THE GREAT AUSTRIAN SKI ADVENTURE Part 5: A Place for the Alpine Skier
by Dick Domey, Former US Olympic Biathlon Team Coach

The Austrian Alps are also a wonderful place for the alpine skier. The downhill areas around Seefeld are served by a funicular railway, two cable cars, three chairlifts, eleven T-bars and Poma lifts and a varied assortment of tows for ski schools. Many lifts start right beside the hotel parking lots. Thirteen day passes which include all the lifts run around $100. The upper slopes also have cafes and the ski runs usually end at a hamlet of inns and hotels. Many European skiers bring both downhill and cross country skis.

All off-duty skiers have to walk the constant gauntlet of pretty, alluring boutiques and shops filled with the most stylish ski clothing and the latest in innovative ski equipment. Each gift shop has just the perfect souvenir of embroidered textiles, hand-crafted pipes or quaintly grizzled, Tyrolean mountain men handmade of deer hide. To our dismay we found that last year the dollar would buy almost twice as much as this year. Anyway, our luggage was so full we couldn't squeeze in another thing. Apré ski time can be spent at the ice skating rinks, curling rinks, heated Olympic-sized swimming pools, saunas, steam baths or with the masseurs for aching muscles.

Night life is varied ranging from friends drinking beer and playing cards in front of a café fireplace to live music in the many "discos" of Seefeld and Innsbruck. Rock and ballads are the music of the young set, but the polka and the yodeling song is the mainstay of the restaurants and cafés that cater to the older diner. Don't miss the "umpah" music by a live band in their peaked hats and suspendered knickers playing the accordion, a bass fiddle, the painted bass drum and the "umpah horn," a horn slightly smaller than a tuba. That is the real music of Austria. In the quiet inns supper is never hurried, and as in most of Europe, the occasional glass of wine or stein of beer is sufficient rent on your table or booth for hours of postcard writing or reading for the tired skier.

Austrian and German beers abound. After all we are less than a hundred miles from Munich, home of the famous Octoberfest. Kaiser Bier, Bitburger Pils, Goldquell, Kurpils, Beck's Bier and Weizenbier are just the start. Germany is known for its excellent white wines. In Weisbaden during an Olympic coaching clinic the waitress refused my order for a red wine until I had tried the local white wine. And of course, she was right. White wines do go with Schwein Kotelette mit Letschogenmüse und Pomme frites, with Champignonschnitzel mit Pommes frites und Feinein Gemüse or with the Wienerschnitzel mit Bratkartoffel und salat; then there is the absolutely sinful Châteaubriand für 2 Personen.

Don't come to the Austrian ski country needing to lose weight. The menus are just too good and a day on the trail builds too big an appetite. You would need to ski an extra forty kilometers per day just to stay even with the scales; and that is without mentioning the ice creams and Apfelstrudel.

The winter snow holiday is not limited just to those who ski. The German, Swiss, Austrian and Dutch are hikers and walkers from birth and the hills are alive with walkers of all ages. Parents pull children on the traditional high runner, wooden sleds and hundreds of people in their sixties, seventies and even into their eighties can been seen walking the "Winterwanderwege," paths cleared especially for them. At that time of year the tourists are mostly over middle age, yet enjoy the slopes, trails and paths just as when they were younger. The loipe are often parallel to the plowed hiking trails which wind through the snow-covered mountains connecting the inns and villages. There are bill-board size maps situated along the trails as well as contour maps of both ski trails and footpaths to be purchased in the stores. All trails and paths are clearly sign-posted with trail name, direction and distance to the next village or crossing point.

From 8 a.m. until lunch and again from 2:30 p.m. to dark the paths are filled by walkers dressed in their hiking boots, fur caps, great coats, and armed with the ever present walking sticks. Most sticks of the older walkers are covered with little medallions commemorating their hikes. We have seen them in the summer and in the winter with their maps and small backpack looking for the check-in stamp along the way to verify they have made the walk. The local tourist bureaus give gold, silver and bronze awards for completing different hikes and distances.

The walkers stride along with vigor carrying on conversations and greeting everyone they pass. As we ski by they call out, "Wie gehts?" or "Grüss Gott." And if you stop, they strike up a conversation. We hold up our hands in protest and call out, "Ich verstehe nicht," I don't understand. They ask "Engländer oder Kanadier?" When we call back "Amerikaner" they beam and manage a few pleasant words in English. We reply with our few words of German and lots of gestures. The conversation falters as we run out of words and with an "Auf Wiedersehen" we push off down the trail.

Just as with Americans who go to Florida or the Bahamas for a week long holiday and get burned up on the first day in the sun because of the need to get their money's worth, so also do the Germans who go to Austria for a week of cross-country skiing get burned out on the first day of skiing. They sleep late rather than face lifting aching legs, moving sore backs and bending stiff arms. Watching these middle aged, one-week-a-year athletes drag their crippled legs and blistered feet down the stairs and into the breakfast room is not a nice way to start the morning. The first day's cheery "Guten Morgen" and "Did you sleep well?" has given way to a muttered "Morgen" accompanied with audible groans and sighs as they sit down. But, they don't give up and can be seen heading for the ski trails after a loosening-up stroll to the village for aspirin and a massage.

With our desire to make the most of the trails we had been religiously jogging and keeping up with our exercises while in London, but were still forced to take a day off to visit Innsbruck's museums, the French Consulate for our visas and to let our muscles revive and the blisters dry.

We quickly learned that everyone gives a greeting upon entering stores and restaurants. It is not unusual during our noon stop at some trail-side café to hear a new arrival give five or six cheery "Guten Tags" all of which are responded to by the diners. The same is true of leaving stores. When "Wiedersehen" is given on departure it is responded to by all within hearing. If you ignore the pleasantries then a silence descends and all eyes are turned upon you in waiting. Upon rising from a table to leave a restaurant other diners and the waiters pause expectantly waiting for your "Wiedersehen.'

While English is not generally spoken by many of the older generation most young people speak a few words. In the tourist areas, large hotels and busy stores usually have one person who can assist you with dealings and questions. Don't ever be afraid to try your hand at conversation. In Germany and Austria your attempts to speak the language will often elicit their quite good English.

Above all, be adventurous; visit a foreign country to find out how much we really are alike. The desire for good food, pleasant accommodations, beautiful scenery and excellent trails is universal. It knows no language barriers. If you are looking for the perfect cross-country ski holiday, Try Austria and the Tyrolean Alps around Innsbruck. Until we meet on the trail, a "Grüss Gott" and a "Bon Courage" to you.

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Until the next Dick Domey adventure, "Our Hero's Journey into Wine Country"