Sunday, January 19, 2014

Austria: Gurgl - When you are a member of the US Ski Team, there are no lift lines...

     As I waited anxiously to get on the "schlep-lift", a young man bypassed me completely and took the next "T-bar" up the mountain.  Normally, I would have become quite upset by this complete lack of politeness; however, in this case, I was expecting it.  A mere thirty minutes prior, we had discovered one of our favorite runs closed because a group of racers were training.  Upon closer inspection, we realized that these racers were part of the US Ski Team.  As a result, we had "nonchalantly" followed them to their slalom and giant slalom training runs.  For the next hour, we skied on the same slopes, stopping frequently to watch them train.  It was amazing to watch them speed past us, navagating the gates with such ease and certainty.  Who knows if Bode Miller was amongst the skiers…we were in the presence of skiing greatness nonetheless.

     Later in the morning, the women started their slalom training.   We heard the gates clicking loudly as they "punched" each one during their training runs.  The next evening after dinner, we happened to find a World Cup Women's Slalom race taking place at night in Flachau, Austria.  Mikeala Shiffren, America's newest star, easily won the event and we all agreed that we had probably seen her training the previous day.

A member of the US Ski Team

US Ski Team Women Getting Ready for a Run

     Fifteen years after we entered the Otzal valley in Austria, we have returned practically a dozen times.  While we are normally here to ski, we have also hiked its breathtaking mountains, sipped water from its flowing streams and rivers and made many friends.  Because January is the low season for the skiing area, we took advantage and decided to make a trip to visit one of our favorite locations.

     The ski area, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, is magically placed at the end of a valley, nearly 50 kilometers from the highway leading to Innsbruck.  For our family, it has become a favorite skiing destination; one that combines wonderful skiing and lots of pampering.  Our lodging in the Hotel Alpina is a spacious family apartment, overlooking the valley where we can keep watch over the mountains.    We arrive each morning in the quaint dining room and feast on a wonderful buffet breakfast.  We can easily begin our ascent up the mountain by skiing down to the gondola.  From there, we have a specific routine - head over to Hochgurgl and spend the morning skiing in the sun.  After a mid-morning break at one of our favorite alpine "huts", we begin the trek over to the Obergurgl ski area and spend the early part of the afternoon exploring its pistes.  We finish the day at the Gruner Stube, where Dear Daughter gets her daily fix of "schnitzel mit pommes".  As we sit down at "our" table, the same waitress greets us, "Alles en ordnung?", she asks during our yearly initial visit.  Yes, we are fine…then she brings us two beers and a Fanta…all without our asking.  She just remembers us.  Lunch is spent remembering past trips and Dear Daughter never tires of hearing the anecdotes. 

     Cake is served at the hotel beginning at 3pm and Dear Daughter cannot miss the occasion, even if lunch was only 90 minutes ago.  We sit in one of the comfortable couches and between bites of apple strudel, she works on school work.  (Did I mention that for these vacations, we pull Dear Daughter out of school for one week?)  After an hour, we head to the large spa area where Dear Husband and I recoup in the sauna and Dear Daughter relaxes on one of the water beds or takes a swim in the pool.

     The major event of the evening is dinner.  As with many Austrian hotels, our room rate includes both breakfast and dinner.  We are constantly amazed at the creativity of the meals.  Each meal begins with a wonderful selection of salads from the buffet.  A small appetizer comes next followed by an absolutely fantastic cream soup.   We can never resist the soup.  Whether it is cream of artichoke, cream of lentils, cream of parmesan, or cream of red cabbage, it is always amazing.

     The main course consists of three choices; always a meat, a fish, and a vegetarian option.  This is where we have our fun.  Now that Dear Daughter is older, we normally each select a different choice.  When the plates arrive, we each eat 1/3 of our entree and then pass the plate to the next person.  This continues until we have tried all three dishes.  Then we vote on which dish we think is the best.  Quirky, I know…but fun.  I can rarely have the dessert as I am tempted by the cheese course.  Some nights, we manage a walk after dinner while on other nights, we tell ourselves that climbing the five flights of stairs to our room is exercise enough for one evening. For one week, this is our life and we never tire of it.  We all know that we will miss this place and this vacation once we move back to the States.

The view from our hotel room

     While each year is wonderful, I think that this past trip may have been the best one yet.  The weather was spectacular; seeing the ski team was exciting and most of all, spending wonderful family time in a favorite location will last in our memories for many years to come.