Mad River Glen, USA
When the bad weather came to Paris, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway left for where the rain came down as snow, sifting through the pines and covering the roads and high passes. They took the train from Gare de l’Est to Switzerland and continued to Austria, where they spent the winter in the little mountain village of Schruns. There, Ernest wrote, Hadley played the piano, and they skied as much as possible. The Montafon Valley, in the country’s mountainous western tongue of Vorarlberg, had plenty of snow and sunshine. They could hear the snow creak as they walked home at night in the cold with their skis on their shoulders, watching the lights of town approach until their beloved Hotel Taube appeared with its big windows and beds.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway was Austria’s first American ski bum. In his book A Moveable Feast, he describes Montafon as a place for the brave, courageous, and dedicated. A place of surpassing authenticity. And that this was the way skiing life should be. Amazingly, little has changed there.
If you haven’t heard of Montafon, you’re not alone. Continued skiers diverting toward the better-known pistes and raging nightlife of Ischgl and St. Anton have preserved the area’s considerable charm. Not a resort per se, Montafon’s ski areas of Gargellen, Golm and Silvretta Montafon (an amalgamation of Silvretta Nova and Hochjoch) are nevertheless seen as one by in-the-know skiers. With a modest 220 km of varied pistes, it’s outside this marked terrain that Montafon truly shines, hoarding powder days after a storm: hike the ridge toward Zamangspitze or Silbertal at Hochjoch; ride the Rinderhütte chair towards Novatal at Silvretta Nova; or try Gargellen’s freeride-fantasy Nidla face. There’s even a pillow field tucked away in the trees near Hochjoch’s Garfrescha.
Ski-touring here is also well served, with opportunity aplenty in an area averaging 10 metres of snow annually—one of Europe’s best records. Classics include the Madrisa Rundtour from Gargellen to Klosters in Switzerland and back, with its long downhills and epic scenery, or the Silvretta-Bielerhöhe, Vorarlberg’s largest ski touring area with access to the 3,312 metres Piz Buin (which is the peak of the famed sunscreen) and some of the most superior huts in this part of the Alps.
The contrast between Silvretta-Montafon and Gargellen is stark: where the former balloons with 180 km of pistes, super-modern lifts and various valley-bottom base stations, Gargellen remains a charming village and compact ski area set at altitude. The valley’s intersection of occasional modernity and coddled posterity is best understood here. Open-sided stables and sagging restaurants (none of which accept credit cards) recall the medieval winterscape of Brueghel’s The Hunters in the Snow—reinforced by the smell of manure.
It may be a backwater, but the region isn’t lacking food options. Schafberg Hüsli on Gargellen features a sun terrace with views over Rätikon and Silvretta mountains; try the Käsespätzle and homemade Apfelstrudel. In Schruns, Litz-Stöbli beneath Hotel Litz is cozy and genuine with wood furniture, great burgers and excellent schnitzel; Gasthaus zum Kreuz serves fondues, raclettes and seasonal game like Hasenpfeffer (hare stew)—Hemingway’s favourite when he ate here. Après-ski isn’t much of a thing in Montafon, but Ganda Keller in Gargellen can be fun, ditto Ur Monti in Schruns. And, if you can find it, tucked in a valley off Hochjoch is the world’s smallest après bar; inside a retired school bus, you can almost imagine Hemingway holding court in a corner, a glass of kirsch in hand.