Living in Europe, one must not miss out the experience of skiing in the Alps. A mountain range that runs roughly east to west, five countries lay claims to offering a skiing holiday in the Alps. Amongst the myriad of cities that offer a base to enjoy skiing, Innsbruck in Austria is one of the most popular with many Northern Europeans.
Nestled in the mountains of the central part of Austria, this former Winter Olympics venue have many ski grounds. Especially in the height of winter will the crowds appear, despite the bitter cold of the highlands. Most skiers book “half-pension” stays at hotels, chalets or B&Bs. The duration starts from a minimum of 3 days. We stayed a whole week though not skiing everyday.
This novel arrangement is normal all over ski grounds in Europe and provides skiers the convenience of a place for hot meals after a long and cold day in the outdoors. Now skiing is not a cheap sport, so how much did this set us back in the day? For two persons, we paid €818 for 6 nights’ accommodation that came with breakfast and dinner. Flights during the ski season wasn’t cheap and we could only fly Austrian air (came with a transit stop) for almost €700 for the both of us.
And as we got off the plane and walked on the tarmac to the terminal, the sight of a row of wheel chairs greeted us. Folks with casts on leg(s) and arm(s) sat there waiting to be brought up the plane first. Talk about priority passengers! This was not a great motivation for first timers, but guess it made us more determined to come back in one piece. All that aspiration however, did not prevent
Our instructor having a headache
Skiing is not for the faint of heart. You may want to take lessons with an instructor before considering to hit the slope on your own. Lessons can be taken with a group, or you can take lessons with a personal instructor. We opted for the latter. But we came better prepared than that. You see, for weeks prior to this adventure, we had been taking lessons and practicing at an indoor ski pad in Holland.
If one is new, practicing on the “baby slopes” for 2-3 hours will be sufficient to get you started. The key thing to remember is not to lean back when skiing. We spent most of the time at the Axamer Lizum, located about an hour’s drive outside of Innsbruck. While it seems easy, this sport is quite strenuous. By 3pm each day we are usually “bushed”, not least because our knees and thigh muscles were getting close to cramp. With so many ski grounds in the area, ski passes are usually offered to facilitate access to the various grounds.
We started the introductory course with basic skiing techniques. Starting the “baby” slope, we practiced moving about with the skis. It was difficult to maneuver about with the skis – like trying to move about without sliding. Next, we practiced how stop. This we thought was the most important! After all, starting to slide was not difficult if you lean forwards…
You know how as adults it is challenging to learn a new language. And so it was the same with a new sport. But unlike others, this one’s especially hard for those who cannot seem to find balance on the snow. So on and on we tried and fell over. To one point that Suan slid between the legs of the instructor! Well that was probably a first for him (a former British trooper who also wanted to teach skydiving). And after 2 days of instruction, he probably gave up. Fortunately for him we only booked him for that two lessons… so the torture was sort of over.
That was not all. You see, not all lifts were chairs and there was this one where the challenge was to “sit” on what was essentially a T-hook between your butt. And you had to hold onto your skis while grabbing the line which is being pulled up by a motorized pulley. It stopped a few times for us to get back on… but tumbling down ever so often eventually helped us become a little more proficient. We skied up and down the smaller blue line for about 9-10 times, which despite the short distance was tiring too.
But you know, the rewarding thing was the views. With fine weather, one could enjoy the beauty of the mountains as one skied. Wonderful isn’t it? But what we did next
Liquor helped here
Each ground offered a variety of slopes ranging from the beginner (usually colored blue) to intermediate (red) and expert (black). Apart from skiing, you can even try night tobogganing, essentially sliding down a sculpted snow-way. Doing it in the day can be fun, at night its absolutely thrilling!
It all started at about 7pm.
The van came and picked us up. Inside were 8-10 others, all eagerly getting ready for the night’s adventure. They told us not to eat too much as we walked into a tavern in what must had been the top of a slope. And then the beers flowed. Plenty of them too. We must had 3 or 4 glasses by the time the organizers called out us to gather.
First – they gave us the contraption. Nothing more than an elevated slide made from wood that felt rickety. They said: two of you sit on it with your feet stretch out forward. The instruction was to just let the slide go. And to steer, you had a little rope that was tied to the front, with your boots acting as the rudder. For example if you want to bank to the left, step hard on snow with your right foot. And because it was night and there were no lights, someone would be stationed at the sharper bends to warn you which way to steer…
5km. That was how long the entire course was. It was filled with bends and near twists; some where the lookout would shout really loud “LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT….”. Because when you look upon the course in the day, you would not even want to ski down it. For when we sled down, it felt like we achieved “sonic” speed…
Too tired to Ski anymore?
Of course not all is about skiing when it comes to a journey we make. There are numerous places to visit for great views such as Patschkotel – which is also a ski ground cum resort. From the side of the mountain, a commanding view of Innsbruck can be had. Near the town of Igls, we went up with a group of skiers plus a bunch of Americans, a few of whom were wearing sandals… hmmm
There is even a zoo that is open in winter at Hungerburg. Many alpine animals are exhibited – hence showing them in the elements they were built for. Unfortunately it was shrouded with mist on the day we visited. Not much to see when we got further up to Seegrube and Korelles (~7000 feet).
But for us cultural buffs, Ambras castle located just outside of the city was definitely a draw. Snow covered, it looked so lovely. The interior was beautiful too, replete with artifact and an armory filled with what the knights of medieval times would have donned. It is not guided and in winter seems to have no guardians around. So it was a free for all to explore on our own.
Of course Innsbruck itself is a magnificent city to explore in itself. We took a nice stroll along the Inn river, where the multi-colored houses made for such a pretty sight. It must be spectacular here in summer too! With our hotel near the old town area, it was a short walk every evening when our legs could still carry us.
Many people enjoy this sport and ski every single day of the week they are on such a holiday. But clearly we were bushed after just 3 days. One thing about traveling in winter is that many of the museums could be closed or open really late (and close early). Our time in the Habsburgs’ winter solace was very fruitful, albeit extremely exhausting. But we came back without a cast.
This journey down the slopes took place in March 2004