SITTING IN THE ALPINE SUN

View of the craggy Alps from the lunch hut

DAY 4 — The sky is post card blue. The Alps look like they are covered in marshmallow fluff with Oreo crumbles underneath.

We’re sitting in the sun staring at 21 glaciers eating Tyrolean specialties like Grostl (fried meat and potatoes topped with a fried egg), local dumplings made with ham spinach and cheese, homemade sausage and of course apple strudel for desert — the best I’ve ever tasted.
Incidentally, the kids menu includes the Harry Potter (a small wiener schnitzel) or a frankfurter with fries or the SpongeBob pasta.

We’re at a new Austrian hut “Mut Alm” at the Obergurgl ski area, about 10 miles or so from where we’re staying in Solden (www.obergurgl.com). The area reminds me of Beaver Creek in Colorado — lots of empty slopes, perfect snow and a picturesque village at the base. We pass many kids following their ski instructors like pied pipers.

“Everyone speaks English,” says Rachael Evans, who is from Birmingham, England and who is sitting next to me at the wooden picnic table in the sun looking out at the 21 glaciers while her two kids are in ski “shule” (for half the price as in the USA, by the way).

“It is so pretty and so different for the kids,” says Evans, who took her children out of school — to the teachers’ dismay — to join a group of friends vacationing here. “It is such a life experience to see different culture and experience a different way of life. I think it builds confidence.”

I think she’s correct. I think taking kids out of their comfort zone is important and there is no prettier place to do that than here in Austria, where locals are friendly and speak at least some English but everything — from the mountains to the chalet houses — look decidedly different than at home.

Did I mention everything is cheaper too? From ski school to food to private ski instructors to lift tickets, it seems as if it all costs roughly half what it would at major U.S. ski resorts — and that’s accounting for the value of the dollar against the Euro.

“What I like is the tradition here and the food,” says local Jasmine Fielgh, who spends summers in Vermont with her boyfriend, a ski coach.

And of course the snow is wonderful — fresh snow, blue skies and sunshine.

Obergurgl is a smaller area (just 23 lifts) than Solden and it doesn’t give you the chance to ski on glaciers. But it does give you the chance to drink in the Alps — mountain after mountain peak — and to ski on lifts that never seem to get crowded. You won’t find much nightlife here (there is a lively après ski scene in Solden), but younger kids — or even those teens who have skied hard all day — will be perfectly happy to hang out in hotels small enough that grade schoolers can confidently go up to their room while their parents linger over coffee or that last glass of wine in the dining room.

A point about skiing style here: Europeans seem to relax more than Americans on the slopes. They don’t rush to be out for first tracks and they don’t ski to the bitter end when the lifts close at 4 p.m. They stop for a long leisurely lunch — and a beer or two — sitting in the sunshine on the deck of one of these mountain huts drinking in the scenery.

Because the gondola comes right here to this Mut Alm, we see quite a few parents with babies (all wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes from the strong sun) and their strollers here for lunch. They seem to be having as good a time as all the grownups, playing in the snow, eating the Austrian version of mac and cheese.

Come in summer, I’m told, and there are some 120 huts spread in the mountains where you can stay and eat for less than $50 a night (less for kids).

Sounds good to me!

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