herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

If this idiot can ski, so can you

Mark Evans is simply pathetic on the pistes. Can he learn not to be the fall guy on the slopes of Austria?

Mark with Rick (far left) and Stephen at the ski school in Westendorf.
Mark with Rick (far left) and Stephen at the ski school in Westendorf.
The hotel in St Johann.
Local kids show how to go tobogganing in Soll

I LOVE everything about skiing. The stunning mountain views. The fresh air and the powdery snow. The excellent nightlife and the picturesque hilltop restaurants.

In fact the only thing I don't get about ski holidays is the skiing part.

I hate heights, I'm not big on speed and don't go on holiday to exercise, squeezed into tight boots and layered underneath sweaty suits.

And growing up on Dublin's Northside in the 1980s, there wasn't much skiing done in Santa Ponsa.

I've gone skiing once – in France – and spent most of the time learning to walk sideways up a nursery hill after a few seconds of skiing.

Fun it certainly wasn't.

I approached a trip to Austria – a country I've never been to – with trepidation, seeing as I was in the company of veteran skiers with years of experience.

I was also accompanied by my son, Stephen, at an age (13) where he realises that dad isn't an Olympic champion in every sport, and he's guaranteed to show me up on the slopes.

At least the rest of the gang weren't around when I got to hit the slopes (well, tiny hill) in the picture-perfect village of Westendorf, in Austria's famous Skiwelt area.

We picked up our equipment just across the road from our Hotel Post in the centre of the little town, and across from there was our ski school – Schischule Westendorf – and know locally as The Reds.

FEARS

And any fears of an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style Teutonic instructor barking orders were soon allayed.

The teacher, Rick, was 18 years old and looked like he'd just stepped out of a One Direction photoshoot.

But he was the perfect mentor, getting us from our first faltering steps, teaching me how to actually stop (very useful), turn (ditto) and not look like a fool on sticks (priceless).

Within a couple of hours we were zooming around the slopes, me playing catch up with Stephen, and ready for our next big challenge – getting on a chair lift.

This is trickier than it looks.

Stand in line, park your ass and wait for the chair lift to bump into you. Simple? No.

After a nervy first attempt we were soon soaring over the slopes and heading to the first station to get off and ski back down what looked like Everest, but practically just a bump in these mountainous parts.

Getting off is the tricky part – Rick and Stephen dragged me up off the chair as you would push a washed-up whale off a beach.

I'd like to say it got easier, but it didn't – that said, it did beat waddling up sideways on my skis.

And there was the bonus that it brought us up to an Alpine chalet restaurant, Bruchstall Cafe, with hearty food and stunning views of the surrounding region.

The great thing about Westendorf is the proximity to everything. We left our gear in the storage area of the rental shop and took a two-minute walk back to our hotel.

The Hotel Post is a friendly place with a bustling bar by night. The rooms are bang in the centre of town, with plenty of eating and drinking options around. (And beer in these parts is refreshingly cheaper than back home).

POPULAR

I loved the Fein Sinn restaurant, and wondered if it was popular with visiting dyslexic republicans, but it was a great spot for an early morning coffee with local workers.

We had dinner in the lovely Hotel Jackobwirt, and our group treated the locals to an impromptu Sound of Music singalong. Unfortunately singing Do Re Me is the equivalent of singing the Sash at an Easter Rising commemoration in West Belfast – it irritates everybody, but the lovely Austrians just bit their tongues and smiled as we torture the Von Trapps.

Even over a few days we got to see plenty of the region.

Night skiing in Soll was a highlight. Day skiing is bad enough, so we opted for tobogganing, which sounded easy and fun.

After a cable car ride up a mountain that seemed to go on forever, we were given our little wooden sleds for the long run back down.

By night it's breathtaking and more than a little scary as you rocket down the run, and try not to tumble off the hill.

Back up, we arrived at the wrong mountain restaurant, and I had that James Bond feeling when I was directed to the right restaurant, untied my toboggan and headed a bit down the mountain.

A beautiful dinner (and snowball fight) at the Stockalm Restaurant, and then, with the cable car finished for the night, we had to ski or toboggan down with a glass or two of wine inside us.

Mayhem, but brilliant.

We also got to enjoy the buzz of pretty St Johann, staying in the Post Hotel in the centre of town. Again the rooms are spacious, the bar is buzzing ("ze Irish love to party", we were informed) and enjoyed the great beer and views of the town's tallest building, which is handily a brewery: Huber Brau, along with the great guys from the local ski school, Wilder Kaiser Ski School.

After a few days am I a great skier? No, but I can stop, am nearly as fast as the local snowboarding three-year-old.

Best of all, I can understand why people would choose this holiday.

And if I can get it, anyone can.

FACTFILE

We travelled to Austria with multi award-winning Topflight.

In St Johann, prices start at €608 a week in Hotel Post including flights from Dublin, Cork or Belfast, transfers, and accommodation, as well as full luggage allowance.

For Westendorf, prices for the Hotel Post start at €670 and prices for the Hotel Jakobwirt start at €940. All prices include flights, transfers, accommodation, and full luggage allowances.

To make the best use of your ski holiday, ski school is highly recommended, not just to stay safe, but to get the best conditions, to gain local knowledge and to see the most you can, during your stay there, as well as learning a little

Topflight also recommends that adults use a ski helmet. In most countries, children must wear a ski helmet.

Call Topflight on 01 2401700, call your local travel agent or log on to www.topflight.ie for the latest deals and offers every week to Austria, France, Andorra, and Italy.

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