A par­adise of pris­tine pistes

Two Alpine vil­lages in Aus­tria of­fer a ski­ing hol­i­day that ticks all the boxes for fun for the whole fam­ily travel2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - JO KES­SEL

IT’S RARE I warn my fam­ily not to ex­pect too much from their hol­i­day, but that was how this ski trip be­gan. The rea­son? I’d picked our desti­na­tion not be­cause of the fa­cil­i­ties of the four-star ho­tel Kirch­leitn-Dorf Klein­wild in Aus­tria’s South­ern Alps, but be­cause in Bad Kleinkirch­heim-St Oswald (home to Aus­trian ski cham­pion Franz Klam­mer) chil­dren ski for 1 ( about R14.30) a day. For that sort of money they had no right to ex­pect much.

Upon ar­rival, my sense of cau­tion seemed jus­ti­fied: it was rain­ing so hard that snow was be­ing washed off the moun­tains, and I had to ask for an um­brella.

Our ho­tel was set in a pri­vate car­free vil­lage, a clus­ter of log cab­ins cling­ing to gen­tle slopes. Bran­dish­ing our room key, we ap­proached the cabin that housed our apart­ment.

I re­minded twins Nathalie and Gabriel, 10, and Han­nah, 7, to lower their ex­pec­ta­tions. Key in lock, door ajar.

“Wow,” Han­nah gasped.

Con­structed from 400-year-old pine, it was ut­terly lux­u­ri­ous, with two bed­rooms, two bath­rooms, a kitch­enette and a vast lounge. There was a ski- boot warmer, a bal­cony and ... “What’s this?” Han­nah tugged an old-fash­ioned ski, the door-han­dle to a kiosk la­belled “Physio Therm In­fra Red Cabin”. She sat on the ban­quette in­side and switched it on. Cue a build-up of in­tense light, heat, med­i­ta­tive mu­sic and a per­son­al­ity change. Never has she stayed so still or quiet for so long.

I kept wait­ing for the catch as we kit­ted our­selves up. One euro-a-day ski passes for the chil­dren. Check. Free ski hire, too. Check. My hus­band and I given a prom­ise to re­fund the chil­dren’s ski school fee if they failed to progress? Check. Still rain­ing? Oh, yes.

A sub­lime night’s sleep was bro­ken by sun­light edg­ing over the crest of the moun­tains. What a relief: the pistes were still snowy.

The ho­tel’s owner was Wolf­gang Sch­neeweiss (which, oddly, trans­lates as “snow white”). While we fu­elled up on break­fasts of ba­con omelettes and muesli in the ho­tel’s main restau­rant, he an­nounced that to­day was the an­nual Franz Klam­mer com­pe­ti­tion, where pun­ters could race against the most suc­cess­ful down­hill skier of all time.

Franz Klam­mer is to ski­ing what David Beck­ham is to foot­ball. Grow­ing up, I’d watched him win a record five down­hill World Cups on Ski Sun­day. I dashed to the Brun­nach cable car, 300m away. Up the moun­tain, the com­peti­tors’ hut and steep drop to­wards the slalom was in­tim­i­dat­ing. I queued, watch­ing oth­ers de­scend un­til my turn. I trem­bled as the in­vig­i­la­tor planted my poles on the other side of the gate and then it was: drei, zwei, eins, go!

I’d like to say I was stylish and speedy, but in truth curv­ing tum­ble­free around the poles with­out snow­plough­ing was my limit. Klam­mer did it in 37.78 sec­onds. Me? A rather less awe- i nspir­ing two min­utes 10.67 sec­onds. “I was pet­ri­fied up there,” I told Klam­mer, who was at the fin­ish­ing-line. “Did you feel that when com­pet­ing?” “No,” he said, his eyes twin­kled ma­ni­a­cally, “I felt great.”

Bad Kleinkirch­hiem-St Oswald con­sists of two sis­ter vil­lages con­nected by a ski lift and free shut­tle bus. We were stay­ing in St Oswald, the quainter of the two, so small it has just one shop – In­ter­sport (af­ter days of eye­ing a stylish ski jacket I fi­nally suc­cumbed).

The ho­tel it­self is part of the Aus­trian Kin­der­ho­tels group which caters for fam­i­lies. As part of their ser­vice, the ho­tel’s chil­dren’s club staff de­liv­ered and fetched my brood (at no ex­tra charge, not even a euro) from three-hour morn­ing ski lessons. They then su­per­vised lunch and en­ter­tained them, giv­ing me the free­dom to whoop down wide empty pistes ( 100km of pre­dom­i­nantly in­ter­me­di­ate slopes) on freshly groomed cor­duroy.

The cosy moun­tain restau­rant, Gschwan­dl­hutte, on the Nockalm­bahn run, was my favourite. Its steam­ing bowls of noo­dle soup were tasty, fill­ing and a bar­gain at 3.50.

Mean­while, the chil­dren were busy learn­ing Gang­nam Style rap­ping from their ski in­struc­tor, Anze (who hails from across the bor­der in Slove­nia). She had them zip­ping – to their de­light and my horror – down black runs in no time.

The in­frared cabin in our lounge – so re­lax­ing it nearly in­duced slum- ber sit­ting up­right – wasn’t the only panacea for tired limbs. En­try to the Romer­bad Spa is in­cluded in the lift pass. Im­mer­sion in the out­door ther­mal pool was sub­lime, steam skim­ming the sur­face, blur­ring the view of a piste not yet at­tempted: a Franz Klam­mer World Cup course. Not just black: dou­ble black.

Perched at the top of that run the next day, I wished I was still view­ing it from the spa. The 80 per­cent gra­di­ent went on and on, with plenty of hard crust on the snow to deal with, which caused my teeth to chat­ter from fric­tion. As I reached the bot- tom, I knew it was some­thing I would never at­tempt again.

That night, the bot­tle of vel­vety Aus­trian pinot noir was more wel­come than usual, as was the themed din­ner, a treat of Carinthian spe­cial­i­ties. The thick “yel­low soup” laced with cream and laden with veg­eta­bles was heavenly and it was fol­lowed by dumplings and roasts so suc­cu­lent we re­turned for sec­onds and thirds. The re­gional cheese­board was tasty too.

As the week drew to a close it was clear that, even had we ar­rived with the high­est of ex­pec­ta­tions, we would not have been dis­ap­pointed. Our stay couldn’t have been more fam­ily friendly and the chil­dren’s ski in­struc­tion was the best we’d had. The ho­tel’s chil­dren’s club was a hit too, with Han­nah shoo­ing me away when­ever I tried to pick her up. Bet­ter still, I got to race against Franz Klam­mer.

In fact, I’m proud to say that I was a prizewin­ner. I’m less proud to ad­mit that my prize was for com­ing last.

● Jo Kes­sel’s lat­est novel Weak at the Knees is set in a ski re­sort in the French Alps.

Visit the web­site of Ho­tel Klein­wild at kirch­leitn. com Ski hire ( bad­kleinkirch­heim. at) is free for chil­dren up to 10 years. Chil­dren’s ski passes cost 1. For in­for­ma­tion about ski­ing with Franz Klam­mer visit www. bad­kleinkirch­heim. at – The In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day

PIC­TURES: SHUTTERSTOCK

HELP: With ex­pert help from in­struc­tors, chil­dren and adults can go from novice to ex­pert in a jiffy.

SKIERS’ PAR­ADISE: Bad Kleinkirch­heim-St Oswald boasts hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of su­perb ski­ing slopes.

ON A ROLL: There are lots of fun ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren of all ages.

THRILL: The cable car ride may be scary at first, but it’s worth the trip for the thrilling fun of com­ing down from the top.

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