Soll Mates

Clare lies at the bottom of the nursery slopes waving at me frantically as I careen headlong towards her on the first day of our week-long ski holiday.

An hour later we are in the sauna, her thigh has swollen up and is a radiant purple.

That night I get The Talk. I’m glad now I did, otherwise I might never have met the wife, Sarah.

This is my first ski holiday since, although Sarah and I did do some rudimentary snow ploughing in north-east Scotland 25 years ago.

It will be my signature move this week in the Austrian Tirol, that or falling.

Sound of music

But let’s start at the very beginning… it’s a very good place to start.

Our guide James takes us for a refresher day’s ski course on our first day, and instructs us to hold our poles above our heads.

We’ve just come from there

There’s method in the madness though, it’s all about balance.

Sarah has it, I don’t ,and she has to swerve out of my way at the last minute.

Miraculously I master some level of competency and, after breaking for lunch, I go back early.

Unbeknownst to me Sarah and James have been watching me come down, crouching with my sticks under my arms – I have been watching the pros on TV.

‘Boy racer’, he says. I take it as validation. I am ready for the mountains.

But not the chair lift!

Those views: Brixen, and a daredevil

The trick is to pull down the bar, rest your feet and skis on it and do the reverse when it gets to the top.

Of course Sarah knows that but I get stuck and we can’t get off, bringing the operation to a halt.

Thousands of people ride the chair lift successfully in the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental. I mess with their numbers.

There’s always one

More numbers.

We are in 280km of interconnecting ski runs in what is the most expansive ski resort in Austria, and thanks to a natty app you can track distances and speeds…

It is a favourite après-ski pastime and 30km and 80kph were mentioned by one skihead later that night in the Mill at the Whisky Muelle in Söll.

Best bar none

This is a bar I can handle although I am reticent when a regular wields a hammer next to me.

Do I really have to get on the skis?

No need to worry though, this is the Austrian Nails Game, the aim of which is to bang a nail into a block of wood with the narrow end.

Skiheads are a good-natured, bobble-hatted, bearded bunch – and wouldn’t be afforded sharp tools with which to chal- lenge each other if they couldn’t be trust- ed to use them wisely.

The food is fun and funky

I wouldn’t recommend it though in some of the hostelries I know back home.

As talk returns to black runs (expert) and off-piste, I offer my own day’s experience, a brown run – it’s between a red (intermediate) and black, I call it brown because I very nearly soiled my salopettes.

But exhilarating…?

I took huge gulps of Alpine air in and snow into my already white beard on the way down and have rarely felt so alive.

I convince myself that I have earned a day off the slopes in Salzburg, an hour and a half up the road.

I’m somewhere among the trees

We want to channel our musical sides, so I listen on the city coach to the audio tape of the real story of the remarkable Von Trapp family,

For example if they had climbed every mountain they’d have ended up in Hitler’s country residence; instead they took the train to Italy before heading to America.

Mozart is on the other channel… philistine that I am, it always is.

The hills are alive

We stop to allow me to throw my arms around wildly at Maria’s fountain, making up for the fact that the water’s off today.

The lake where the boat capsizes in the film and drive past SoM’s gazebo.

There are other Von Trapp landmarks too, it’s just that these are a few of my favourite things.

A few of Sarah’s favourite things from Mozart’s museum and his birthplace are his violin, an early piano, his hair and his balls.

Getting a drink ought to be easier than this

Steady! These are chocolate Mozart balls, much beloved by Salzburgers and chocaholics at home.

We know not to overindulge though, there’s a four-course meal waiting, as there is every night, for us back at our guesthouse, the Hotel Feichter.

Tonight the centrepiece is a delicious pork/chicken fondue or equally mouth-watering wiener schnitzel which I pick off Sarah’s plate.

I have already made a game effort at a meaty starter and carnivores’ soup.

My only concession to vegetarianism is the ice cream though I wouldn’t be surprised if Hans hadn’t given it a hint of Bratwurst flavouring.

A sticky moment

Going to bed I feel the meat sweats coming on.

Thankfully I can defoliate in the morning in the sauna before hitting the slopes.

I put a towel around me to protect my modesty – I needn’t have bothered.

Sound of Music in the air: In Salzburg

That night I see the same woman at dinner. I am tempted to say within Sarah’s earshot ‘I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on,’ but just keep my head down.

I keep my head down too today on the slopes, it’s best not to get ahead of yourself.

And, particularly in the afternoon when everybody’s been on it, the snow can get fluffed up.

Dream of the mountains

So it’s good to see the dangers before it’s too late.

I lift my head though when we reach the top and grab a hot chocolate in the rotating balcony of the restaurant bar on the 1,828m Hohe Salve.

From here I can see across the whole mountain range even into Germany.

It’s thin air up here – my ears pop – but it’s the panorama that takes my breath away.

We decide that this, our penultimate full day will be our last on the slopes and I ski my little heart out.

So much so that I fall asleep in the bar that evening while watching the football. And it wasn’t even Celtic either.

I got my drink in the end… and the dishes were neat too

I awake for the highlight of the night. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in The Whisky Mühle is Alex Johnson, a husky throat-warbler.

He belts out all the great standards while the punters pour Jägermeisters down his throat..

But he still whizzes down the mountains the nextday.I see him on my way to the Hexen (‘witch’s run’) toboggan.

II should be good at this considering how much time I’ve spent on my arse this week.

Something for the kids

I think of how much fun the kids would have on the witch’s run… and my mother-in-law.

Ally and Laurie would love the Alpeniglu village in Hochbrixen mountain station too.

Each year they build this dramatic village comprising 18 igloos from scratch.

Laura, our guide, takes us into the bar, always a good place to start.

Where you can order cocktails in ice glasses and chip your own miniature Jägermeister out of a block of ice.

That’s a long way to the Camino: From Soll!

Then there’s the ice restaurant, complete with intimate alcoves.

Through the archway is the chapel where you can pledge your troth complete with romantic adornments in ice to melt your heart.

The bridal suite and other bedrooms are across from the main igloo.

And it comes alive in summer too

It’s all thermal sleeping bags and pelts. You could almost fall out of bed and be on the slopes again in seconds.

Inevitably, our visit falling close to the end of the season, they will pull all this down in a couple of weeks.

The snow is melting and thoughts are already turning to spring and summer a hiking, mountain biking, swimming.

But they will rebuild it and this endless winter adventure park again for the new season.

I have only touched on what the Wilder Kaiser has to offer.

We’ll have that later

Petra, our twenty-something guide has been skiing these mountains since she was three.

And she insists she has many, many mountains yet to ski.

What is it with Austrians and child prodigies? If only they had a word for wunderkind.

Me, I will be back. To tackle a black? No, that’s a far, far way

Travel facts

We’ll stay here next time

Topflight has a selection of accommodation in Soll including apartments, 3* hotels, 4* hotels and B&B style.

Its rep Mike has invaluable knowledge both on and off the slopes.

Prices from €565pps in 2* Feichter Gerlinde or from €619 in 3* Hotel Garni Schonblick.

Prices include return flights from Dublin or Cork., return transfers, B&B accommodation for seven nights, 20kgs baggage allowance, taxes and the services of a rep.

Check out http://www.topflight.ie or ring (01) 240 1700. And check out their joint trip with TodayFM and Ian Dempsey.

*This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in 2015.

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