Monthly Archives: September 2011

26/9/11 – What would I be wearing this week in Munich?

Lea Tucker (centre) and friends, ready to blend in in the Augustiner Tent

This is the second week of the Oktoberfest ( Each year, I promise myself I’ll go – my last visit was 15 years ago when I was a student and we spent most of our time in the lairy Hofbrauhaus, slept in the car near the Englischer Garten and washed in McDonald’s. I’ve never ventured there as an ‘adult’.

See how versatile dirndls are?

Last week I kicked myself yet again that I wasn’t Munich-bound when I met Lea Tucker, from the marketing team at Aspen/Snowmass, who was heading there as part of a pre-winter European tour. I was impressed, most of all, that she planned to dress properly, in a dirndl.

This made me want to plan my outfit for my hoped-for return. I’m well prepared, as I spent most of my wages as an Inghams rep in the 1990s on dirndls and four of them are still going strong.

At an apres-ski party in Chiswick

Unlike Lea’s, and the ones I photographed at the Swiss Jodlerfest in Interlaken in June ( and other June posts), mine don’t have a frilly undershirt. This makes them more wearable, extending their usability beyond beerfests and apres-ski parties.

My favourite, the cream one (label: Country Line), gets the most outings. It has been to the Tirolerhut restaurant in Bayswater, to the Battersea Beerfest, and it went well with cream ear-muffs at an apres-ski party a couple of years ago. It could get a little tight if you overdid the Bratwurst (not to mention the 1l Steins that the Oktoberfest revolves around).

With a ski-tan at Obergurgl's personnel ball. Resort manager Sarah Royston (right) was an expert dirndl buyer

Next in line is the green one (Sigi Scheiber) with a suede front and edelweiss stitching. It fits nearly everyone and is super-flattering, although the sleeves are quite puffy. You can even ski in it, as shown above.

Next up is the orange one (Sportalm, the priciest of my collection) – best worn with a tan and my sister’s favourite. It’s quite flowery, but it went down well at a wedding in Wiltshire. I like the decorative straps that dangle from the waist, and the buttons and buckle are made of bone.

Then there’s the black one (Berwin & Wolff), which is thick and heavy – I’d call on this in the unlikely event I needed a warm dirndl for proper alpine conditions.

The greatest dilemma is footwear. Lea went for little slip-ons, which I think look fine. I prefer those to boots – but boots might be more protective in Munich.

I’d aim for something in between. I used to have a tan suede pair with a decorative buckle, which were so good for normal use that I wore them out. With a dirndl, they went best with woven ankle socks with a metal edelweiss on the turn-over.

These are the shoes to aim for

The pair in the photo belonged to Sarah Royston, my boss in Obergurgl, who was my partner-in-dirndl-shopping on our days off. With their sturdy sole, sensible laces and dark colour, this would be my top choice of style for the Oktoberfest.

So, girls, no excuse for turning up ununiformed. Sorry, chaps, to leave you in the air on the subject of Lederhosen. All I know is that they are less flattering than dirndls, not as useful back home – and that unless you buy one a few sizes too large, rather easy to grow out of…

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Gear

13/9/11 – Here’s something useful for off-pisters

A slab avalanche right next to the piste in Zermatt in January - a potential killer, even though snow cover was thin

I’ve heard about a pre-ski-season class that I’d recommend to any skier or boarder who wants to go off-piste, or already does (with the statistic in mind that 90 per cent of avalanches that cause accidents are triggered by the victim). I have no vested interest in the course, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that it could save your life – or somebody else’s.

It’s to do with- you’ll have guessed – learning about avalanches. I’ve been aware of them since the age of five when my parents, my sister, a friend of the family and I were lucky not to be caught in a colossal powder avalanche that killed three people in a lift queue. We’d decided to ski on down rather than wait in the queue, and moments later a wall of snow sped down from a bowl a couple of kilometres away. I’ve seen other avalanches – I remember one in Obergurgl that swept a snowboarder over some rocks on a slope just above the umbrella bar at the top of the Festkogl. He was shaken but unhurt. It shook me, too, as it is an often-tracked slope that I skied regularly.

Transceiver training at the Ski Club leaders' course in 2010

I finally got round to getting proper avalanche training – part of the Ski Club of GB leaders’ course – last year in Tignes. You can read about the course in the first five posts on this blog – starting with this one It has made me even more careful than before, more aware of danger – and it has given me the skills to find people who are buried. After all, there’s little point in carrying transceiver, shovel and probe unless you know how to use them. Plenty of avalanche training and mountaincraft courses take place in the Alps – some  as part of ski touring skills courses (Mountain Tracks and Ski Club Freshtracks are among operators).

The course I heard about this week, though, which starts this month, involves beeper training on Wimbledon Common and Monday evening seminars. It’s run by Henry’s Avalanche Talk (HAT), an excellent organisation that has been holding avalanche awareness talks in the UK and in French resorts for a few years. It start on Monday 26 September, then there’s outdoor training on Saturday 1 October beore three further Monday seminars. There’s also a full-weekend option from 15-16 October. It costs £250 (discounts for Ski Club and HAT members). They’re calling it the HAT Academy and you can find details here

HAT’s UK autumn tour dates in late October and early November are also finalised – a bargain at £8 a head for an evening talk all about avalanches, at venues such as dry slopes and ski shops. See them here

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Filed under Austria, France, Off-piste

7/9/11 – This £18.99 book could save you big money this season

Required reading for the cost-conscious

On Monday night I went to the launch of the 2012 edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard. This annually updated, highly practical guide to ski resorts, geared to Brits, has been going since 1994 and is a brilliant read, packed with info, well presented and engagingly written. I have several past editions and have found it to be a winning present for keen skiers – as well as a great book to take on holiday so you can plan your next one.

The editors, Chris Gill and Dave Watts, are down-to-earth chaps with a background in consumer publishing (including Which? guides) who appreciate that a ski holiday is not only about mileage or vertical but also about food, drink, scenery, ambience and dozens of other factors.

WTSS’s 712 pages evaluate 400 resorts (in 120 areas) from Montgenevre to Meiringen to Mammoth, examining everything from proneness to queues to sureness of snow to liveliness of apres-ski. Preceding the country chapters are useful articles about gear, new lifts and developments and trends in holidaymaking. What makes the new edition an extra-brilliant buy, though – especially in this year of scary exchange rates and widespread belt-tightening – is its expanded focus on cost.

Chris Gill. He says: "The best value countries with good skiing and modern lift systems are Italy and Austria, plus some smaller French resorts"

Two years ago, Chris and Dave invented a system called the Resort Price Index (RPI), using data gathered by readers as well as by themselves, chiefly concentrating on the cost of ‘extras’ such as meals and drinks, to give each major resort an affordability rating. Last year they widened the RPI to smaller resorts. This year, they have extended it to ski passes, equipment hire and ski lessons, so readers can assess broadly how much they will spend in total on top of their costs of accommodation and travel.

It makes fascinating reading – and has thrown up a few surprises as well as confirming some stereotypes. Below I’ve picked out a few bits that interest me.

Of the 20 Austrian areas reviewed in detail, 12 are below the average RPI of 100 – and these include places I would love to visit this year, such as Schladming, Montafon and Obertauern. The cheapest of the lot is little Alpbach, at RPI 75 (which translates as £435 extra for a week, including a lift pass at £150, ski hire at £90, lessons at £80 and food and drink at £115). Of the rest, even snowsure, upmarket Obergurgl and on-the-up Ischgl come out only just above average at RPI 105. Lech is Austria’s priciest, at RPI 115 (the same as Meribel and Andermatt).

I’m pleased to see an enlarged Austria section, and it doesn’t surprise me that Brits are rediscovering its charms. Chris and Dave report that its investment in lifts and snowmaking, plus its reasonable prices, have been luring us away from our old friend France. The snag with Austria, I suppose, is that the apres-ski is so much fun that beer consumption might skew the true picture…

A whopping 11 of the 12 evaluated Italian resorts register an RPI below average, with only swanky Cortina – at a modest 105 – over 100. Among the lowest is one of my favourite areas, the Monterosa (RPI 80; £440 extra), home to brilliant off-piste, uncrowded pistes and charming villages. The bonus to visiting Italy, on top of the low prices, is the fabulous food – which, sometimes, is even free. In one Alagna bar after skiing we were ogling a neighbour’s spectacular platter of antipasti and wondering how to order it when our own appeared – free with our glasses of wine.

Of the French resorts, funnily enough, another of my favourites is keenly priced: Ste-Foy, a village near the Espace Killy region with great off-piste possibilities, has an RPI of 75. A raft of French spots have a near-average RPI, and to my surprise Val d’Isere, which I have always perceived as a rip-off, is rated at 100, spot on average. The most expensive French resort reviewed is Courchevel.

St Moritz tops the European resort price index

Unsurprisingly, given that you get roughly half the number of Swiss francs to a pound compared with four years ago, only two Swiss resorts have a close-to-average RPI, Meiringen (RPI 95; expect to spend £540 extra) and the lovely Val d’Anniviers (100; £580 extra). Some Swiss resorts, such as my lifelong holiday spot Anzere, have been dropped from the main section this year. For ideas on saving money in Switzerland see this post

If you’re on an extreme budget, turn to the pages for Romania and Bulgaria, whose resorts hold an RPI rating of 40 to 50. There, you can expect to pay as little as £215 on top of your basic package, with a week’s lift pass as low as £60, ski hire as little as £50, lessons £45 and food and drink for the week £60.

Conversely if you have cash to burn, Aspen and Snowmass in the US and St Moritz in Switzerland share an RPI of 150. According to Chris and Dave’s calculations, at Snowmass you would spend an extra £860 on top of your basic holiday price – comprising £340 for a week’s lift pass, £185 for ski hire, £215 for lessons and £120 for food and drink.

Finally, to save a couple of quid on the book itself (RRP £18.99), follow this link

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Switzerland