Andrea Smith in Austria: Flirting with skiing in Bad Hofgastein
On the slopes
There are times when it becomes abundantly clear that some of us are not built for speed or elegance.
This realisation hit me as I wobbled across Angertal mountain in Austria with all the grace of a Teletubby on skis, with what seemed like two small children clinging to my ankles. Ski boots! What sadist invented those heavy, rigid instruments of torture, eh?
Anyway, I was in a tiny minority, as everywhere I went, people whizzed joyously and effortlessly by me, and even small tots skied rings around me and put my lack of prowess to shame. There's a dedicated ski school at Angertal, and I could see newbies as ungainly as myself transforming into Eddie the Eagle by the end of the week. I should have enrolled in classes really, but nonetheless I was lucky enough to have a couple of private lessons with Kurt Fuchs, who is head of the ski school.
He was so kind and encouraging, and my acute special needs when it comes to fitness didn't seem to faze him. If he was muttering "For Fuch's sake," under his breath as I flailed and stumbled and complained bitterly around the slopes, he certainly never let on. He even took pity on me and gave me a lift back to the ski school in the Ski-Doo, a little snow wagon normally used for transporting children.
While Austria is a delightful place to go at any time of year, and equally beautiful in the summer, I was there to take part in the Topflight Today FM ski trip with The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, which has broadcast from Austria annually for the past 17 years. There were 600 listeners from all over the country along for the week, and all were up for fun, so the atmosphere was electric.
And OMG the flirting! If you're single and looking for love, I highly recommend booking a place for next year the minute they become available. All I can say is that it was like The Ballroom of Romance on ice, as things hotted up on and off the piste. Unsurprisingly, there have been several weddings as a result of this particular trip over the years.
We all stayed in various hotels around Bad Hofgastein, an exclusive ski and wellness resort in the Gastein Valley, near Salzburg. I stayed on a half-board basis at the Hotel Palace (www.palace-gastein.com), which was lovely and the food was excellent. It's a really pretty little town with lovely shops and restaurants, offering huge scope for apres-ski shenanigans. Due to the sheer number of us, much of our socialising at night was done at the fabulous Festalm, which could accommodate all of us. Its restaurant, Die Gastein Alm, did the best pizza I have tasted in an age.
There's a regular free shuttle bus from Bad Hof to Angertal mountain, where the ski school is located, unless you feel like skiing there yourself, and some crazy people did that every day. The runs around Gastein Valley offer a great mix of beginner and intermediate slopes, enchanted forest trails and ski touring options for experts. No matter what you want to do, the lovely Topflight reps are always around to advise and make sure everything runs smoothly, and they're also huge fun.
Everywhere I looked in the town, there were people skiing cross-country, snow-boarding or snow-shoeing across the parks. I tried out the latter, and it was great fun and completely do-able, even for me. While it was cold and crisp enough for skiing, the sun shone regularly while I was there. Nonetheless, it's wise to bring your thermals. My mother bought me some men's ones, due to my portly size, complete with a pouch for my willy. Thank God I didn't break my leg and have to have my trousers cut off by the paramedics!
Even if you don't ski, there are plenty of other options to entertain you. In addition to 250km of pistes, reaching as high as 2700m in the area of Sportgastein, Bad Hofgastein is also the home of the Alpentherme, one of Europe's most exclusive thermal spas. People come from all over the world for its healing properties, as the water from Gastein's hot springs contains the natural noble gas, radon.
Radon is absorbed through the respiratory passages and skin and offers many health benefits, yet is completely broken down within just a few hours. I met lots of people with arthritis and respiratory illnesses, who were spending the entire winter in Bad Hofgastein as they swore by the water's healing properties.
I went to the spa twice to help me overcome the trauma of skiing, and came out feeling like a million dollars. It's a stunning spa, with six different adventure and vitality pools, suitable for both adults and children. If you venture outside and bubble away in the outdoor hot pool (weird to be percolating in the glorious warm water while surrounded by snow), you get a unique 360 degree panoramic view of the Alps. It's particularly pretty at night, with all the lights twinkling on the mountains.
Even if you don't ski, make sure to take the cable car up to Stubnerkogel, where the views are breathtaking, and if you're brave enough, you can cross the 140m-long pedestrian bridge there. It's one of Europe's highest suspension bridges with a 28m drop, and the world beneath you seems to become completely still as you cross it. All of the bars and restaurants around the mountains have entertainment, so you will never be in danger of becoming bored.
We stopped for lunch one day at the Hirschen Hutte, which was gorgeous, as they had live traditional Austrian music. Gluhwein is a popular mulled wine here, and even though I don't normally drink, I found a glass perfect for warming up my cold, dead heart one particular day.
Another lovely option is to take a day trip to Salzburg 90km away, either to explore or to do The Sound of Music tour. You don't even have to dress in your hotel curtains to check out the Von Trapps' gazebo, family home and lake and generally doe-a-deer your way around the place.
Plus, to warm yourself up, you simply must indulge in a creamy hot chocolate, or else partake in the traditional Austrian kaffee und kuchen ritual of delicious coffee and cakes.
Drinking chocolate and eating cakes? Now that's what I call a proper winter sport!
Andrea travelled to Austria with Topflight. Its ski season runs from mid-December to end March. For the date and destination of the Topflight Today FM Ski Trip 2017, tune in to the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show.
Topflight also offers: Stay & Explore Austria, a week in the Austrian Tirol staying at four-star Sporthotel Austria in St Johann, with three excursions during your stay. Or seven-night family adventure holidays in the Austrian Tirol. Dates: 3, 17, 31 July 2016.
Stay at Hotel Sonnenburg (half board) - adults, €729pps and children under 15 from €365. Call 01 2401700 or visit topflight.ie
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