Conall Ó Fátharta hits the slopes as a beginner, in Austria, and discovers the thrill of the descent as well as a true sense of achievement, which make his aches and pains more tolerable and a beer more welcome.
I LIKE mountains. Cover them in snow and put them in a place like Austria and I like them even better.
However, I am more a fan of walking up a mountain slowly, then coming down one at breakneck speed — so it was with more than a sense of trepidation that I took on the slopes around Kirchberg for my first ever ski trip.
However, any sense of trepidation was quickly replaced by a healthy dose of daily excitement and adrenaline as I worked my way from the baby slopes up to the mighty red slopes above Kirchberg. I’m not exactly a downhill champion, but I can safely say that I would feel confident returning to any slopes possessing a sensible incline with a set of skis and poles.
Travelling with Directski.com, my first foray to the beautiful Austria could not have been made any easier or more convenient. With a friendly and jovial staff, you are ferried from the airport to your hotel without a hint of fuss.
On the morning of your first lesson, you meet a representative at the ski rental shop, get your ski pass, your ski gear and shown to where your first lesson begins and away you go.
The beauty of the service is not how much interaction you have with your rep, but how little. You get contact numbers to call anytime you need assistance but, other than that, they let you enjoy your holiday.
It’s simple but refreshing.
For our first lesson, my girlfriend and I were on a slope about 25 metres from the ski rental shop. Calling it a slope does a disservice to the word, but it was the patch of snow where my skiing odyssey was to begin. Arriving late, I quickly landed into a bunch of similarly inept beginners.
Hailing from a range of European countries, and united by little more than our incompetence on snow, we quickly formed a bond that lasted the full week.
Our instructor Manfred — easily the most patient and accommodating man I have ever met — guided us through the basic steps of attaching our skis to our feet through to the rudiments of the ‘snow plough’ to stop and adjusting our weight to turn.
Lunchtime was a hearty meal and a beer before another hard afternoon session of learning the ropes. Without doubt, your first day on skis is one of the most tiring experiences you will ever go through. Both my girlfriend and I were in agony afterwards. A good type of agony, I hasten to add. After a beer or two in the lovely little après ski bar across from our hotel, we were ready for bed at around 7pm!
It’s one of the great things about a ski holiday. You can pig out on food and beer because after a day working your ass off up the mountain, you feel like you have earned it. It’s guilt free.
Our hotel — the Lifthotel in Kirchberg— was about a five-minute walk outside the main drag of the town and had everything you need. A basic three-star hotel, it was extremely comfortable, had a great relaxing atmosphere and seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of food for the hungry skier.
Given that you live in ski boots for a week, you don’t really need or want the usual hotel luxuries. By the time you get to your room, all you need is a shower and sleep. You do, however, need to keep well fed. The Lifthotel provided a breakfast of mammoth proportions. Done in a buffet style, you get everything from simple cereal and bacon and eggs to cold meats, cheeses and yoghurts. If you wanted to, you could sit there all day. The evening meal menu was simple, but tasty, and again a buffet style dessert option was always popular.
Plentiful supplies of food at breakfast were needed by day three. That was the day Manfred had informed us that we were ready to go up the mountain proper. With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, we bundled into the Gondola and began the stunning 15-minute trip up to 2,000 or so metres. We were going to hit a real slope.
After giving us a few minutes to take in the truly stunning surroundings, Manfred did not stand on ceremony. We clicked into the skis and were off down a blue slope in a line behind our trusty ski instructor.
To say your initial foray down a run is a little intimidating is to put it mildly. Unlike the beginner slopes, up on the mountain, you are surrounded by a whole host of other skiers and snowboarders of varying degrees of competence. While you can see and handle zipping down alongside your fellow incompetents, it’s a little scarier when people fly past you at all sorts of speeds.
However, as Manfred routinely pointed out, the trick is to trust what you’ve learned and to put it into practice. The run we began on took about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, depending on how many times your ass hit the snow, but each time we went down it became a little easier.
At various points along the way, we stopped and learned a few more tricks like traversing, how to stand up on a steep slope, alternative ways of stopping rather than the snowplough. By lunchtime, most of the group was managing to make it down rather comfortably.
Once you hit the bottom, we lined up and took the ski lift back up and started all over again. Believe me, once lunchtime hits, you are grateful of a beer and a bite and a chat with your gang as to how things are going.
Aches and pains aside, my girlfriend and I had done pretty well and after two days on the mountain and innumerable runs down the blue slopes, by the end of the week, Manfred decided it was time to hit a red slope — one with a little more degree of difficulty.
If Manfred thought this run would separate the men from the boys, he was right. Some of the strongest skiers lost their nerve completely while others came to the fore. As for me, I hit the deck a few times but rather enjoyed a little more speed and a little more slope.
While most ski trips you hear about are skiing all day and party all night, ours was a little more sedate than that. It really is a tiring day. You are up at 7am and usually ski until the late afternoon. By the time we hit the après ski bar, every inch of us either hurt or was ready for some TLC.
In saying that, Kirchberg has a wealth of nightlife to choose from. Once you get off the ski bus, most people just dump the skis and poles outside a bar and go for a well-deserved beer. By 6pm, people are usually singing awful Europop and chatting in every language under the sun. By midnight, we were usually ready for bed and felt all the better for it.
So if a ski trip leaves you slightly intrigued but apprehensive — go for it. There is always someone worse than you and in Kirchberg at least; everyone is up for a good time.
Take the plunge. You won’t regret it.
Directski.com, ‘Big on Ski, Low on Prices’ offers 7 night ski holidays from Cork & Dublin. A week’ stay at the 3* Lifthotel in Kirchberg costs from only €729pp, including return flights from Cork, transfers and half board accommodation. Book at www.directski.
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