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St.Anton, Austria, February 7th-13th, 1998

A week in the snow - at last

I have been a skier since 1986, but I haven't managed to get away for a whole week of skiing since about 1989. That's not to say that I haven't skied at all in that time: I have visited Scotland several times since 1989 and on each occasion I have thrown my skis in the back of my car and I have done a half-day of skiing as and when I've felt like it

The joys of last-minute booking and special diets

I started 1998 desperately in need of a break from work, having done an evening shift every Saturday throughout December; two weeks straight on-call up to and including Christmas; and then a 66-hour week on night shift between Christmas and the New Year. I persuaded the boss that it was time I spent some of the overtime I had earned on a holiday and went off to the travel agent to pick up some brochures. I found that there were very few brochures left for the 1997-1998 season and I simply couldn't get my first choice of holiday, which was two weeks in the Hotel Snow White in Obertauern, Austria. I wanted to stay in this hotel because the Thomson brochure stated "Special diets catered for on request" and as my diet has to exclude dairy products, eggs, and meat from pigs, it seemed like a good idea to go there. I also considered North America, where they speak English and explaining my dietary limitations would be easier, but I discovered that the North American holidays did not cater for the single traveller. I eventually got the travel agent to search her system for a single room in Austria, and she came up with two weeks at the Chalet Tyrol in Mayrhofen, but I doubted whether chalet food and my dietary restrictions would go together, so I asked her to search for one week in a hotel, and she came up with a week in the Hotel Tyrol in St.Anton. The brochure's statement on meals said in part: "4-course evening meal with choice of main course and salad buffet; a-la-carte menu available" and I thought that this should give me sufficient choice that I wouldn't starve during my time with them. In actual fact, I never saw their a-la-carte menu during my stay in the Hotel Tyrol, and I came to an arrangement with the Maitre d' early on in my stay that I would have my food served without sauces, and I never went hungry.

The hassles of getting there

I was booked on a Caledonian Airways flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck. It checked in at 05:00am and I booked a taxi to Gatwick which picked me up at 04:00am. What a way to start a holiday! The good thing about being on such an early flight was that there was no time for delays to build up, and my flight left Gatwick on time. The Caledonian staff at Gatwick were very helpful, and were aware that I had ordered a vegan meal. They did sting me for an extra 12, however, as the travel agent had omitted to charge me for the carriage of my skis.

There was a certain amount of confusion in the coach park on arrival at Innsbruck Airport, as the Thomson coaches were not all parked together and it took some searching to find the right coach. However, it turned out that there was no danger of missing the coach, because the coach was waiting for people off the Manchester flight, which was not due until an hour and a half after my flight had landed. I believe that Inghams have a policy of not keeping people waiting around in airport coach parks, and certainly the Inghams coaches all departed while the Thomson coaches continued to sit and wait. The Manchester flight eventually came in and our coach got under way. People heading for Gältur also joined our coach, and were transferred to a smaller coach part way through the transfer. I ended up receiving a "Welcome to Gältur" pack instead of a "Welcome to St.Anton" pack and had to get the Thomson rep to switch it for me. We finally arrived in St.Anton early in the afternoon, checked into our hotels, and had enough time left for those of us who wanted to do so to start skiing on Saturday afternoon.

The skiing

I was keen to get out on the slopes and see how much good had been done by my time in England on the dry ski slope at the Bromley Ski Centre, so I purchased a 7-day lift pass. I had wondered whether I would be better off buying a 6-day lift pass and a points card for the Saturday afternoon, but the Arlberg lift pass is discounted for hotel guests and it worked out cheaper to get the 7-day pass.

I quickly discovered that snow is much faster than plastic and that my skiing skills were very rusty indeed. I went up the 4-man chair to Gampen and managed not to disgrace myself getting off the chairlift. I skied down blue 41 back to the village, which took me a considerable time, and then I amused myself on one of the nursery slopes for a while, until my knees started to protest. That was the last time I left my knee supports in my hotel room all week!

The following day, the Thomson rep was organising a Ski Ranger day, and I went up the 4-man chair to Gampen again, and then up a 2-man chair to Kapall. I found I simply couldn't keep up with the rest of the skiers in the party, though, and I ended up skiing blue 36 back to Gampen a couple of times. I saw the Thomson rep at lunchtime and he said that he was going to be in the Krazy Kangaruh until about 4pm, and I said that I would join the party for a drink. As it turned out, I was very glad to know that I would be able to find the rep there, because while I was skiing down blue 41 to the Krazy Kangaruh, I took a fall and one of my bindings broke. Eventually, someone took pity on me and skied down to the Krazy Kangaruh with my skis, and I walked down there, arriving just as Simon, the rep, and one of the really good skiers, Graham, were about to leave. I explained my predicament and Simon started altering ski bindings so that I would have two skis to ski the rest of the way down on. He couldn't figure out how to adjust my Tyrolia bindings, so I ended up skiing on one 175 ski of mine and one 190 ski of Graham's, while Simon skied on Graham's other 190 and Graham carried down my broken ski. (Graham was using Simon's skis.)

Once at the bottom, we all adjourned to a café for a drink and Simon's start-of-the-week talk, and then Simon sent me to a shop called Pangratz, which he does a lot of business with. They looked at my Blizzard skis, which were new in 1986, and which already had three sets of holes drilled in them for mounting bindings, and which had been serviced a number of times, and they didn't recommend putting new bindings onto them, so I ended up being persuaded into buying a pair of Kastle 180 skis to mount my new bindings on. There was another ski rep called Simon in St.Anton, who worked for First Choice, and he was in Pangratz when I went in there, and he helped me choose my new bindings. After my experiences with Tyrolia bindings (this was the second set where a heel clamp had broken off) I was somewhat reluctant to get Tyrolia bindings again, but Simon from First Choice looked at my failed bindings and looked at me, and asked me how much I weigh, and said that my bindings were not up to my weight, and that was why they had broken. In the end, the bindings which were the best value which were up to my weight were another set of Tyrolia bindings, so I did end up getting Tyrolia bindings again. What a good thing I had my trusty MasterCard with me!

On Monday, I collected my new skis and went up to Kapall again. I thought I'd like to ski somewhere that I'd already been while I got used to my new skis. Unfortunately, I ran into boot trouble. I had new Rossignol boots, which I had purchased from Snow + Rock in High Street Kensington. I had been breaking them in on the dry ski slope, and Snow + Rock had widened them for me, but once I wore them for more than a couple of hours, I found that despite all the time spent fitting them, that my feet were moving forwards in them, and my big toe nails were becoming painful. I had hoped that Pangratz might be able to fine-tune the boots for me, but they were either unable or unwilling to do anything about them, and I ended up hiring a different pair of boots for the rest of my week. Unfortunately, by the time I decided to call it a day with my own boots, I had already bruised the big toe nail on my right foot quite badly, and I suspect that I might lose that toe nail. Snow + Rock give a comfort guarantee with all their ski boots, and if they cannot satisfactorily fine-tune the boots, I will be able to get most of my money back. I have now visited Snow + Rock, who have put extra padding around my ankles to improve the grip of the boots on this area of my feet. I will be taking the boots out on the dry ski slope for a couple of hours to see what happens. The boot fitter in Snow + Rock told me that he has seen a lot of black toes recently, and people who were happy with their boots at Christmas have had problems in mid-February this year because of the prevailing snow conditions. I am quite likely guilty of leaning back on my skis, which is when the foot tends to move forwards in the boot. The problem wasn't apparent on the dry slope because I could ski confidently there and wasn't leaning back.

On Tuesday, the Thomson rep was taking a party to Lech. I had heard that the ski runs at Lech were easier than the ski runs at St.Anton, and I was keen to go, although I said that I probably wouldn't ski with his party, as they were too good for me. The day at Lech turned out to be a very good idea indeed. The pistes at Lech were well groomed and in good condition and I spent my morning on the blue runs there. I wasn't the only Thomson customer skiing independently of the rep, and we met up with the main party for lunch. After lunch, we took the Rüfikopf cable car and I skied with the rest of the party as we made our way down the mountains to Zürs, where our transport was waiting to take us back to St.Anton. The snow at Zürs was not as good as the snow at Lech: it must have caught more sun, and had become quite sugary.

Although the Arlberg lift pass covers all the places I skied during the week, it is not possible to ski between St.Christoph and Zürs. It is possible to ski from Lech to Zürs on marked pistes, and it is possible to ski from Zürs to Lech on an itinerary. (Thankyou, Dennis Summerbell, for this information: I was under the impression that there was no way back from Zürs. For more of Dennis, visit my skiing links.) There are also ski buses on which the lift pass is valid to transport skiers between locations.

By Wednesday, I had my skiing standard back to somewhere near where it was last time I had done an appreciable amount of skiing, and I joined the ski school for the rest of the week. On Wednesday, I was put into too high a class, and I didn't have the stamina to keep up with them. They did a very quick run on reds from St.Anton to St.Christoph, and were then catching the ski bus to Lech. I nearly went with them, because I would have enjoyed some more time in Lech, but I needed to stop and rest more often than they wanted to, so we parted company at St.Christoph and I took the Valfagehr chairlift and skied back to St.Anton. The next day, I was assigned to a class which suited my level of fitness better. The instructor stopped more frequently to give instruction, which gave my thighs a chance to recover, and also meant that I learnt more. I had two very enjoyable days in that class. On Thursday morning, we skied to St.Christoph, where we had lunch, and in the afternoon, the instructor took us up the Valluga. On Friday morning we went up to Gampen again, and skied down towards St.Anton for lunch. After lunch, we came all the way down, and took the gondola across to Rendl. The snow there was quite good, because the slopes are west-facing and hadn't had too much sun, but there were a few rocks starting to show through. I was possible to ski back from Rendl to St.Anton, though, and our class did so. By the time we got to the bottom, although it was only 3pm on my last day, I was tired, and I decided against having one last ski by myself.

The village

I did not think that St.Anton was as pretty a village as some of the other places I have stayed in Austria, although I know that some of the others staying in St.Anton didn't agree with me. One thing that I think everybody would agree on is that St.Anton is expensive. I walked into one of the souvenir shops and found a double pack of playing cards suitable for Bridge or Canasta for which they wanted the equivalent of 10. Other souvenir prices seemed to be in line with this, so I decided that souvenir shopping in St.Anton was a bad idea.

I found that there were numerous cash machines in St.Anton, and although I took some traveller's cheques with me, I didn't end up cashing them, as the cash machines were so much more convenient. They give you the option of English, French or German when you put your card into them, and after that, they tell you exactly which keys to press, and are very easy to use.

Back to the grindstone

The coach which took me back to Innsbruck Airport called at my hotel at ten to seven on Saturday morning. (Groan!) Innsbruck Airport was heaving with returning skiers. It isn't a very big airport, and they don't have trolleys, as there simply wouldn't be room for them. There was a bit of a wait at Innsbruck, as fog at Gatwick had delayed the outward flights, but we finally got under way. I had a further delay at Gatwick, as I travel on an Australian passport, and got held up in passport control as there was a queue off another flight ahead of me. I was the last person to claim my baggage, and my taxi driver was starting to wonder whether I was really on the flight by the time I appeared.

The weather was sunny the whole time I was in St.Anton. There was a very small amount of snow one morning, but the sun was soon out again. I got out my old and no longer fashionable ear muffs one day when it got a bit chilly on a chairlift, but I didn't use my ski goggles all week, and I didn't get out my hat or scarf either. I did use quite a lot of suncream, and managed to come back without getting sunburnt, but my face was tanned some shades darker than the rest of me by my return.

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Last Revised: 5th November, 2005.