Sparkling snow, pine tree tunnels and glimpses of blue sky awaited me on the Verwall Trail in Sankt Anton am Arlberg, Austria. St. Anton is known around the world for its lively apres ski scene. But I was delighted to discover that the town is home to a large network of walking and cross-country skiing trails that snake through its corner of the Austrian Alps in the state of Tyrol.
I was staying at the Karl Schranz Hotel, a lovely inn owned by the famous Austrian Apline skier. If I’d never heard of Schranz before I reached Austria, townsfolk made certain I left knowing of his World Championship titles. But I’m no Alpine skier. So I was excited to see what else the Austrian Alps had to offer.
But I cursed silently to myself when I discovered that I’d forgotten to pack my Yaktrax, traction devices that slip onto shoes for running on snow and ice. But that wasn’t going to stop me from getting in at least one trail run in this winter wonderland. Luckily, there was a trail close to my hotel.
About a quarter of a mile up a steep road was the beginning of the Verwall Trail that winds through Verwall Valley. I knew I’d found the trailhead when I found this sign: Loipen und Winterwanderwege, which translates ski trails and winter trails.
The loipen or cross-country ski trails, with their own magnificent entrance, ran beside the walking and running trails.
The cross-country ski trails are built both for the classic style, with two perfectly machine made tracks, and for the free skating style, with a patch of snow between the tracks. I’d been cross-country skiing on a different trail just a few days earlier.
I set out on the pedestrian trail beside the ski trail.
The “Everything Besides Skiing” brochure published by the town’s tourism office promised panoramic views on this particular trail.
“The walk can easily become a highlight of your winter holiday,” the brochure read. It certainly was.
I snapped a selfie early in the run when I came to a clearing.
Much of the trail ran through dense trees, curving and dipping along the mountainside.
At one point, I came across the area’s helipad.
On my first day on the mountain, I saw a helicopter rescue while I was snowshoeing. My friend and I were trudging along when a huge wind started whipping up the snow around us. We saw the helicopter lower rescuers via a long cable, secure a skier onto a board, and lift them all up. The helicopter flew away with them all still dangling by the cable.
Now, I’d discovered where the helicopter called home.
As beautiful as the trail was, it was quite slippery. I was able to run for the most part, but only with teeny, tiny Geisha-like steps. I almost wiped out a few times. There were a few steeper downhill sections where I had to walk. I also had to dive into knee-deep snow to make room for a plow that was clearing the trail. But it was worth the effort for views like this.
I passed a few other walkers, but no runners. And all mentions of these trails in the tourist brochures only mentioned walking or snowshoeing. It seems that people don’t come to Austria to run, which is a shame. It would be a gorgeous place to train.
A few cross-country skiers zipped by me when our trails were parallel. But mostly, I enjoyed the total quiet and solitude of the trail run. I didn’t bring any music. I just took in the scenery.
And paused for a few selfies.
It might look awfully snowy, but the weather felt quite warm, hovering around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit. And yes, after the winter we’ve had in New York City, that is warm.
After 40 minutes, I turned around and headed back to the hotel, for an 80 minute outing all together. Though I wasn’t able to run fast, it was incredibly invigorating to run in such a beautiful environment and on such a well-maintained trail. It definitely beats dodging taxis and tourists, like I do on most of my runs in New York City.
But next time, I’ll be sure to remember my Yaktrax.