It’s never too late to start skiing – I began in my 50s, and now take my grandchildren

Our writer first took to the slopes in his 50s, and is a big fan of Austria and Westendorf in particular

Westendorf is a super-popular ski resort in Austria's SkiWelt. Photo: Getty

Kevin Flanagan and grandchildren Kuba and Maya prepare for a day on the slopes

thumbnail: Westendorf is a super-popular ski resort in Austria's SkiWelt. Photo: Getty
thumbnail: Kevin Flanagan and grandchildren Kuba and Maya prepare for a day on the slopes
Kevin Flanagan

I was never taken skiing as a child. I started much later in life and almost by accident after being asked to go on a trip when I was well into my 50s. And there were inner doubts – “I’m too old to ski” and “I’ll break a leg”.

Happily, none of that hap­pened. I did suffer bumps and bruises, as well as the humil­iation of seeing seasoned skiers, young and old, sail effortlessly past me. But we all have to start somewhere.

Over the past decade, I have gone skiing every year and would now rate myself an adequate skier who can navigate a black slope if called on (black is hardest, with red next and then blue, the easiest).

Now my ski trips have an added delight – I head off with my two grandkids, Kuba (8) and five-year-old Maya.

Last year, we visited the Austrian resort of Westendorf in Tyrol, which has direct access to the SkiWelt, one of the biggest ski networks in Austria.

We travelled as guests of Top­flight, the family-owned Irish company with decades of experience organising ski holidays, so we were in good hands.

The advantage of using a one-stop travel operator is that once you turn up at the airport, everything is organised – flights, transfers, ski passes and ski school. You have only to focus on the actual skiing itself. Many skiers prefer to book everything themselves, of course, but it’s a personal choice.

Kevin Flanagan and grandchildren Kuba and Maya prepare for a day on the slopes

When it comes to ski resorts, the Irish are spoiled for choice. France, Italy and Switzerland are all popular, but I love Austria in general and Westendorf in particular – it’s a real Alpine community.

You meet locals who have spent their lives in the moun­tains, and that authenticity tells when it comes to your skiing experience.

Let me try to put into words why I love skiing in Westen­dorf.

You’ve taken the Gamp­enkogelbahn cable car and found yourself at the top of the mountain. You’re above the clouds, so the sun is shining (you can easily get sunburnt while skiing – something non-skiers never imagine).

You’re surrounded by snow-covered peaks. The only thing above you is blue sky, and the air is the purest you will ever breathe.

You join your teacher and follow their tracks as they ski down from the top slope. It’s your last run of the morning.

Perhaps you’ve explored the slopes of the Choralpe to the south, or the long Kandlerab­fahrt red piste taking you all the way to the village of Brixen to the north.

Now you’re skiing to a chalet for lunch. Moments later, you find yourself picking up speed. You turn and navigate a big bend. The mountain opens up and you see valleys below.

You enter a tunnel of overhanging fern trees and plunge downwards. Your heart pounds. You feel the wind on your face and hear the sizzle as your skis cut through the snow. You flash past other, slower skiers. You see your destina­tion – the busy chalet restau­rant 500 metres below.

You hunker down and speed up. Filled with exhilaration, you make the final run in and come to a halt in a spray of snow.

Helmets come off and smiles wreath your face and those of your companions. You have just skied two kilometres in around two minutes.

You enter the ski chalet, order a beer or gluhwein and take a seat outside looking down the mountain. Your Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel arrive and you tuck in with an appetite that only three hours of skiing at altitude can give you. Your whole body is buzzing with pleasure.

And my grandchildren? They’re in ski school from 10am to 4pm, learning with children their own age.

We usually meet at the bottom of the slopes as the sun goes down and ski together for a while before heading in for apres ski – hot chocolate for them and a G&T for me.

Skiing with the grandkids shows me the advantage of learning earlier than I did. One afternoon, I try to follow Kuba’s class down a steep red slope, taking videos as we go. I can’t keep up with them and operate a camera at the same time, so I end up wrapped around a tree.

Then there’s Maya. On only her third day of skiing, I take her up to the top of the begin­ner’s slope, certain I can share my hard-earned expertise.

I tell her to follow me and make one careful turn. When I look up, she’s no longer behind me and I see her pink ski jacket disappearing down the slope in the distance.

Both Kuba and Maya look at my ski efforts with amuse­ment.

“Why are you so slow, GaGa?” they ask (yes, call me GaGa).

It’s sobering being out-skied by grandkids who aren’t too long out of nappies, but it also fills me with joy. I’m passing something precious on – a gift that will keep on giving while there’s snow in the Alps.

I’m glad I found skiing at 50 rather than five. It offered me a challenge I met head-on, and now I’m reaping the rewards. If you’ve never skied, take it up now – you won’t regret it.

As for Westendorf, it’s a family-oriented resort, a short transfer from Salzburg or Munich and with many good two-star and four-star hotels.

Eating out and apres ski needn’t be expensive. Wine costs between €4 and €5 a glass, and spritz with wine is €3. Great local beer is €3.90 for half-a-litre, but the best apres ski value is the local brandy at €2.50 a glass.

Accommodation ranges from a two-star hotel costing €70 euro a night, while a three-star costs €10 more. A fab hotel such as the Post comes in at around €800 for seven nights in March. Add in ski lift passes at €280, ski hire €60 and ski school from €240 per person.

A ski holiday isn’t cheap, but it will give you a lifetime of fab memories – and what’s more priceless than that?

Three top tips

Go to ski school

You’ll be with instructors who have spent years honing their skills, so you’ll learn more quickly and be less of a risk to yourself and others. You’ll also be in a group with people of similar or no skills.

Take lessons before you go

I took the grand­kids to the Ski Club of Ireland in Kilternan, just outside Dublin. You learn to put on the gear (boots are difficult) and the basics – how to stop and turn. This will save you precious hours when you get out on the real show.

Start a fitness regime

You can end up skiing for as many as six hours a day. If you’re unfit, you’ll tire easily and be more prone to injury. So, in the weeks before you ski, go walking, hiking or swimming. Or try yoga or strength training. You’ll enjoy your skiing holiday so much more.

NB: Kevin was a guest of Top­flight (