You don’t have to like winter sports to enjoy spending time in the Alps.
A report in today’s derStandard names Austria as the top destination for winter sports according to a survey by a Dutch tourism website. Personally, winter sports and I go together as naturally as oil and water. However, living in Austria, winter is probably my favourite time of the year and I enjoy spending time up in the mountains.
Whist I may not participate in most of the traditional sporting activities of tourist and locals, I do find plenty of things to entertain, amuse and inspire me on my trips to the Alps.
One of my pastimes starts by travel up the mountain on a cab car with the morning skiers, strolling slowly over to the restaurant, taking up residents at a table by the window, and ordering the first coffee/strudel combination of the day. If you want an alternative winter sport let me explain.
Now some of these restaurant/cafe huts can have the look and feel of a factory canteen, whilst others have that traditional look associated with Hollywood Christmas movies . For this particular ‘sport’ either type of venue will do but you need a table with a good view of the ski lift(s). Ideally, if they have one, your table should also be near a roaring open fire to add an additional layer of snugness and smugness. After having settled down with your coffee you can turn your attention to the warm-up game. This one is called spot the Brit and it’s not that hard to pick up your first points. You turn your attention to the endless queues waiting for the ski lift(s) and simply look for the ‘skiers’ who seem to be continuously failing to reach the front of the ‘queue’. These are the novices Brit’s who will take some time to overcome their ingrained desire to stand and progress in an orderly fashioned. Gradually you can observe them coming to the realisation that the word for queue when translated back into English from German re emerges as the word scrum. However all this, as I say, is by way of a warm-up exercise. The skill in this particular window ‘sport’ is to pick a dozen or so subjects and commit them to memory. This is a relatively easy exercise as you will have plenty of time to get to know your chosen targets – most people on the slopes spend hours standing/shuffling in the scrum for the pleasure of a few minutes going downhill on their bone breaking device of choice. You can then take up to an hour’s break reading a book or catching up with twitter (reception is often excellent in such locations whilst oddly and annoyingly none existent in some parts of Vienna!). It’s important not to spend more time on these distractions or you can miss the chance to pick up points. Three points are awarded for ever person who comes off the slope in under two hours and one point for those that last a full two hours. An additional three points are gained for each individual who spends more time then eating and drinking than they did on the ski slope. On a sunny day these points are also awarded if the individual takes a seat outside and after eating then joins the others around them in the ritual by which you spend a long period of time with your eyes closed, head tilted towards the sun. If you are playing this game competitively then the skill is in selecting those rare individuals who will provide you with an automatic 30 points. These are the ones who actually spend more time on the slopes than sitting around enjoying the food, drink and sun – but they are a truly rare breed and not easily spotted.
For a more energetic time on the mountains I would recommend taking a stroll along (safe) paths ways from the ski slopes. The frozen landscape, the beauty of the mountains and the peace of the walk is often without comparison. It also happens to be health, cheap, fun and you still end up in the ski hut drinking and eating but without the frustration of the queues and the pain from the bruises. For something even more special take a stroll through the winter landscape after dark on a clear night. Venturing out into the icy landscape and seriously sub-zero temperatures to observe the night sky, the woods and mountains under moonlight, the stillness in the dark, are all truly worth leaving the warmth of your accommodation and afterwards there is always a mulled wine to warm you up again.