Damüls / Mellau
Total lift vert:
Damüls used to be a separate resort from Mellau, with a base station deep in the valleys of Vorarlberg in western Austria. Since this area was connected to the Mellau lifts to the north in 2009, it now forms a much larger area with an additional base in Mellau. In fact it now calls itself Damüs / Mellau / Faschina / Sonntag although the last two areas are disconnected and much smaller.
For a zoomable, scrollable map of the areas, see this online map using Openstreetmap or Opencyclemap.
Main access is via the Rheintal, either from Dornbirn through Schwarzenberg to Mellau or from Feldkirch through Bludesch to Damüs. Given the exhausting waiting time for the lifts at Mellau, some people even continue through Mellau over the pass to Damüs, driving an extra 20 minutes or so just to save time (!).
From Switzerland, the route from Dornbirn is straightforward and doesn't require an Austrian vignette, but traffic can be slow, especially approaching the junction with the L200 traffic from the north. From anywhere south of Dornbirn, you'll probably want the autobahn through Feldkirch to Bludesch (for which you'll need a vignette), and then up from there through Sonntag and Faschina.
There are various different ticket prices depending on which area you want to use. Currently (2012/2013 season), a day ticket for Damüls and Mellau costs EUR 44, for Faschina EUR 33.50, and Sonntag/Stein EUR 32. Or you can of course get 2-day (and longer) tickets covering all four areas.
The Faschina area only has two chairlifts, and the Sonntag area is even smaller, so we'll concentrate here on the main Damüls / Mellau area which is where most of the action is.
If you choose to start the day at Mellau, bring a bag of patience with you. Parking the car is ok, as long as you get there before the car park fills up, but then the queueing starts. Join the queue to get the tickets, and wait... then join the monster queue for the gondola, and wait wait wait.... It's only a small, old, four-person gondola lift, which may have been adequate when there was just the Mellau area to serve, but since they joined up to Damüls it just isn't up to the job for the increased demand. The universally-accepted way to queue is also to continually push the person in front of you, which doesn't make it any less frustrating. If the person in front attempts to shuffle forwards to avoid you pushing them, simply shuffle forwards a little bit and then lean on them again. <sigh>
Once at the top of the gondola, there's a short walk to the unavoidable draglift, which could also benefit from some investment. But then the crowds thin out and most of the lift queues are then pretty good, with just a couple of notable exceptions (the chairlift "Hohes Licht" and the chairlift "Wildgunten"). Most of the lifts are modern and comfortable chairlifts, although the Sunnegg lift is ageing a little. Most of the runs are a nice mixture of reds and blues, with plenty of space to play. Especially under the "Suttis" left above Mellau there is a bunch of black runs, but they're not too steep and not too narrow, and at the time of writing not too icy, so they're actually a pleasure rather than a chore.
There is a small snowpark, advertised on the website as the most amazing thing you've ever seen, but it's not. It's got basically two huge jumps, the bigger of which is far too big for most people, and a random selection of sharp and hard metal objects. But it's got no small- or medium-sized jumps, no banked curves, no gap jumps, rollers or anything else. About the only thing it has got is a short chairlift just to serve the park, which is a step up from the usual T-bar. And it's got deckchairs and music, if you want a break.
Interestingly, and very pleasingly, this whole resort is almost completely devoid of flat spots. Even the home run down to Mellau is not too flat (although it is much too narrow and full of recklessly-speedy traffic). There's just a short stretch at the beginning of the red number 29 from the top of the Wildgunten lift, but you can easily cut off that corner and come back out on the same red run. There's a short tunnel on run number 23 (apparently the only way over to the Mellau side) but it's also not too flat.