Saturday 24 February 2018

Sofa to Slopes: Andrea Smith - 'I didn’t take lessons, relying on scant memories from my 1985 school trip. That was a mistake.'

After successfully completing her Couch to Camino challenge earlier this year, self-confessed 'fatty' Andrea Smith tries to conquer skiing. This is her fifth and final entry.

Ready, set... go! Andrea Smith's ski-ing adventure is taking off.
Ready, set... go! Andrea Smith's ski-ing adventure is taking off.
Andrea Smith makes some new friends on her skiing lesson
Andrea Smith pictured in Austria
Paddy Casey, his daughter Saoirse, Andrea Smith and Declan O'Rourke
Andrea Smith with Mario, Ian and Mairead
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

I’ve come to my final day on the Topflight Today FM ski trip 2016 to Austria with the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, and two main things happened this week. The first was that I learned that I am shockingly bad at ski-ing, mainly because I’m shaped like an apple on legs, and am a total scaredy cat when it comes to fast sports. I was also kinda afraid of falling and breaking my hip - I am 47, after all.

I probably failed miserably to progress beyond a few feet because I didn’t take proper lessons, which was a drawback, relying on my scant memories from my 1985 school trip to Bulgaria to guide me through. That was a mistake. Big!

Having said that, I had great fun messing around on the slopes, even though, wuss that I am, I complained bitterly that the boots were too heavy and the snow was too cold. All around me, people were whizzing by with grace and panache, even teeny children, and disappearing without a care over the sides of what looked to me like sheer drops. I was the only failure though, as everyone else on the trip loved the actual ski-ing, and I have to say the instructors at Angertal Ski School are marvellous.

Even if you don’t ski, there is so much to do that it doesn’t matter. You can go snowshoeing or tobogganing, and get cable cars up to the top of the mountains where the views are breathtaking. There is always live music in the restaurants and clubs and on the slopes, so there’s a permanent party atmosphere going on. From talking to some of the 600 listeners who came on our trip, great bonds were formed in the classes and they all said the instructors and Topflight reps were brilliant.

In the gorgeously pretty town of Bad Hofgastein itself where our hotels were based, there was loads going on as well and many excellent restaurants and shops. After the final broadcast of the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, which I wrote about yesterday, myself and a gang had dinner at Das Franz Im Salzburgerhof, where we had an Ian Dempsey burger, I kid you not. Not alone is Iano a hugely popular DJ in Ireland, you can actually come to Bad Hofgastein and munch on his very own burger, which features sour cream, caramelised onions, roasted mushrooms, fried bacon, grated cheese and BBQ sauce. Deelish!

After lunch, I took myself off the thermal waters of the Alpentherme Gastein, in the centre of the town, which has healing properties. With indoor and outdoor pools, there was something magical about sitting in a heated thermal outdoor pool, surrounded by snow, as clouds of steam rose up all around me, and I could see the lights twinkling on the mountains above me. Many people travel here just for the thermal healing properties, and after the week I’d had of ski exertions and trauma, boy did I need it.

That evening we had our final night at the Festalm, where there was karaoke first - and Topflight’s Neal Collins belted out a number there - and then talented DJ Fran Kennedy spun the decks for the final few hours. Fran knew well how to get the crowd going, and the memories of 600 people lifting the roof (and floor) of the Festalm off doing Riverdance will never leave me. Michael Flatley had nothing to fear, mind you, as the lads of Ireland were in no danger of stealing his crown.

Before we left, Ian explained that there is a particular type of magic that happens on the annual ski trip. You would have to be there to understand it, but I have never seen people have such fun on a week away in my life. Many of the listeners said it was the best week away they were ever on, because apart from the ski-ing and general facilities, which were first-class, having the radio show and the events they put on running in tandem with the sports side of the trip just made it extra-special.

There have been plenty of romances and even marriages arising from previous trips, and from what I could see, this year was the start of another few beautiful relationships. There was so much intermingling and flirting going on it was amazing, but it was all great fun and there was nothing sleazy about it. If you are single and looking to meet nice people, I would highly recommend it though. Even I got chatted up, which was the biggest miracle of the whole week.

I have to say that the 600 listeners who came with us were fabulous, because while they all partied their heads off and entered into the craic with gusto, it was such good, clean fun and they were really a credit to Ireland. You know the way we sometimes get a bad rep when hordes of young people go abroad and cause havoc? This was the exact opposite, because while there was intensive partying going on the whole time, everyone behaved so well and the atmosphere was really inclusive rather than being intimidating.

I have to give credit to the Ian and his team this week as they played an absolute blinder. It was no easy task transporting a radio show thousands of miles away to the side of a snowy mountain, but they pulled it off and it was brilliant. Well done to producer Mairead Ronan in particular, and the team of Charlie, Helen, Paul, Shauna, Shane, Pat and Peter. We had such fun getting to interact with them all, and having Declan O’Rourke, Mundy, Wallis Bird, Paddy and Saoirse Casey, Marvin and the Grooves and Shane O Fearghail entertaining us all week was the icing on the cake.

Topflight were amazing, and their organisation of the whole trip was flawless. It’s no wonder they are considered the number one winter sports company, because they make it all so easy, regardless of whether you are on this trip or just here under your own steam. Kudos to Tony and Neal Collins and their team, including Carmel. Alison, Siobhan, Rosemary, Conor, Peter and all of the reps.

As always, PR wonder guru par excellence Aileen Eglington and her team, Trudi, Mark and Paul, worked wonders, making everything happen like magic and organising everything so well. I’d like to especially thank them as they minded me so wonderfully this week, so even though I was by myself, I didn’t feel like Billy-no-mates. Thanks especially to Trudi Mason who did most of the filming of my videos and taking photos for this blog and took brilliant care of me, and also Mark, Fran and Aileen who helped with the media side too. You were so kind and patient lads!

The Austrians were wonderful and embraced all of the mad Irish descending on them with good humour and grace. Thanks to Mayor Fritz and Hermine Morstch and Franz Naturner of the Austrian Tourist Board for being so kind and putting me up in the fabulous Johannesbad Palace hotel.

We are going home today, and are probably all in need of another holiday to recover from all the excitement. I will need to lie down in a darkened room for a week anyway. I hope you enjoyed the blogs and they entertained you, even if I utterly failed in my challenge to become a skier. Aw well, I never claimed to be a sportswoman! You can't have it all, like!!

To keep up with the gang, tune into the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM every morning from 7-9 am, and for further information on Topflight’s ski holidays, see 

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