GREAT AUSTRIAN SKI ADVENTURE Part 2: Finding a room at the Inn
by Dick Domey, Former US Olympic Biathlon Team Coach

After our dinner watching Miss Piggy being eaten at the neighboring table, we could hardly sleep that night, but told ourselves it was for the anticipation of tomorrow's two hour drive into the heart of the Tyrolean Alps and CROSS COUNTRY SKIING. The next morning after one of those excellent German breakfasts of hard bread rolls, sweet rolls, butter, many different jams, a variety of cold meats, cheeses, juice and coffee, we dug out our snow covered Suzuki, and finished a short drive higher into the timbered mountains along icy, winding narrow roads and through ever deepening snow. This brought us to Seefeld, a former Olympic village of ice rinks, hotels, inns, cafes, and tourists. The streets were alive with skiers heading for the cross-country trails and to the alpine lifts.

Everyone was dressed in beautifully coordinated outfits. Fur hats were the order of the day. Fur coats would come out later for the late afternoon promenade through the village, for the fussweg (footpath) hikers, and for the sun balcony and outdoor café sitters. Everyone we saw was stylish. Unlike the American cross-country ski centers of the 1980s, here there were no cut-off army wool pants, no blue jeans, no army field jackets, but surprisingly also very few racing suits: lots of knickers and green, felt, peaked Tyrolean hats with plumes attached to the side by little silver ice axes.

Mostly the suits were two-piece, knee length, colorful, of wind resistant fabric and specially designed for cross-country ski wear. This idyllic winter scene was splashed with brilliant colors from the clothes, brightly painted onion-domed churches, awning covered store fronts and houses with entire walls painted in biblical or mythic scenes. Every hotel featured long banners and different national flags fluttering in the breeze. In the Tyrolean Alps most homes have a large, colorful religious or folk mural painted on the outside walls.

Along the paths, streets and roads, skis were being carried toward the lifts and the trails. Jangling bells and clopping hooves signalled the horse drawn sleighs weaving in and out of the traffic. Their smiling occupants snuggled under plaid blankets or fluffy sheep skins while clouds of steam rose from the horses. With a sense of deja vue I thought I had seen this all once before and then remembered the old 1930s black and white movies with figure skater, Sonje Henie, and Bing Crosby in "White Christmas". Now, here it was in real life.

We parked, always where we could see our insecure, canvas, zippered jeep substitute and went to the tourist bureau to take our choice of low cost housing for a thirty-day stay. After all, my well-travelled, multi-lingual brother said there were many rooms for rent just for the asking. Oh yes, many in the tourist industry do speak English in the larger towns. No, he didn't laugh when we told him what we wanted. Oh yes, finding rooms everywhere was easy; the only problem was they were full and would be for the next three weeks. You see, brother Bob had forgotten to tell us that February is the heart of the high season.

No, there were no listings of vacancies in either apartments, hotels, or homes. "Perhaps we could try Mösern, a village nearby." I saw him shake his head in disbelief as we left. Off to Mösern we went. The same there and at Scharnitz. We drove slowly through snow-covered streets looking for those magic "zimmer frei" signs. All we saw were red "besetzt" signs meaning occupied.

We followed a different mountain road down into a low valley. There in Telfs we found all kinds of rooms available. But, alas, Telfs had no snow. And even though there was a free bus service to the mountain, we had always dreamed of skiing right from our doorway. We drove back up the winding road into the 4000 foot snow-covered valley surrounded by tall, granite peaks, through smaller villages, often only collections of three and four houses, along the back streets, always looking for those signs.

Around 4 p.m., that old where-are-we-going-to-spend-the-night anxiety began to set in. We arrived in a neighborhood where all the charming small houses were obviously vacation apartments. Out of desperation I stopped to ask a bypasser (in my very limited German) if he knew of any apartments or rooms for rent. Imagine my relief when he spoke some English. "No!" he didn't, but he would take us to a house where they might. This gentleman, a cross-country skier, of course, stayed with us as translator while two telephone calls were made to friends who usually had rooms. Again a blank. So he insisted, even though his ski lessons were to start in a half hour, that he would lead us to the small, local tourist bureau we had missed. He popped into his Mercedes and led us at high speed through the winding, snow-covered, pedestrian filled streets. There in the tiny village of Kirchplatzl the tourist agent did not speak English, so our new-found friend stayed on again. Our luck was definitely turning for the better. On the third telephone call the agent found a room. Our German saviour insisted that he now lead us on up the valley to the next hamlet and introduce us to the old Tyrolean inn keeper who spoke no English.

For the next ten days we stayed at Haus Florian in a tiny, but comfortable room in the attic. We had our own sink, twin beds covered in the luxurious eiderdown quilts, our own carved, wooden, sun balcony where we often took lunch, looking up at unbelievably beautiful mountains. We laundered our clothes daily and hung them out to freeze dry on the balcony each night. The rooms were panelled with knotty pine and the walls insulated with dried grass. While spotlessly clean, the house still had that good, farm hay smell which I remembered from my childhood in New England. There were six rooms for guests. The toilet was down one flight of stairs, so creaky they threatened to wake the house when used in the early hours of the morning. The price was fantastic. Both of us for $22 per day with breakfast.

Outside the front door an ice encrusted spring bubbled into a stone trough and the bright, wall-sized religious mural could be seen. A small stream cut through the three-foot deep snow in a field across the road. The breakfast room walls were covered with the horns of great stags and little plaques with the horns of very small deer and the teeth of boars. The owner, a man in his eighties, had been a great local hunter in his youth.

In our search for accommodations which covered fifty kilometers we had driven into the beautiful Leutasch valley only six kilometers through the mountains from Seefeld and connected by cross-country ski tracks, called loipe, with over twenty other villages. When I say connected by loipe, I mean connected by two or four track trails which are prepared at least twice a day by the big, heavy duty, track setters. And if that isn't good enough, special ski buses run on an hourly schedule serving all the surrounding villages, trail heads, cable cars and ski lifts. You never have to return by a trail you have already skied, just hop a bus; complete trip for 84 cents.

Click here to go to part three.