As an African I am a snow-virgin! I never knew there was so much fun to be had on the slopes. In my 38 years of living I was about to discover the joys, and pain, of snow skiing. Or as they say in Austria, “Skifahren!”
2 ski seasons ago I went in search of snow. My wife and I ended up in Sölden (pronounced Zoelden) in the heart of the Austrian Alps.
I love Austrians. They are friendly Germans! I am not saying that the Germans aren’t friendly, it is just that Austrians have a more laid back approach to life!
If like me you choose to go skiing off-season in early November you will have fewer choices in terms of locations. The only guaranteed snow is on glaciers, and Austria has a few of these. I chose Sölden for this very reason. A 7-month long ski-season, accessibility and price make Sölden ideal. These days the ski season across Europe only begins in early December. Blame global warming!
From Innsbruck, Sölden is a quick 1,5 hour train/bus ride away. Dead easy and cheap to get there. Only €14,90! As a budget conscious traveler transportation costs always eat into my beer and schnapps money! Not this time.
Plan and book the ticket here for €14,90
Sölden is an über ski town. It is not a resort created for tourists. It’s an authentic Austrian village that happens to have the best ski slopes and infrastructure bar none. In-season the town is ski in/ ski out. This means you can ski to and from your hotel to the cable-cars that take you up the slopes. Sölden has 3 of these mega-cable car stations servicing the slopes. Because I was there in off-season November the cable cars were closed.
Where to stay in Soelden? Alltherooms.com has some great ideas
The ski area is situated at an altitude of 3000m on the Tiefenbach glacier, which allows for 7 months of guaranteed snow. The only way up to the glacier is on the most terrifying, and spectacular Ötztal Glacier Road. Google it. 16km of EPIC-ness. You could rent a car for the week to get there, but that means less beer! I chose to use the glacier-bus which was included in my ski-pass. These Austrians are organized!
Where do you even begin to learn to ski?
There is no simple or cheap way to learn to ski. You need an instructor, gear and a ski-lift pass. It’s gonna cost you, but it’s worth it! There are dozens of ski schools and rental shops around Sölden offering turnkey services. Upfront I freaked out at the cost but it all came a full circle 3 days later when I experienced the freedom of alpine skiing.
Total cost for 3 days = €518 (excl beer!)
- Lessons = €214 for 3 days private tuition (4 hours per day)
- Gear = €150 for 3 days ski, boots, gloves, helmet, goggles and jacket. Intersport Glanzer was great
- 3 day ski pass = €154 (click here for rates)
Gear rented and lessons booked the day before, I arrived at my 1st lesson filled with bravado. How hard could this be? I had this idea that I would be cruising the steep Olympic black slope by the afternoon!!! Silly me.
Daniel was my local Austrian ski instructor. He is your quintessential, care-free type of human who makes us regret our career choices. He gets to play all year round and make money! (and probably smokes a lot too!)
Side note: You don’t get to choose your instructor. I reckon they are “make-or-break” when it comes to you enjoying your snow career. If you don’t like them try swop out.
Day 1 was in the company of toddlers on the teeny, tiny beginner slopes. The ego was bruised but the reality of the dangers of skiing quickly sank in. Skiing is counter-intuitive. To turn left you put pressure on the right foot. It takes a good few hours to re-map your brain. Right = left! Another important tool was learning to stop. This means perfecting the snow plough. I got these 2-basics quickly which meant my ticket out of toddler-ville!
I had 4-hours worth of lessons booked over the course of the next 3 days. Daniel matched my progress with gentle persuasion, easing me down steeper and steeper slopes that tested my bravery & stupidity!
Another great benefit of having a local instructor is they will teach you the ski-lift etiquette, and most importantly, help you navigate the kilometers of slopes that await. In the heart of winter, Sölden has over 144km of runs. Easy to get lost! Easy to die!
Ski Area info: https://www.soelden.com/ski-area-information
On my last day of skiing I finally reached the skill level to attempt the 5km run from the top of the Tiefenbach mountain at 3250m, down towards the glacier parking. My heart was racing, and my leg muscles were fatiguing from 3 days of use, but I was not going to let the slope intimidate me. “Remember your training Steve!”
The big idea with skiing is not to go straight down. That would be suicide. The key is to carve down the slope in an S-shape to reduce the steepness. This way even the steepest of slopes can be near flat. It was possibly the scariest thing I had ever done and I am officially addicted. I wanted to sing out loud, “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no slope steep enough. . . !” Naff!
There were 2 highlights to my ski adventure. The views and freedom one feels standing on top of the world, and the food. Simple pleasures.
The Austrians know how to cater on the slopes. Gigantic canteens serving the hundreds of skiers are situated at all the cable car stations. Food ranges from simple soups and sausages, to champagne and Sachertorte! (Cherry chocolate cake made famous in Salzburg.)
It’s in these moments when you have perfected a new skill, sitting with your wife, drinking beer on the pure-white slopes, that you think to yourself, “life just doesn’t get much better!”
Apart from skiing, Sölden has something for everybody. Hiking, biking and sauna seem to be the 3 main activities outside of skiing. Oh! And drinking, which they call Après ski! Let’s just say that Après is only a suggestion that you drink after skiing.