A SKI TRIP IN THE AUSTRIAN ALPS

Base area in Solden Austria

DAY ONE (March 12, 2009) — Schnapps at 9 a.m.?

Apparently it is an Austrian custom before skiing. “To give you courage,” says our young guide Nicole Klotz who grew up in this Austrian valley that boasts Europe’s biggest ski area.

We are in Solden, a village of just 3,300 people that boasts 34 lifts and 150 KM of slopes—and two glaciers, Rettenbach and Jiefenbach ,where we hope to ski tomorrow (too windy today.) www.soelden.com There are three major ski areas and eight villages in this Oetzal Valley (www.oetzal.com) — Solden, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl and Oetz. We hope to ski at least two of them while we’re here as well as visit the famous Aqua Dome in Langenfeld that’s fed with thermal waters — three giant pools! — and that I hear locals love as much as tourists. www.aqua-dome.at

The villages are connected by a shuttle bus system. Show your ski pass, I’m told, and you ride free.

When my 18 year old daughter Melanie and I were touring Austria last summer, she begged me to bring her skiing this winter — her last before she leaves for college.

So in the true spirit of let kids lead the way, here we are, about an hour from Innsbuck and just a couple of hours drive from Munich or Zurich.

We flew Austrian Airlines (www.aua.com) to Vienna and then to Innsbruck and took a taxi here, though there are shuttles available. A piece of cake… and the food (in economy) was the best I’ve had on an airline in ages. Fresh rolls! A cheese assortment! Great coffee!

We are staying in the 90-room Hotel Regina (www.hotel-regina.com) which has been in the same family for 40 years, a two minute walk to one of the gondolas. The hotel is very pretty with wood-beamed ceilings and balconies that overlook the oh-so-majestic Alps.

There is a big wellness center here (aka Spa) with all kinds of treatments (chalk mud bath or salt silt poultice) as well as facials and massages that I’m glad to see are cheaper than in USA ski country.

In fact, a ski trip here — assuming you get a deal on flights or have frequent flier miles — isn’t as pricey as you might think. Lift tickets for adults are about 40 Euros (less than $60 and less for kids) and you can stay in a pensione that serves breakfast for about that price per person a night (again less for kids).

The Hotel Regina where we’re staying costs more, but dinner is part of the deal. And having stocked too many ski condos over the years to count — and cooked too many breakfasts and then spaghetti dinners for tired kids at the end of the ski day — I love that we just amble downstairs to the spacious dining room with its huge picture windows for an ample breakfast buffet. I love checking out all three different kind of cereals and breads. During dinner at “our” table our first night in Austria, Melanie and I toasted our mom-daughter getaway with some Austrian red wine (pretty good) and ate Tyrolean cream barley soup and schnitzel, complete with fried apple and cranberries. Yum!

Yesterday after we arrived and rested up after our travels, we ventured to après-ski downstairs in the hotel’s comfy lounge where sandwiches and pastries were being served (along with beer and Austrian wines and cappuccino). We could surf the web while we noshed.

This might be the most relaxing ski trip I’ve managed in years. No one to get to ski school… no grocery shopping to do… no cooking! And the food is really, really good.

There are several families among the good-spirited crowd but we seem to be the only Americans. Everyone around us is chattering in German (though I learn a lot of Russians also come here as do Brits). There is a plus, I think, to leave our comfort zone even for a skiing trip. Suddenly we realize what a big place the world is — that everyone doesn’t speak English or eat burgers and fries on the mountain for lunch.

In fact, instead of a typical American mid mountain cafeteria, we stop at a small wooden hut, Gampa Thaya (www.riml.com/ueberblick_bergszene.php?lang=en) — there are about 20 or so on the mountain with just 20 tables in a series of tiny wooden paneled rooms. Old cowbells hang on the walls. There’s more room outside on picnic tables. We feast on soup with bacon dumplings and fresh sausage and bread. Again, I realize, looking around this quaint mountain haven, that a ski trip can be much more than about skiing.

This place would be a lot of fun in summer too, we decide, when you can hike — even staying at small wooden huts along the way. Again-so easy- no need to carry food or tents! I like those kind of hiking trips!

The mountains, of course, are heart-stopping beautiful — craggy, high without a fancy ski house or condo complex in sight. The runs are wide open — no tree glades here.

And while the trails are far better marked than I expected, they aren’t groomed the way they would be at American resorts. That means I spend the morning skiing moguls — not my favorite thing! Ah what a mom does for her kids!

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