LEARNING TO SKI IN OBERGURGL
A train followed by a bus took us from Salzburg to the mountain town of Obergurgl in Austria.
Our lodge at the Gurglhof Apartments had been booked for months and thankfully it lived up to the pictures. Boasting views of the ski slopes and just a three minute walk from the ski lift, the cosy lodge was kitted out with modern appliances, a dishwasher and best of all, a posh coffee machine complete with milk frother, that Kate managed to master.
Room with a View!
SKI DAY – ZERO
We stocked up at the surprisingly well stocked SPAR and went to get our ski gear sorted out at the ski shop. Having barely been on a snowy mountain before, let alone ever been skiing before, I was very impressed with the whole set up. We typed in our height, weight, and skill levels into the computer and the helpful assistant quickly kitted us out with the most suitable equipment. Our boots and skis were even labelled with little bar codes with our hotel address on in case we lost them!
Kate Checking Out the Ski Gear (and Possibly the Shop Assistant Too..)
I waddled out the shop and crept back up the hill back to our apartment, trying to carry all the ski gear like I knew what I was doing, and like I belonged in the town of experienced skiers. The boots weighed a ton and I kept accidentally swinging them into the back of my knees, which instantly made my legs buckled. This then caused a Jenga effect with the skis I had dangling off my shoulder, where I’d balanced them in an attempt to ease some of their weight off my arms. Meanwhile, the ski poles were akimbo, somewhere between trying to signal overhead aircraft to land and poking me in the eyes. Exhausted, and a little battered before I had even stepped on the snow, I gave up the sherpa routine and stored the kit in the designated ski room that was attached to the reception area of our apartment block.
Undeterred by the fact that I could barely even carry the bloody skis, I’d noticed a small patch of snow just outside of our apartment that seemed to be out of the way from the confident individuals who were carving up a snow storm on the real slopes, and decided to head back out.
I left the poles at home, mounted the skis onto my shoulder and checked the protruding length of them behind me to ensure I avoided reenacting a Laurel and Hardy sketch on my walk back to the snow patch. But now I had a new challenge – walking in ski boots. If you wanted to design a footwear to allow suicidal people to sink after jumping off a bridge, ski boots would be it. They offer very limited maneuverability and weigh an absolute ton. You also have to walk heel to toe in a very exaggerated fashion due to the inability to bend your legs or roll your ankles, so end up strutting around like you’re recovering from an electric shock or a stroke. And I thought you were supposed to look cool in ski gear?!
Trying to Look the Part…
My attempt to look the part diminished with the day light as I spent a good 40 minutes struggling to clip one boot into skis as the already holstered ski slid away from me, resulting in me spending most of the time rolling around in the snow shouting at an amused Kate that skiing was “Bullshit”.
SKI DAY – ONE
I flicked through the ski brochures provided by the hotel and turned my nose up at the thought of spending 75 Euros for a group ski lesson, so instead turned my attention to the power of YouTube! Within minutes I had found a great selection of beginner’s guide to skiing theory with a friendly chap videoing himself out in the snow, taking me through every step of how to clip up my boots, how to stand, where to put my weight, and funnily enough, even how to carry skis to make them almost weightless! Where was this guy yesterday?
With my head full of theory, I kitted up and strutted over to the beginner slopes. Strutting of course, as I still couldn’t walk normally in my bloody boots. Kate, a very confident skier, left me with the 5 year olds and went off to explore the various ski runs.
I managed a little over two hours of falling over, trying to apply a brake to my “speed” with a snow plough, and constantly fighting to clip my boots into my skis, before concluding that the guy in the ski shop had configured my ski clips too tightly for my boots. Totally exhausted, I stopped by the shop to have my skis tweaked before heading home where I consoled myself with some homemade leek and potato soup. The apartment had a hand blender, so I made sure we made full use of it!
Soup Preparation – Beer Mandatory
SKI DAY – TWO AND THREE
So a new a day and my legs were embarrassingly sore, considering I’d barely actually skied at all. Rather than walking like John Wayne over to the beginner slope, I manned up and “skied” down to it instead, but instantly fell over. The good news was my reconfigured skis and boots were playing nicely for once and I wasn’t expending all my energy trying to ram my foot into a ski, whilst precariously balancing on the other one.
I found a gentle slope, away from the people paying 75 Euros a lesson, and practiced slowly skiing down it, putting my YouTube theory, a few pointers from Kate and a lot of eavesdropped info from the nearby lesson into practice. It helped me tremendously to verbalize my actions and over exaggerate my hip and heel movements to learn how to turn. Bemused skiers skimmed past me as I shouted “plough, plough, plough, turn, turn, turn!” to myself loudly.
I lasted about 4 hours each day, doing the same thing, again and again. Slowly going down the gentle slope, practicing my turns and my braking and eventually providing my legs instructions inside my head, rather than yelling out loud.
We finished up the day with some Austrian beers and a game of Chess on the board that the apartment had, as our legs throbbed and my blisters bore holes the size of 2 pence pieces into my feet.
Chess and Beer to Finish the Day
SKI DAY – FOUR AND FIVE
Feeling more confident on the skis, but still not ready for the poles, I upped the ante and used the beginner ski lift, called “The Pommer” to help me up a fairly wide slope that was a touch harder gradient than the slope I’d be practicing on previously. The Pommer is a rubber circle connected to an automated pulley that you half sit on and it drags you up the hill. Keeping in tradition of spending more time on the ground than on my skis, I fell off the Pommer straight away, as when Kate shouted “DON’T sit down on it”, I heard, “SIT down on it”. Lesson learnt.
In the middle of a shaky run down the slope, an air raid siren suddenly went off, filling the air with its alarming whine. I figured it must be an avalanche warning and did my best to ski down as fast and as controlled as I could manage without falling over my feet. I rushed over to the ski lift operator and asked him in broken German what was going on and if it was safe and what was the noise about, to which he replied, “It’s lunchtime”. What a totally inappropriate sound to signal bloody lunchtime!
I let the lesson clear off for their war themed lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon leveraging the stolen tips I’d overheard and practiced cutting into my turns faster and stamping my foot down to allow me to turn and brake sharper, each time taking the Pommer higher and higher up the slope, until I was confidently doing full runs. I then incorporated the poles and quickly got a handle on them, using them to help me turn even better than before.
Kate appeared back from her adventures and we agreed I was ready for my first “Blue Run” – the colour code that indicates a track suitable for beginners. I fell over a few times as I got my head and legs around the track and the different textures of snow, but it was safe to say that I was actually skiing! Go me!
Smiles all Around on my First Blue Run
SKI DAY – SIX
With our bodies not used to the sudden assault of exercise, we spent day six of our ski pass resting our legs in the apartment, watching films and eating our weight in cheese and wine 🙂
SKI DAY – SEVEN TO NINE
With my skiing “ability” passable for the selection of blue runs available, we gave up skiing in solitary and started to get numerous ski lifts and cable cars all around the mountains and skied down almost together. Kate would often take point as the better and faster skier, as I kept honing my turning skills on my course down. We agreed that you can unfortunately have too much of a good thing, and whilst our hearts were still happy with trying to ski for several hours a day, our legs really started to push back, making the second to last day a bit of a slog, rather than an enjoyable skiing day.
SKI DAY – TEN
So our ten day ski pass was up, our legs were broken and the excitement to get out onto the snow each morning was starting to fade, but luckily someone had the good idea to put a pub halfway up a mountain, so that became our objective.
We did a few smaller ski runs to get our moneys worth and then kicked our skis off and parked up at the pub, 2100 metres up the side of a mountain and got stuck into a few pints each.
A Few Pints at 2100 Metres!
Now the trouble is, once you’re that high up, skiing down is really the only option to get back down. Now, if I was crap at skiing when sober, I truly became Bambi on ice with a few pints in me. I actually skied over my other ski and ended up face down in the snow, but got up with a beaming smile on my face. Cheers booze!
A little giddy we gave our ski gear back to the rental shop and headed back to our lodge.
It took me nearly a week of self teaching, repetition, falling in the snow and stealing info from those who had actually paid for a lesson, but I did it. I taught myself how to ski!
Our View from the Top