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History

(Skiing)history of a holiday resort

The history of Arlberg and Zürs goes back a long way, probably beginning more than 1,000 years ago. A transit route skirted the region very early on, which was then developed into a relatively safe road in the 14th century. At around the same time the route was paved, mountain farmers settled on the alpine heights, despite more often than not being cut off from the outside world. In the late 19th century, the farmers increasingly used wooden planks to traverse the frequently deep snow-covered landscape. This was the birth of skiing and a growing number of leisure enthusiasts were encouraged to follow in the same footsteps. The first lodgings then appeared as did the first ski courses. Zürs and Arlberg are consequently deemed the cradle of alpine skiing.

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In 1846, writings mentioned the inn “Gasthof Zürsch”. After closing for some time, the inn opened its doors again in 1906 under the name “Edelweiss”.

In 1897 the Vonbank family from the Vorarlberg region received an annual payment of 200 gulden for keeping the Alpenrose inn open the whole year round for tourists.

1884 saw Emperor Franz Josef I open the Arlbergbahn, the railway connection from Bludenz in Vorarlberg through the Arlberg railway tunnel to Landeck in Tyrol via Langen. From Langen, passengers were transported onwards to Stuben am Arlberg, Zürs and Lech by horse-drawn sled. This comfortable transport link attracted an increasing number of holidaymakers to Arlberg, together with a growing number of aficionados of what was initially deemed a very odd sport indeed - skiing.

Construction of the Flexen road (1895–1897) saw larger numbers of holidaymakers hiking and driving up to Zürs to experience the newly discovered sport of skiing. Before the Flexen road was built, the municipalities of Lech, Warth and Zürs am Arlberg were practically inaccessible during winter due to the massive amount of snow frequently blocking the roads not to mention the ever-present danger of avalanches. Those who still braved the way usually needed more than two hours to get from Langen railway station to Lech. Literally blown out of the rock, only with the advent of the new Flexen road was a safe passage created from Stuben to Lech via Zürs.

On 5/6 January 1904, the first ski race in the Alps took place on the Arlberg massif, quite without ski lifts or even groomed pistes. The course of the race ran from Ulmer Hut over the Schindlerferner to Arlensattel, then up the Galzig, from there down to St. Christoph and ultimately on to St. Anton in Tyrol. 

The first ski course for locals was organised in 1906 by the skiing pioneer Viktor Sohm (* 1869; † 1960) from Bregenz. Further pioneers from the Lake Constance region also increasingly began to identify Arlberg and the area around the Flexen Pass as a ski venue.

Organised tourism from winter 1923/24 onwards saw Zürs boom. Albert Mathies established Zürs Ski School and the first group-based ski course was offered to guests. Zürs local Ernst Skardarasy was even invited to Australia in 1934 to give ski lessons.

Between 1923 and 1931 more hotels and guesthouses were built in Zürs. By 1938, Zürs was already offering 500 beds for guests.

The first drag lift in Austria was erected on a beginner slope in Zürs in 1937. In cooperation with Emil Doppelmayr, Sepp Bildstein designed and built the first drag lift for skiers. This innovative technical milestone impressed skiers from the word go and, despite the onset of the Second World War, a second drag lift was constructed on the Schlegelkopf in Lech. A more Intensive development of the Lech Zürs ski area with chair lifts began in the 1950s.

1951 saw the start of lift operations on the Kriegerhorn.

In 1957, the Rüfikopf gondola lift was put into operation and created a ski link between Lech and Zürs. This new lift facility also heralded the creation of the renowned ski circuit The White Ring’, which runs through Lech, Zürs, Zug and Oberlech.

2016 will see the larger Arlberg circuit linked up. Just before Christmas, the newly built Flexen lift will be put into operation to form a direct link between Zürs and Stuben/Rauz. This will create the largest interconnected ski area in Austria and one of the biggest worldwide.