Monthly Archives: April 2011

29/4/11 – The royal wedding, Tirolean-style, on YouTube

While my ski buddies from last week in Ischgl were revving up for the end-of-season bash up the mountain, the highlight of which is a concert by The Killers on Sunday (1 May), here in Surrey some of us were enjoying a different kind of Austrian music. My sister, Teresa (see ‘About’), and her husband threw a party today to celebrate her 40th birthday, their 11th wedding anniversary and the royal wedding.

For me, the highlight – easily beating the evil Jaegerbombs that appeared around midnight – was Teresa’s performance of Austrian mountain music on her piano accordion. Here it is on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bsU_0saQKA

I’m afraid that in my excitement I filmed it the wrong way up, and it’s very dark, but hopefully you get the idea. The wild man next to Teresa is a keen skier that some regular readers may recognise: any guesses? I assure you his downhill is just as accomplished as his dancing. You may also be able to spot Wills and Kate among the guests somewhere.

Teresa took up the accordion aged around 10 – partly so she didn’t have to continue with the violin, but mainly because she adored mountain music. As readers who know us and past customers of More Than Skiing (see ‘About’) will know, both of us relish the sound of a jolly good yodel and the swing of an accordion, whether Austrian or Swiss. From the age of three we hummed along to mountain music nearly all the way from Le Havre to Anzere and back twice a winter, thanks to our parents’ brilliant (I mean it!) taste, although we nearly died of embarrassment when they once got up to dance – at lunchtime! – to a band in Zermatt when we were eight or nine.

Teresa can play lots of songs like these, plus a few Russian folk numbers – maybe I will record a few more to see all the mountain music-lovers among you (there must be one, surely!) through summer. In fact if you are a fan, you’re in luck: we’re planning to go to a Jodlerfest in June so there will be footage and pictures aplenty in a couple of months.

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Filed under Austria, Link to film, Music, Switzerland

26/4/11 – See the Weisse Rausch on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLfr5jYB7a8

Thank goodness I grew up in the 80s - the long skis were manageable

Have a look at this link from last Saturday: I’m afraid you won’t be able to spot me – though you might be able to see Kirstin, Emma and Dave on the grass near the finish. Check out the wipe-outs at the start, and the keenites skating up the hill…

Below is a link to the results – as you can see there are lots of categories!

http://services.datasport.com/2011/winter/weisserausch/#Marke0

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Filed under Austria, Link to film, Racing

23/4/11 – It’s official: there’s a crazier race than the Inferno

The first of three mass starts in the Weisse Rausch

I didn’t think there was an amateur ski race tougher or scarier than the Inferno (see previous posts), but I’m pleased (well, sort of) to report that I’ve competed in one today. St Anton’s Weisse Rausch, an end-of-season downhill staged on an end-of-day slush-field from the top of the Valluga to the town, has superseded Muerren’s January downhill for extremeness, exhaustion and exhilaration.

The second group, with the Valluga station above

It begins with a mass start – or rather three mass starts. First to set off, at 5pm, are the men born in 1973 or later, plus some leading contenders who, through good past results, have earned a place in the first batch. Ten minutes later the older men set off. This covers about 500 of the 650 competitors. Then it’s the turn of the women, snowboarders, big-footers, bladers, telemarkers and ski-bobbers (remember the snow bikes?).

I’m going to write about this race for a UK ski magazine next season – more details later – but for now I can reveal the following…

Paul Schwarzacher after his ninth win - Paul trains the Austrian slalom team

Racers are all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities; momentous music accompanies the countdown to each of the starts while a helicopter circles overhead. After the carnage of each start – which is signalled by cannon fire – there is a three- or four- or maybe five-minute hill climb less than a minute into the race. Most racers take their skis off and carry them up, although the winner skated up, using 170cm cross-country poles. Because the slope isn’t prepared after the day’s skiing, the course is a mad mess, covered in moguls and ruts. Approaching the finish you take your skis off again and carry them to the line – in knee-deep slush. And we thought we were there to have fun… (Amazingly, most people – including me – were grinning rather than grimacing as they collapsed in a heap at the finish.)

Very sadly, one racer, a 48-year-old man, had a heart attack during the race, about half way down, and could not be saved. So the mood at the prize-giving was sombre, and the official race party was cancelled as a mark of respect. At least the poor chap died doing something extremely exciting, and let’s hope his last thoughts were happy ones.

I won my age group (30-40) with a time of 15min. the winner took eight; the slowest more than an hour

Among the most entertaining prize-winners was a snowboarder who won his age group – as the only person in it – despite being easily the slowest finisher. This chap took an almighty one hour and two minutes: the winner, Paul Schwarzacher, took around eight minutes. Dozens of people won prizes, thanks to a generous number of categories – and as you can see from the picture even I managed to take home something for the mantlepiece, as I somehow won my age group.

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22/4/11 – If I tell you about Ischgl…

Quality, not quantity: the route to Samnaun

…I will be very unpopular with two English regular visitors to this Austrian resort who do not want other Brits to over-run the place. But as it seems to be such a fantastic spot, and as I think it will take several generations for Brits to gravitate away from Val Misere anyway, I’m going to spill the beans.

Colourful as well as comfy: the Samnaun side

Mention Ischgl, and unless people are already fans, or have been there for one of its mountaintop concerts, they will either not have heard of it or will have been put off by its reputation for slight seediness (for instance, there is a girlie bar in the basement of Burger King… although in fact I’d be more put off by the presence of Burger King). It’s quite easy to avoid these bars by the way – they are identified by some sort of heart or red silhouette outside.

'Entertainment' bars are clearly marked

The things that have impressed me in 36 hours here include the brilliant conservation of snow, the tiny numbers of people going off-piste, the amazingly fast, comfy and efficient lifts and the attractive, cheerful town. These pictures show how the piste control has managed to keep the home runs open – two to Ischgl, one to Samnaun on the Swiss side – in the face of very little snow indeed.

Today we skiied off-piste all morning on the south-facing side, in Switzerland, with the brilliant Ski Club of GB leader Jim Costelloe, and barely saw a soul. We sat on speedy, cushioned chairs and we never queued. We had a picnic lunch by a lake and skiied all the way back to town at 3pm on remarkably nice snow – right down to 1,400m. I think these pictures speak for themselves so I won’t go on about it.

Our food wasn't as good as the setting

And… shhhh! … it’s only 45 minutes’ drive from St Anton, where we have just arrived, as I’m racing in the end-of-season Weisse Rausch downhill tomorrow. I’m sorry to say that with all the best intentions I did not succeed in keeping the pre-race day alcohol-free: we had a schnapps at 11am in Samnaun in order to qualify for a free shuttle bus back to the lift; at our picnic someone brought wine, and although we avoided the Mooserwirt (see previous post), it seemed a shame not to celebrate our fantastic day with a red wine spritzer in the sun in the early evening.

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21/4/11 – The joy of sexism

Women drivers get special treatment at Innsbruck

It’s time for my second-last ski trip of the season, a six-day, last-minute break in Austria. My excellent friend, Kirstin, and I booked flights to Innsbruck without planning any accommodation, apart from a couple of nights in St Anton, where I’m doing a race called the Weisse Rausch (more on this in future posts). We hope to find spring snow, sun, apres-ski and maybe a bit of proper exercise walking uphill on a two- or three-day tour.

Has anyone seen this in other countries?

What we did not expect to find was what you can see in these pictures: at Innsbruck Airport this morning when we were passing through the car park to collect our hire car (upgraded from tiny Panda to massive Astra) we discovered this brilliant set of parking bays. Frau means woman. Platz means place. In Innsbruck Airport, there are special women’s parking spots.

These are the unisex spaces

Annoyingly we did not get to test out or to measure the super-wide berths as I am not carrying my tape-measure. But I took pictures of the unisex places as well as the ladies’ ones, so you can see for yourself.

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6/4/11 – Packing for hut-to-hut touring

Ski touring, the idea is to take as little as possible – after all, it’s you that has to carry it. On the tour from Alagna to Zinal at the end of last month (see previous posts), three of us – including me – had reasonable well laden rucksacks: one of my companions even carried a pair of jeans and a shirt for five days. The guides, despite carrying extra rope and all sorts of bits and pieces of climbing hardware, travelled the lightest of all of us.

Touring backpacks large and small

Here are the items I took – right down to the smallest things. For ease of reading I’ll group some items together, but they’re in no particular order:

Mountain Hardwear Dihedral rucksack, about 45 litres, with ski and ice axe straps and water bottle pockets/straps on the outside

50cm Black Diamond ice axe; Black Diamond crampons; Eurohike mummy silk liner (210x75cm); Black Diamond carabiner, Black Diamond harness (not the cheapest one, with a fleece-lined waistband)

Patagonia down jacket; Colltext skins, cut to size at Follomi Sports in Sion; Arva two-piece shovel in metal

Sinner goggles; Bolle sunglasses; mittens; fleece gloves; ski crampons (Haarscheisen in German or Swiss-German)

Kompardell retractable ski poles with large baskets and extra-long handles; Arva Evolution trasceiver; Black Diamond 190cm tour probe

Mammut sunhat; Scarpa touring boots with Dynafit holes; Rossignol B2 skis with Dynafit bindings

Patagonia shell jacket; Icebreaker merino base layer with rollneck and zip; very lightweight Calida merino base layer; Icebreaker summer half-sleeved v-neck base layer

Fleece gilet; lightweight woolly hat; headband with fleece lining; cotton long-sleeved roundneck top; neck thing (called a snood by some, I think)

Tea bags; toothbrush; toothpaste; miniature bottle of scent; tiny bar of soap; deodorant; Swiss Army knife; Petzl headtorch

Phone charger; camera charger; two water bottles, each 75cl; lightweight Calida long johns; five pairs of knickers; lightweight ski trousers

Mobile phone; two pairs of ski socks; eight muesli bars; a pack of strawberry shoelaces; two packs of Ricola cough sweets

Cotton edelweiss scarf; three packs tissues; notebook; pen; book (Annapurna by Maurice Herzog); earplugs; lots of Compeed

Eight spare batteries; lightweight fleece top; lightweight tracksuit bottoms; pair of very lightweight Argentine Alpargata shoes (to wear en route to and from the start and finish of the tour)

That – I think – is it. The optional kit that proved most essential, which I would never leave behind, were Compeed (used by the others more than me), extra ski socks (I wished I had taken three pairs), the down jacket (for going out to the loo in the night as well as for wearing in the hut and under my shell jacket sometimes) and the fleece gilet (for climbing, worn over one base layer).

The kit I did not use was: spare batteries (for headtorch and transceiver: I would take fewer next time); lightweight fleece (not needed now I have a down jacket) and my book (these huts had plenty of reading material – but not all do). Bulkiest in comparison to usefulness was my camera charger – a horrible weight of wires. I didn’t use the tea bags, but I have done on previous trips – it’s far cheaper to buy hot water in huts than tea. I didn’t use the goggles, but we were lucky with the weather. I could have managed without an extra cotton top to wear in bed, and my tracksuit bottoms weren’t essential. But in the end I did use most of this kit.

Next time, extras I will bring are salami sausage and hard cheese – great to eat and to hand round when you stop for a breather – although I was surprised to find that my strawberry shoelaces (some sort of Haribo concoction) were a hit, too.

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Filed under Food and drink, Gear, Italy, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland

5/4/11 – From Alagna to Zinal, on film

Mike Crompton from Zuba Ski, whose excellent company organised last week’s tour from Alagna to Zinal, made this short film. I think it shows even better than words the wonderful time we had – and I hope it will encourage others to have a go at this fantastic sport.

Mike Crompton, movie-maker as well as ski tour operator

http://www.zubaski.com/news/2011/04/05/zuba-ski-tour—alagna-to-zinal.html

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Filed under Italy, Link to film, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland