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Peak practice is the height of cool

After years of listening to friends raving about skiing, I finally decided to try it for myself. I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it but doubtful it could be as fantastic as people make out. What about the freezing cold and sore limbs, not to mention the endless items of clothing you have to bring?

Well, as I have discovered, the whole ski experience is pretty cool. Even the inevitable tumbles are enjoyable -- especially when it's someone else landing on their backside.

A group of us visited St Johann in Tirol, Austria, with Crystal Ski, which specialises in winter snow sport packages across Europe, including 42 different resorts in Austria. St Johann is exactly how you'd imagine an Austrian mountain village, with snowy peaks stretching out as far as you can see. It sits between the Kitzbuheler Horn and the Wilder Kaiser mountains and is just one hour and 15 minutes by bus from Salzburg airport.

We stayed in the four-star Park Hotel, located 100 metres from the ski slopes, and were given a warm welcome by hotel manager Seppe. The double rooms come with balconies and are very comfortable, large and kept spotlessly clean.

Two of the travelling party were total beginners, so we were taken for ski lessons on the morning after we arrived. For the uninitiated, the slopes are labelled green, blue, red and black, depending on their level of difficulty. After getting fitted for boots and skis at the nearby Ski Hire Mair, clunking awkwardly over to the beginners green slope and waiting in -15C temperatures for the lesson to begin, some of my preconceptions were being affirmed.

But that was the last time I felt the need to complain. The rest was pure enjoyment.

We were given instruction by Wolfgang Komornik of Schischule St Johann, the main ski school in the town (www.ski-johann.at). He went through the basics and by the end of the first day the group was able to go down the green slope without any problems.

After another couple of runs the following day, we were taken up the chairlifts to the blue slopes.

We snow ploughed (ie with the brakes on) our way down a couple of times before our instructor decided we were ready to weave from side to side, with a little more speed. On the third day, we were given a "surprise" and taken to the red slope, which was terrifying but also brilliant fun.

St Johann is part of three linked ski areas so you need to buy a Schneewinkel lift pass to allow access to all the zones.


Max's pub was the place to be for Austria's famous apres ski. The drinks are good value and everyone is on a high after the day's excitement, making for a great atmosphere.

One of the best things you can do in the resort, apart from skiing, is tobogganing. We were taken up the slope at night by Seppe and, after a bit of instruction, sent on our merry way flying down the toboggan track.

As far as restaurants go, the food was of a very high standard -- as fresh and hearty as you would expect from a mountain farming community.

We ate in the Italian restaurant Villa Masianco (www.masianco.at), La Rustica pizzeria and the mountainside Gasthof Restaurant Hochfeld (www.hochfeld.at), all in St Johann, and the Jagerwirt Hotel in the neighbouring town of Kitzbuhel where we had a delicious farmers' buffet.


There was also an excellent buffet breakfast each morning in the Park Hotel, while dinner is served every evening until 8.30pm.

Popular pubs include Rogi's, Bunny's and, of course, Max's -- particularly on a Wednesday night when there is karaoke. They have late opening hours and prices are generally a lot less than the cost of drinks in Dublin.

We also took a trip up the mountain one night to Rummlerhof Gasthof, where we were treated to some real Austrian hospitality. However, if you use the wooden snuff contraption, make sure to block your ears and close your eyes.

It is well worth taking a ski lesson before you go, if only to get an idea of basics such as putting on ski boots and the proper stance.

A couple of hours' tuition from Phil Dagg at the Ski Centre in Sandyford meant I had some idea what I was doing on the first day (www.skicentre.ie).

All in all, a really great holiday and I can't wait to go back.

For a full range of prices, see www.crystalski.ie