Topliner charlift which takes you up to the highest point in all of the Snow Space ski area.
Once there you can, assuming the conditions are safe, head off the piste and hike up to the large wooden cross marking the summit of the mountain. Hauling my snowboard up there is heavy going in the snow but the view from the top is jaw-dropping. Ranks of icy pyramids march off into the distance as the sun beats down out of a true-blue sky. It feels like you are standing on the roof of the world.
4. Practice Your Carving Skills
The slopes here are immaculately groomed and the lack of traffic means that you can really put your carving skills into practice. Take a quick look at the piste map and the colour that leaps out is red. In fact, there are 85km of red, intermediate slopes, a handful of blacks and the rest blues (90% are red or blue.)
This is because the terrain here is kind, but fun – long, wide turns combine with tree-lined straights and regular knuckles that you can use to boost up into the air (if you’re managing to keep things together and the coast is clear.)
These are the kind of fun, exciting pistes that invite you to charge them and carve for days. I lost count of the number of times my fingertips were grazing the slope as I carved up a tail of chopped snow behind me! Of course, it pays to have the right board…
5. Test Out This Winter’s Kit
Snowsports tech is always evolving and the start of the season is a great time to hire the latest skis and snowboards from the big brands. In St Johann the shop to visit for snowboarders is More Boards – they have a wide range and some some amazing service – the owner sorted a binding mounting issue for me for free! RSNG demoed a high-performance board and bindings combo from Burton – scroll to the bottom to read our 2-minute review...
6. Keep A Lookout
One of St Johann’s more unusual features is the massive, multi-story lookout tower that has been built right on the slopes next to the Buchau gondola lift, for the express purpose of you being able to climb it and nail that perfect panorama shot of the resort.
They had to drag a crane up here to build it, and used helicopters to drop off its massive girders. It’s often snow and ice-encrusted making it look like the telecoms tower at some secret military base…
7. Hit The Apres
It may be a smaller, less busy resort than Myerhofen but St Johann can hold its own in the apres ski stakes - this is Austria after all, where dancing on tables post-ski is pretty much mandatory.
I headed for the wooden-beamed, intimate but very rustic apres ski venue of Tennen for some well-earned refreshments – not only does this cosy venue’s DJ crank out all of the Austrian classics (with their bizarre references to Nicky Lauda and what sounds like Jonny Depp) but it’s a favourite with the local ski schools, so you can get the inside track on everything St Johann.
‘Alternating between the 90°C sauna and the icy plunge pool leaves me feeling completely rejuvenated’
8. Don’t Forget To Sauna
In all the excitement it can be easy to forget to relax, but make sure you take advantage of your hotel’s sauna. Most Austrian hotels have them – sauna culture is taken seriously here.
My hotel, Verwohnhotel Berghof, has a full [wellness suite and spa](https://www.hotel-berghof.com/en/hi5/wellness/world-of-vitality.html_ with multiple saunas, steam room, plunge pool and swimming pool. After a long day attacking the pistes I head down to alternate between sweating it out in the 90°C sauna and dipping into the plunge pool with handfuls of ice – something about the dramatic switches between hot and cold leaves you completely rejuvenated and relaxed.
I’m not sure the science supports it, but the next day my thighs definitely feel less hammered than they should have done. It’s just as well because I feel like carving the pistes again…
THE RSNG 2-MINUTE REVIEW:
Burton Custom X Flying V snowboard
Taking its heritage from the Burton Custom, developed in 1996 to be the most versatile snowboard, the Custom X Flying V packs every next-gen piece of tech the company has into one high-performance package, aimed at all-mountain and powder riding...
What we liked: This is a seriously hard-charging snowboard, with camber over your feet to hold an aggressive edge. But the addition of the ‘Flying V’ rocker in between your feet mellows this out enough to allow some float, gifting you a bit more leeway.
This came in very handy when I was speeding down a blue run, which was flattening out and getting a bit laggy with slushy snow – I felt the edge grab at the slush, but with a little shimmy the V floated on through, saving my ass from an embarrassing slam to flat.
I found riding switch to be easy with the twin-flex tech in this board, and it has plenty of pop for loading up either end.
It’s the kind of board that just asks to be unleashed – leaning back to pick up speed feels like flooring a Tesla! And the confidence that the Flying V gives you means you can get a little loose without eating it – ideal for intermediates looking to advance...
What we didn’t like: In this case, nothing!
Burton Genesis X Re:Flex bindings
An aggressive all-mountain binding for riders who want instant feedback and control, without sacrificing comfort...
What we liked: It makes sense to pair an aggressive board with stiff bindings, but no one likes to be uncomfortable. These bindings claim to solve that with their reactive carbon fibre-injected baseplate and zero-forward lean hi-back. What I can say is that I didn’t feel like I needed any more control from the bindings and the fatigue in my legs came from covering massive amounts of terrain in one day, rather than any compensation for the stiffness.
What we didn’t like: I have never really found a Burton boot that suits my foot shape, and I had trouble getting the toe straps of these bindings to play nice with the toe box of my Thirty Two boots – that’s not really a surprise though, and RSNG would recommend you match bindings and boot brands. They’re simply designed for each other.
WHAT NEXT? Want to know why Japan’s Hokkaido is the holy grail for powder snow hunters? Read RSNG’s destination guide now…
Photos: by Matt Ray @The_Adventure_Fella and Snow Space Salzburg.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.