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A WALK IN THE WOODS

Solden Austria

DAY 5 — Just a walk in the woods. That’s what I thought when I signed up for a snowshoe tour — they call it “snow walking” here.

It is our last day in Solden (www.soelden.com), one of Austria’s leading ski resorts and equally appealing in summer when you can hike from mountain hut to mountain hut. My daughter Melanie goes off with a young guide to ski “off piste” — into areas of the mountain that are considered out of bounds where you must have a guide with you to be safe.

I decide I want to see what else this tiny resort village has to offer so I decide to go on a walk in the woods with engaging ski pro Alois Gstrein, who was raised here on a farm and has lived here all his life, now with his wife and new baby. His entire family – parents, two brothers, two sisters — all live here.

So we park the car and head up the mountain — and up and up and up –about 5 KM straight up what’s called the Old Mountain Trek through the woods, crossing a few ski runs, until finally, three hours later we come to Sonneck, one of the many “huts” here that serve lunch. I am so glad to sit down and rest my bad knee!

The snow in some places is more than a meter deep. We pass a 200 year-old wooden farm house uninhabited in winter. In summer, the animals live below and the farmers above, Gstrein explains. He points out huts in the distance on the mountain slopes where you can hike in summer and get a meal, spend the night. (www.oetzal.com). What a great way to introduce kids to a new culture, I think. It is so beautiful — so different from USA suburbs with the wooden chalets and huts on the mountain side. The food is different, but kids will like it (especially the fries and Austrian’s version of mac and cheese).

I meet up with Melanie and her guide at lunch. Unlike in the U.S., the guides go off to have their own lunch while we relax. “No need to rush,” my guide tells me.

The snow reminds me of marshmallow fluff. It is so quiet in the woods! I’d love to come back here in summer when these mountains are covered with wildflowers instead of snow.

I meet John Moat, who with his wife Christina Hart and 9 year-old daughter Katie Moat. They have opted for a trip here rather than an American or Canadian ski resort. They are from Toronto, Christina Hart explained, and like to combine some skiing with culture. They are going on to Prague from here. “They get a week of skiing and I get a week of the city,” she jokes. She raves about the food at the Hotel Regina (www.hotel-regina.com), where we all are staying and eat breakfast as well as dinner — more economically than at many U.S. ski condos. Katie loves that she can help herself from the bountiful buffet in the morning (three croissants!) and salad bar at dinner that includes salads as well as cheeses. She’s tried everything, her mother reports — creamy soups (that Melanie likes too), fresh trout, chicken, and of course the deserts — this is Austria after all.

“We even love the comfy beds with the puffy duvets,” Hart reports. “This is a different culture and it’s a different experience. Katie has to function in a language that’s not her own. The food is different.” They walk instead of taking a car — also different from home, she says.

They chose this resort and this hotel because the hotel has good food (I can vouch for that) a pool and the ski areas have a variety of terrain. She also likes staying here — as I do — because it is comfortable with a child to be at one place where you eat every day and sleep every night. “Kids like that everyone recognizes them,” she says.

It’s also nice that there are children here from Italy, from Great Britain, from Austria and Germany speaking a gaggle of languages, but all are kids, after all. That’s a good message too, I think.

Coming here winter or summer is a lot more than about the snow or the hikes. It’s about introducing kids to a different culture and way of life. That’s a good lesson whatever the time of year.

Melanie skied off piste all day in untracked snow. With a guide showing her the way. They skied where there were no other skiers — out f bounds. The guide was an expert at this kind of skiing. She’s very happy with her goggle tan and I of course am happy that she’s happy.

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