Monday 17 December 2018

'I was truly stunned' - Holly Carpenter takes her first ever ski trip in Solden

Ski holidays in Austria

Head in the clouds... Holly prepares to learn some new skills and take on the slopes of snowy Solden
Head in the clouds... Holly prepares to learn some new skills and take on the slopes of snowy Solden
Five star: Das Central Hotel is definitely the place to stay

Holly Carpenter

When I was given the chance to head off to Solden, Austria, for my first ski trip, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Snowboarding on the man-made slope in the Dubai Mall was the closest I had ever come to skiing. And while my brief snowboarding experience led to a painful bruised coccyx, seeing others whizz confidently by me left me with a yearning to master the art of skiing.

Luckily I have friends who owned ski gear so for this trip, I didn't need to fork out on goggles, thermals and ski clothes. It can be quite expensive to buy all of the essentials so I strongly recommend borrowing if you're a beginner.

While on the flight from Dublin to Munich, I got a chance to chat with the others in the group as to whether I was alone in my lack of experience. As it turned out, only two out of the six considered themselves experienced so that put me at ease.

After the two-and-a-half-hour flight, we landed in Munich airport. The flight was followed by a three-hour trip aboard a minibus which drove us over the border into Austria. I found it quite enjoyable taking the scenic route and passing through quaint snow-covered villages and gazing out the window at stretches of Narnia-esque uninhabited forest land.

As we arrived in Solden, we drove down its main street which is lined with traditional Tyrolean buildings. There's a good selection of bars and shops, but the ambiance is town-like.

Five star: Das Central Hotel is definitely the place to stay
Five star: Das Central Hotel is definitely the place to stay

On first impression, I felt the area had a great buzz and a very welcoming atmosphere. Seeing groups of friends and families making their way to the ski lifts carrying their skis and helmets gave me jitters of excitement to get started.

As we pulled up at Das Central hotel, I felt relieved to see that it was true to its name and was, in fact, very central. The building is walking distance from the ski shops and bars yet it has a long enough driveway that saves you from any noise pollution from the strip and gives it a cosy 'hide-away' feel.

The five-star spa hotel boasts Alpine luxury and its website says the hotel 'lets those who are keen on wellness take a deep breath'.

I must admit that the minute I walked through the doors of Das Central, I felt warm, welcomed and at ease. The staff, wearing traditional Tyrolean uniforms, greeted us. With the hotel's luxurious spa, a stylish bar with cosy fire place, and a wine vault with more than 30,000 bottles from the best wineries around the world, you would be forgiven for wanting to relax by the fire rather than brave the icy outdoors.

Just as this thought crept in, and as I was eyeing up an armchair by the fire, we were told it was time to drop our bags to the room and head out to get fitted with some ski equipment.

Conveniently, there is a ski hire located right alongside the hotel with friendly and helpful staff.

I thought preparing for the slopes would be a tedious task and that there would be plenty of queuing and waiting around.

However, the hotel makes it a quick and easy transition for its guests. Each person is given their own ski locker in a ground floor changing room which reduces the amount of mess you make in your hotel room.

The changing room has a separate exit that leads out to a free shuttle service to the lift stations. Little touches like this were very helpful along the way. Taking the lift up to the slope made me feel so tiny in comparison to the enormous bright white mountains towering over me.

As a first-timer, I was truly stunned by my surroundings. With breathtaking views at every angle, I could see why scenes from the James Bond movie Spectre were shot here.

Solden is quickly becoming a very popular ski resort with its 144km of pistes, from 1,350m to 3,340m above sea level. The area also boasts Austria's longest ski descent - about 15km and a 2,000m height difference.

Once we got to the top of the slope, we were divided into two groups according to our level of ability. I was in the 'extreme beginners' group. With a lack of balance, patience and confidence on the skis, I was off to a rough start. However, the ski instructors were really accommodating and reminded me that everyone has to start from somewhere and told me to move at my own (snail-like) pace.

These reassuring words were essential as I couldn't grasp the 'snow plough', which is the pretty basic position you need to learn in order to stop moving. After a few embarrassing crashes and tumbles, I eventually found my feet and mastered the baby slope.

The group then met up for lunch in the Giggijoch ski area which has three restaurants and two bars. The bar had a wonderfully lively atmosphere with people from all over the world toasting with mulled wine and warming up after a day on the snow.

We shared a big plate of Kaiserschmarrn which is a sweet shredded fluffy pancake dish with various toppings and sauces.

Then a DJ took to the stage and suddenly the bar was transformed into an outdoor music festival. The eclectic mix of people and ages in the crowd gave it such a unique atmosphere.

After a great night's sleep, I woke up feeling fresh and revitalised.

Everyone in the group commented how alive they felt after spending a day outdoors. Being surrounded by natural remedies like fresh mountain air and vitamin D-filled sunshine is enough to give anyone's immune system a boost.

We spent our second day on a higher slope. Although I remained at the back of the group, I gave it my best shot. I think I could have done with another day of lessons so my advice for any first-timers would be to allocate the first two days of your trip to be spent with a ski instructor.

By the end of the day, the aches and pains began to creep in. Because skiing puts you in a constant squat position, it works your inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, glutes and quads.

Though you will be too distracted by the surrounding beauty or too focused on the slope in front of you to notice your legs burning at the time, you will definitely feel the results the next day.

Arriving back at the hotel for a neck and shoulder massage was exactly what the doctor ordered. The five-star spa in Das Central is seriously impressive with its three-storey water world, Venezia, and 10 different saunas and steam baths.

When it comes to booking a getaway, I'm usually drawn to beach holidays where you sunbathe all day and venture out into the bars and clubs in the evening. However, as I sank into the hot tub to soothe my aching limbs, I felt a sense of fulfilment after learning a new skill.

Wrapped in a robe, drinking hot chocolate and looking out over the mountains, already I began plotting how quickly I can get back to this glorious spot.

Getting there

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Five star: Das Central Hotel is definitely the place to stay
 

Das Central Hotel, Solden, Austria (central-soelden.com/en/ 0043 5254 22600) has double rooms from €200 per person, based on two adults sharing on a half-board basis. For more information on Solden in the Austrian Otztal Valley, visit oetztal.com/en.

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