Last year, Diane and I got our first taste of the week-long skiing holiday, and it wasn't a secret that we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. So we were excited about returning to the Austrian mountains for another go. Extensive ski terrain, weiss beer, mulled wine, apres ski, schnitzel, and four course gourmet meals awaited us! We departed Dublin early in the morning on January 15th on Austrian airlines. Like last year, there was free food and drinks on our three hour flight to Innsbruck airport. We were greeted by our ski rep there, who introduced us to our driver: a profusely apologetic gentleman who arrived late in a too-small vehicle to fit the five of us who were going to St Anton. He was very friendly, and we squished our group into the little car for the one-hour transfer to the resort.
We arrived at the resort with plenty of time to sort out picking up our lift tickets and ski rentals. We could hit the hill first thing the next morning! So after sorting all that out, our group of 5 (Jay, Bryce, Jeremy, and Diane and I) hit the pub to kick off our trip! A few weiss beer later we stumbled back up to our hotel for our first dinner of the trip. The three others were staying in a hotel in the town center, but it had filled up before we booked so we ended up in a hotel that was a 15 minute walk up a steep hill. The hotel was lovely, just not the most convenient place to get to every evening after hanging in town. Fortunately, the hotel had a deal with one of the rental shops where we could store our gear, so a few walks up and down the hill was actually just good exercise rather than painful at the end of a long day of skiing.
The first full day there was a gorgeous sunny day -- which was just a tad too warm even for skiing. The temperature in town was something like 7-8 degrees, with the temperature higher up the mountain still above zero. One of the immediately apparent things that differed from our trip to Mayrhofen was that the bottom of the actual skiing terrain was the town. That meant that there wasn't a giant gondola queue both first thing in the morning and last thing on the way down, and it made for a more pleasant experience. Speaking of queues ... we didn't wait in one longer than about 5minutes for the whole week, and there were no queues to speak of at most of the lifts. It was a remarkably smooth operation with an incredible 85 gondolas and lifts - many being high speed quads or better!
Our week there coincided with Interski, which is a conference of ski instructors that only happens every four years. So our first day there we quite enjoyed seeing the various teams walking or skiing in matching bright coloured jackets of their respective countries. Of particular note was the Finnish blue jackets that were *everywhere*. Contingents from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Romania, Norway, Japan, Korea, and Montenegro were just some of the flashy teams we saw. Canada had a team there, we understand, but we didn't actually see any of them on the parts of the hill we were on during the week. Our second night there marked the opening ceremonies so we headed down to see a bunch of cool synchronized skiing demonstrations and were treated to a lengthy fireworks display.
The second day of skiing took us up, in particular, Schindler's Spitze which reaches 2660m elevation. This peak is accessible using one of the few triple chairs on the mountain, and featured a trippy moment when you go over a local maximum in the mountain and the left side right underneath your chair cuts away to a several hundred meter drop. The view from that peak was incredible (as you can see in the picture above), and the skiing was pretty good too (although a bit icy). We met for lunch with everyone at the top of the Galzigbahn, which is the first main gondola you can take from town, and had our first schnitzel of the trip (but not the last!) After our day on the slopes, we skiied down to Mooserwirtz - one of several on-hill apres ski places pumping loud German oktoberfest-favourite songs both in and outside. We found some spots to sit down on the crowded benches and were promptly our choice of beer (lager or weiss), warm beverages (mulled wine or jagertee), or even ready to go jagerbombs (small jagermeister glass bottles uncapped and sitting in a glass with red bull). The waiters carried something like 30 drinks on large trays through the crowded atmosphere and somehow still managed to not spill or break anything. I was impressed! Diane and I fled apres ski early to make sure we stowed our gear in the storage area before they locked up for the night, and climbed back up our hill to have some dinner. The rest of the guys kept going pretty late into the night!
The next morning, Diane and I were up early in relation to the other guys, so we headed up the mountain on our own -- this time taking two large gondolas and then a third 6-man viewpoint gondola all the way to the top of Valluga. This is the highest mountain in the resort at 2811m, and offers an incredible 360 degree panoramic view of the Austrian alps! It was pretty breathtaking. After viewing there, we started a long ski down all the way back to town. We hopped on Rendelbahn, which is the other main gondola from St Anton going to a peak opposite the main skiing area -- and met the other guys there for a late lunch. It was an enjoyable long skiout from that peak back down to town.
That night we ended up at Arl Rock: a multi-sport facility offering bowling, rock climbing (both indoor and out), squash, indoor tennis, and ping pong. We spent some time bowling a bit. Bowling in Austria is a bit different from what we're used to: there are 9 pins arranged in a diamond configuration. It made knocking them all down in one go quite a bit tougher than 10-pin bowling in my experience. The bartender there was a girl from Canada who met her heli-skiing boyfriend/fiance in the Yukon and moved over with him ... so it was kind of cool to meet a random Canadian there. We were slightly jealous of her chance to live and ski in the Austrian alps!
The next day we decided to catch a bus to the ski region that was only accessible via lifts from the neighbouring towns of Zurs and Lech. The sunny weather came to an end that morning and was replaced fog and clouds. On the one hand it was a pity to see the beautiful sunny weather end, but the slopes badly needed some new snow so it was good to get some again! Anyways, we hopped on a bus and ended up in Lech. Our first couple runs of the day weren't very enjoyable as we couldn't see where we were going ... so Diane and I, having been separated from the rest of the group, stopped for a quick bite to eat at one of the mid-mountain hotel/chalets. Fortunately, while the snow continued, the fog cleared enough to offer some visibility and we got some excellent skiing back in that area. In fact, I would go as far as saying it was some of the best powder I've ever skiied on an on-piste run! Deep fresh powder, and for some reason, there was a high speed octa-chair way in the back corner of the resort. Yeesh.
Our skiout from Lech after meeting up with Jeremy and Jay for lunch (and yet another different gondola ride) was unfortunately through fog, which made the skiout pretty tough. But we made it down to the bus station safely and returned to St Anton happy with a pretty successful day trip in the books.
Thursday was deemed a non-ski day. I had some significant bruises on my legs that I wanted to give some time to heal, so we spent the day wandering around town a bit and doing some shopping before going back up the three gondolas to the top of Valluga with the SLR camera to get some more pictures of the panoramic scenery.
Our final day there I was determined to get some more skiing in, but we started a bit late and did some of our favourite runs of the week on the main hill before turning our equipment in to the rental shop. We then took a bus back up to moosers for another go at apres ski. The temperature had dropped quite a bit, so we ended up sneaking inside and finding ourselves a table there next to some Irish skiers from Cork. Much merriment ensued - including some weird shots that involved a layer of whipped cream above some sort of warm liqueur.
The flight out the next morning was entirely too early (an 8am flight, with a one hour drive prior to that ...), but it got us home in good time. It was a magnificent trip, and quite fun. More pictures will be on flickr when I catchup in my backlog. I've got several events to catchup with here though, so it might be a little while before they're up!