Monday, January 29, 2007

First Snow, First Ski - St Anton, Austria

Last week Mark and I flew out of London for our first ever trip to the snow to ski, well to attempt to learn to ski, and to see snow - for the first time!!! We had been planning it for a while with my friend Charlotte from work and Danni (who could not come along in the end) and we were very excited.

The final crew was Charlotte, her boyfriend Kris, his best friend Aleks and his girlfriend Skye. Charlotte is an expert skier (having followed the snow for the past 8 years) as is Skye, though Kris, Aleks and Charlotte were all snowboarding for the trip - then there was us, little beginners with no skiing experience at all. When we arrived we saw snow for the first time and that was just a thrill already, even better when we saw it in broad daylight the next day - just sooo pretty.

We all met at Victoria station, took the train to Gatwick then after checking and having a drink in the bar we boarded our 1 hour charter flight to Friedrichshafen in Germany. The flight wasn't very long but since it was around 4pm and still light, we could see where we were and we flew over Stuttgart in Germany, along with some really pretty countryside. Germany is lovely from the air, they are quite a green country, like Austria, and take pride in protecting the environment with lots of green clumps of pine forests all around their farmland areas.

Friedrichshafen is a tiny modern airport (think Canberra but sooo much nicer) that links to quite a few of the surrounding ski resorts, including St Moritz. Our ski company, SkiVal, then put us all in buses to take us on our hour ride up to St Anton, to the mountains and to the snow.

On the way up we first glimpsed snow on the ground at a petrol station, and then when we finally arrived at St Anton the whole town was covered in snow. It wouldn't have been more lovely, unless it was actually snowing at the time.

On the first 2 days, we both signed up for beginners skiing lessons and we nearly missed the first day, as we were still on London time, when Austria is 1 hour ahead. It was a mad stressful rush, especially since I had never worn ski boots before, let alone have to try to run in them to get to the lesson, that and carry ski's, whilst being super rugged up from the cold. Good thing our brilliant chalet was only a 2 minute walk (in normal shoes though) to the lift and ski school.

That was a great couple of days, learning how to stand in skis, put them on, walk around in them, ski with and without poles. It was all so new and skiing is such hard work. It goes against everything you'd think of being on the side of a mountain, for instance you have to lean down the mountain. Now I don't know how many of you have skied before, but if your standing on a hill and you start to fall, you are not going to lean down towards the bottom of the hill. Well you see that is exactly what you do when you ski, and the sooner you get this the easier it is.

By the 3rd day, we figured it was time to have a try at skiing by ourselves, as our instructor had said we'd only continue to learn the same techniques staying in his group. We had a few goes on the learner slope, which was up a little button lift (you basically hold on to a pole with what looks like a big button on the end of it). However, Mark had really sore shins (turned out he needed to change his boots) and as it was such a gorgeous, bright sunny day we decided to do a little bit of tourist work and rest our weary legs.

We took 3 lifts up, first the brand new (only opened this season) Galzig gondala lift, then the Valluga cable car style lift (scary right between two mountains and they just jam people in) then up further still on a tiny little 3 person gondala. We went all the way to the top, 2,811m up, up and up, where the mountains are just an endless ocean of icecream cones and the snow is like fluffy soft cotton balls to the touch, so now I know why they call it powder. It was so pretty and so cold. I took so many pictures as I just thought it looked so stunning, so cold, soothing and peaceful.

That night we all went out to a bar called the Funky Chicken with a couple of guys from the chalet too, Charlotte and Alex (they are a couple and they were working together at our Chalet for the season), was quite good, really busy and there was a queue to get in (crazy people it was so cold) when we left around midnight. All the chalet staff have days off on Thursday, so Charlotte and Alex stayed out for a late one.

On the next day we went up to the town of Lech to try skiing up there as we were told the runs were nice with lots of fresh snow. Lech is one of the hang outs for the rich and famous, so there were lots of ladies going about in posh matching ski outfits. It was very pretty.

Lech was where Mark and I first attempted a proper ski run, and let me tell you it was soo scary. Charlotte was helping us for a bit, which was great as i seriously would not have made it to the bottom if she hadn't have, though I really don't think we were quite ready regardless. I just couldn't get over the steepness, and when you ski to an edge and you have to creep up right to very edge before you can see the slope below, its pretty scary.

However, we made it to the bottom - in about 2 hours - which is really quite crap, but you gotta learn somehow. We had lunch in a cute little pub near the bottom with lovely views over Lech. We should have left it at that and started apres ski (drinks after skiing) earlier, but we thought we should go and have a practice on some nursery slopes.

What a nightmare that was, they were out of the way and hard to get to, then when we got up there it was super icy snow, really crusty on top, but really deep. This basically means hard to ski on and damn near impossible to walk down as you sink with snow up to your knees. So I nearly got stuck up there. However, when I saw a stream of 5 year olds in ski school come past me, I decided that I was going to get down and somehow (I seem to have blocked that memory from my head) I did. Was such an exhausting day!!

That night Mark and I went out to dinner on our own at a great little place called Hax'n Stubn and the food was lovely. Very authentic Austrian.

The next day was Friday and guess what it snowed. Yippee. I was in the chalets dinning room having breakfast and promptly ran outside to stand in the snow. Hey what can I say, I am a crazy Australian who'd never seen snow before and Mark came out with me. That day we had a bit of a practice on quite a nice little nursery slope, to get our confidence up - very important in skiing.

We met up with "Chalet Charlotte" for lunch and then headed up to do a couple of blue runs on Galzig, she is a beginner, but she has done some of those runs before so it was nice to go with someone who was learning too. It was snowing while we were doing the runs and it was just so cold, very windy too, I took my gloves off for a few minutes and could feel frost bite attempting to kick in, but it clearly shows the ski gear and gloves do actually make a massive difference.

We did 2 runs up there, the first one was quite short, but took us about 45 minutes. Then the next one took us from Galzig right back down to Nasserein, which is the run lift right back by our chalet. It took us a couple of hours and it was quite varied, hard to start with, but there were some easier bits too. The worst bit was where the run crossed over and was part of a red run, annoying as it didn't look to be the case on the map.

This would have been fine (its a mental thing), but it was so moggolly (ski term for bumpy, not sure on the spelling). This mainly because it was towards the end of the day and with all the higher slopes closed due to really windy weather, everyone was using the lower slopes. So the snow had taken a severe beating and was really slushy and lumpy. We had fun though, despite the fact that at some point that day I landed really hard and ended up with a bruise the size of my hand on my leg. Ouch.

Mark and I had a private lesson on Saturday morning, as we thought it would help to consolidate what we had learnt and I just needed to get my head around the techniques. Mark is not heaps better than me, but he was more confident so found it easier to get down than i did. The lesson was great, we went up to one of the higher runs called Kapall with the instructor, so he could get a feel for where we were at and he gave me loads of tips. Main one that worked for me was to say over and over in my head "down the mountain, down the mountain". It just a crazy concept, but you know what it worked.

After our lesson we did that same run again during which I narrowly avoided serious injury by a runaway snowboard (so dangerous) and then we went to try one of the runs we had done on the Friday. We did it in 15 minutes this time as opposed to the original 45 minutes. I was well impressed with my efforts. Next we took a lift from there and skied down to the next town across the mountain St Christoph. That was a great run and I was soo much happier after that - we rewarded ourselves with some sour apple shnapps for apres ski!!!

The next morning was our last day, with us leaving just after lunchtime, but we wanted to do a bit more skiing. It was hard to get up as it had been a long week and the night before we were up late playing cards and drinking more schnapps. We decided we'd do one more run and did the No. 1 run down so that we could stop at the Krazy Kangaruh bar for a hot chocolate on the way down.

That was all we had time for and by 1pm we were saying goodbye to the guys at the chalet and boarding our transfer bus to go back down the mountain to Friedrichshafen for our short flight back to London.

We had a great time, despite the aches, pains and bruises. Skiing is such hard work, but we got back and we were both keen to go again - maybe in France next time.

Gampen - Lisa and Mark
First night, first snow ball (or rather ice ball)
Our chalet - Reselehof (built in 1400's)
Mark first day ski lunch - Sonegg Cafe
Mark Skiing Day 1
Lisa skiing - Day 2
St Christoph from the slopes
Gampen Deck chairs

Skiing with Charlotte
On run 36 at Lech
Mark and Lisa on run 24
View to Valluga cable car (tiny dot)
Lisa up at Valluga
Valluga view
The Krazy Kangaruh Bar from the lift
A carriage in Lech, fancy travel
View from lunch at Lech
Lech river
Mark after epic ski run in Lech

View down to St Anton
Gampen Lodge
Little children skiers, all better than me
All farewells :-)

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