TRAVEL

Boozy crowds, lap-danc­ing and rock mu­sic – or an empty val­ley with su­pe­rior snow? It’s not a dif­fi­cult choice for ADAM RUCK

The Oldie - - NEWS -

Adam Ruck doesn't get piste in Aus­tria

SOON THE mi­gra­tion tide will turn and we will be the ones pour­ing in to Aus­tria for our an­nual fix of glüh­wein, ski­ing and song. An­other good rea­son for choos­ing the land of leder­ho­sen and Mozart balls is the chance to stay in a spot­less B&B for about £250 a week. Fluffy du­vets of daz­zling white­ness, satel­lite TV, cel­larto-at­tic con­nec­tiv­ity, milk and honey on the break­fast ta­ble. Aus­ter­ity, be gone. In Aus­tria you get more for your money.

The Pen­sion All­gäu at Ned­erle, be­tween the flashy Ty­rolean re­sort of Ischgl and its hum­ble neigh­bour Kappl, is typ­i­cal. There is noth­ing un­usual about the All­gäu. That’s the point. With a few ex­cep­tions – Lech and Zürs spring to mind – ev­ery Aus­trian ski re­sort has such places. Or if the re­sort it­self does not have them, they will be easy to find a mile or two down the road. It is one of the defin­ing charms of Aus­tria that ski­ing takes place in re­gions in­hab­ited by ev­ery­day coun­try folk, not in a high Alpine wilderness.

‘The ski room is down­stairs,’ said the lady of the house, Frau Os­theimer, when a group of us rolled up on a cold Jan­uary evening. ‘Put your boots on the heater.’

One of my friends is a bit funny about her boots, and ex­plained why. ‘If they’re on the heater I’ll be so wor­ried about them melt­ing, I won’t sleep,’ she said. ‘But if I leave them off the heater, putting them on in the morn­ing will be agony.’

‘Would you like mein Mann to get up at six and put them on the heater?’ asked Frau Os­theimer. ‘Oh, yes, please!’ said my friend. ‘Are you sure he won’t mind?’

En­joy­ing Kappl’s old-fash­ioned charm

‘Not at all. Mein Mann has to see to the cows any­way, so it would re­ally be no trou­ble.’

Ischgl is a big noise in Aus­trian ski­ing, and après. By night, a lap-danc­ing hub and rock con­cert venue by ap­point­ment to the likes of Katy Perry and James Blunt. By day, a high, wide and hand­some in­ter­na­tional ski area – the big­gest in the east­ern Alps, or so they claim – with 45 high-ve­loc­ity lifts de­liv­er­ing 93,000 skiers per hour to 238km of piste strad­dling the moun­tain that sep­a­rates Aus­tria and a re­mote duty-free cor­ner of Switzer­land, Sam­naun. Bor­der for­mal­i­ties are cur­sory as a rule, but cus­toms of­fi­cers have been known to emerge from the warmth of their huts to in­ter­cept skiers re­turn­ing from Sam­naun with bulging back­packs.

Ea­ger to ex­plore, we drove our lightly toasted boots to Ischgl af­ter break­fast and joined a queue for the over­flow car park, fol­lowed by a queue for the cable car which we even­tu­ally shared with an ex­cited crowd of sleep-de­prived de­riv­a­tives traders who stank of al­co­hol. It had been a long night in the Coy­ote Club, ap­par­ently. The slopes, when we fi­nally reached them, were hard-packed and full of the same peo­ple, still shout­ing as they hur­tled down the moun­tain at showoff speed with com­plete dis­re­gard for any­one else. I’m sure they drive like this, hog­ging the fast lane with the lights undipped and a hand over the horn. ‘Here I come! Get out of the way!’

There was more room for ma­noeu­vre on Swiss snow, but the lie of the land dic­tates that the Sil­vretta Arena’s in­ter­na­tional ski sa­fari is a one-way sys­tem, and the more Ischgl up­grades its lifts to ac­com­mo­date re­sort ex­pan­sion and ease the morn­ing crush, the more crowded the piste be­comes.

Af­ter ski­ing down to check the price of liquor in Sam­naun’s su­per­mar­kets and ride in its queue-bust­ing dou­bledecker cable car, we made our way back to Ischgl on the same cir­cuit as ev­ery­one else. All runs con­verge above the vil­lage in a conga-like chain of peo­ple slid­ing down a treach­er­ous slope pol­ished to a shine by skiers’ bot­toms. We es­caped the hu­man slalom un­harmed and fled be­fore the ta­ble danc­ing and figs-in-vodka com­pe­ti­tions be­gan in earnest.

In the calm of our friendly bil­let, Frau Os­theimer rec­om­mended the Ho­tel Post in Kappl for our sup­per and called to make the reser­va­tion. A ju­nior mem­ber of this vil­lage in­sti­tu­tion’s own­ing clan showed us to a ta­ble that mirac­u­lously had no pot of boil­ing oil on it, nor an elec­tric cheese grill, hot stone or any of the other DIY gas­tro-gim­micks favoured by res­tau­rants in fash­ion­able ski re­sorts as al­ter­na­tives to em­ploy­ing a cook. The veni­son medal­lions were per­fect.

Next morn­ing we headed back to Kappl, parked next to its lift sta­tion (no charge), hooked up with lo­cal in­struc­tor To­mas and strolled on to the lift, a cabin with com­fort­able seats. Kappl’s lift sys­tem is not com­pli­cated, ris­ing in sev­eral stages to the con­sid­er­able height of 2,700m via a sunny plateau at mid­moun­tain, Alp Dias. ‘This is where my cows spend the sum­mer,’ said To­mas. ‘They love it up here.’ I’m not sur­prised. Alp Dias is St Tropez for cows.

We had come to Kappl on a mis­sion to ski the val­ley that leads from its top lift sta­tion to Pet­tneu, an out­post of St An­ton. This empty val­ley, the Mal­fontal, may soon be­come a busy thor­ough­fare when St An­ton and Ischgl reach out to each other with lift ca­bles and trans- form Kappl from quiet fam­ily re­sort to the ful­crum of an Arl­berg/sil­vretta ski su­per­nova.

To­mas said we could do the run, but not be­fore he showed us what Kappl had to of­fer. Namely: long, fast, empty pistes in the sun, and wide, open snow­fields, un­tracked and invit­ing.

The morn­ing could have been made for skiers to carve up the piste and plough the pow­der in clouds of snow flash­ing in the sun­light. Af­ter two hours of schusses and cart­wheels we kicked the snow off our boots for a quick lunch at Alp Dias. Tell us, To­mas, how come south-fac­ing Kappl’s snow is so much bet­ter than north-fac­ing Ischgl’s? ‘They have thou­sands of skiers,’ he said. ‘We have a few hun­dred, so our snow stays fresh.’ Wear and tear: a fac­tor too of­ten ig­nored when re­sorts are com­pared for snow re­li­a­bil­ity.

The en­trance to the St An­ton run, a windy col im­me­di­ately be­hind Kappl’s top lift sta­tion, is so ob­vi­ous that you might eas­ily com­mit to it by mis­take on a foggy day. Wind-blown crusty snow at the top brought us down to earth, but it was a fine wilderness ad­ven­ture with plenty of room for kick turns and travers­ing un­til we reached more user-friendly snow at lower al­ti­tude. An empty, steep­sided bowl led to a hang­ing val­ley with chamois brows­ing the slopes above us. Af­ter clam­ber­ing over a stile or two, we skied down a snow-cov­ered road to the Rosanna val­ley at Pet­tneu, a vil­lage well­known to skiers who want an in­ex­pen­sive base for St An­ton and the Arl­berg, stay­ing in B&BS sim­i­lar to the All­gäu.

To­mas had called for a taxi, and it rat­tled us back to Kappl in time for one last ride up the moun­tain and a topto-bot­tom blast to round off the day, fin­ish­ing at our guide’s ski shop. Set on a steep hill­side, the cel­lar is a gallery open to the af­ter­noon sun and a fine view of the val­ley. To­mas’s cows spend their win­ter here, pro­vid­ing the shop’s un­der­floor heat­ing and dream­ing of their hol­i­days on Alp Dias. ‘They have two sum­mers up there,’ said To­mas, ‘then,

schnitzel!’

A bot­tle of schnapps ap­peared, and we toasted the short but happy lives of To­mas’s beasts, one by one: Trudi, Gabi, Helga, Liesl – Gesund­heit! Here’s hop­ing Kappl also has a few years left, be­fore its quiet life must end.

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