Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ski Myth

The biggest myth about skiing or winter sport, deliberately assumed by many, which probably, could be the reason why certain individuals shy away from it, is that, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE SPORT AND THE ACTION. ---Well honeys, I’ve got some fascinating news to report, its WRONG! Perhaps it is in other parts of the world, but definitely NOT in laid back, carefree, culture rich and convivial Europe.

When Europeans think about winter sport holiday, they think simple, well, that is, in European ways... their frame of mindset leans towards the delectation of life’s leisureliness. An apt synonym commonly used here is this, holidaying.

The FOCUS as they say, is supposed to be the HOLIDAY or the TOTAL SKI EXPERIENCE.

Thus and is the reason why this whole winter sport shebang doesn’t revolve on the sport itself and its subsequent action alone. Daredevil antics such as flying mid-air, skiing off-route and vertical drops in kamikaze breakneck speed, are for the professionals, and though they may happen to amateur ski holidaymakers, still, you do not see a lot of these as a mainstream activity.

Both the acts of skiing and snowboarding are portrayed as casual and social features of winter sport [by products], just like going to a beach holiday in the south of Spain, people enjoy, they jet ski, play volleyball in the beach, get a tan and whistle at sexy clad girls in string bikinis. In this case, it’s the Alps with a different climate and environment to offer.

Most people also do not talk too much about the technicality of the sport and in fact, a number of winter sport holiday goers are just like me, not very sportive. This is not football people!

And something else too, but... sshhh... Europeans are somewhat self proclaimed supreme hedonist creatures. That’s why...

Sun terraces or pit stops, they are all over up in the Alps. Have you noticed how neatly everyone laid their skis on the ground in front of the terrace?

Here is another terrace-resto with typical Austrian design. This group of men is Dutch by the way; the one standing on the left was complaining that he fell down really hard. Dutchman and I were amused because his description of the incident was quite hilarious. He said, due to the fall his leg was stuck, like his leg had a huge erection. He added, looking seriously, that he would love to have an erection but not on his leg and not in this environment, ha-ha.

For a better understanding of winter sport in Europe, here is a schedule with brief details of how a typical day during winter sport would go.

07:30 – Wake up, take a shower and get ready.

08:30 – Breakfast time.

09:30 – Off to the slopes. The cable cars and lifts are usually busy after 10:00AM. People don’t rush early.

09:45 – SKIING and SNOWBOARDING time.

11:00 – PIT STOP BREAK: Rest in a sun terrace and enjoy a warm cup of tea, coffee, wine or beer. These sun terraces are usually brimming, especially if its the peak season [such as February].

11:30 – SKIING and SNOWBOARDING time.

13:00 – LUNCH BREAK: Lunch in a restaurant or sun terrace up in the Alps. From Italy to France, to Austria and Switzerland, the kitchen varies in cuisine, and of course, their lunch specialties and delicacies too. In that sense, one can combine the ski holiday with sampling and relishing on home-grown gastronomy. The French and Italians have longer lunches than say, the punctual Austrians and the Swiss. The frugal Dutch on the other hand, are known for their crude BTOP [bring their own provisions, ha-ha]. I’m not joking!

14:00 – SKIING and SNOWBOARDING time.

15:30 – PIT STOP BREAK or WRAP UP: Lifts and cable cars will be busy as people start to get down from the Alps. Some will stay for awhile in the sun terraces drinking a warm cup of anything while regrouping, waiting for their families and friends and also, waiting for the long queue by the lifts to disperse.

16:30 – PARTY: Après ski, my favorite! This usually starts off when the lifts close. Everyone will be partying, getting drunk, singing and dancing in their ski and snowboard outfits. Yeah, I’m not kidding, in those really hard to walk ski boots! On our first night, we had a couple of locals [or maybe they were Germans] dancing the traditional Austrian dance. That was fun but I kept wondering how uncomfortable it was with their ski boots. I wasn’t able to take a foto as the battery of the camera was again experiencing dementia attack [we’ve replaced them batteries now!].

18:30 – Go back to hotel or apartment to deposit ski and snowboard stuff and for some, shower or change clothes.

19:30 – DINNER time. Ah, this can be quite appealing as it provides the opportunity to collect and select restaurants, and well, to also exercise the food connoisseur in us. If not, one can always elect to shop for ingredients and cook in their apartments.

22:00 – NIGHTLIFE: Bars, pubs and discotheques are open to everyone. For the tired ones and families with kids, they either go back to their apartments and hotels to watch TV, play games or just rest to recharge for the next day.

The après ski parties in the grounds of Zillertal Arena and Mayrhofen.

The sun terraces breaks, the lunches, the après ski parties, the evening dinners and the nightlife entertainments; they are all fundamental parts of the European winter sport experience. They form a class of culture on its own, making it very distinctive in this part of the world... and something that I learned to delight in.

And my last repartee... is it then best to surmise that winter sport in Europe is 50% sport and action related, while the remaining 50% is geared towards the social, cultural and holiday mood?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A weekend of Espionage

Alright, let’s have a short break on this Austrian ski experience holiday series, as too much discourse on the same subject matter can result to our nostril hairs flapping [bored sigh] and retinas dilating [eyes rolling]. I will post the entry about the European Winter Sport Culture and the Accident after this.

So, what’s cooking for intermission?


Yes MUNICH, Germany [Munchen in Deutsch]… but Munich Massacre, Black September, Israeli Athletes, 1972 Summer Olympics.

Dutchman and I just watched this recently released controversial movie, MUNICH, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg himself, which I believe has sparked a hefty and generous debate in both Israel and Palestinian camps. The film was based on the 1984 novel by George Jonas, Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team.

Here is an editorial review of the Vengeance book in Amazon, or shall I also say, the Munich film:

“Avner was the leader of that team, handpicked by Golda Meir [1972 Israel’s Prime Minister] to avenge the monstrous crime of Munich. He and his young companions, cut off from any direct contact with Israel, set out systematically to find and kill the central figures of the PLO's Munich operation, tracking them down wherever they lived.”

“The mechanics, the horror, the day-by-day suspense of what they did surpass by far anything John le Carré or Robert Ludlum could imagine, as they themselves were tracked in turn (and some killed) by PLO assassins, changing identities constantly, moving from country to country, devoting their young lives to the brutal task of vengeance.”

Being a keen enthusiast in police and detective work, forensic science crime solving, covert action, international propaganda, conspiracy theories and foreign intelligence, and also enjoying the paranoid view of camouflage, sabotage and subterfuge according to the CIA, PLO-BSO, KGB, MOSSAD, MI6, IRA, NAZI Party and so forth [I was a Robert Ludlum devotee]; I took tremendous pleasure in watching the MUNICH movie.

I’m giving it 4 stars angled towards 5 stars. Fast paced, powerful and gripping with suspense action-packed drama. The film recounted true to life tragic events [about 80% true story, 20% made-up], history of animosities, love and pride of one’s country and of one’s family, emotional war of trust, loyalty, morality, revenge, survival and paranoia.

So if you are like me [not paid to plug this though, I wish!], into the sinister game of espionage and clandestine operations, then do not miss this. Watch the film.

Other reviews online said that the movie is a copy of the 1986 HBO film, Sword of Gideon, also based on the same 1984 Vengeance novel. This I haven’t watched so I can’t compare.

FYI, a movie in this part of the world costs € 9.50 per person [US$11.60/PHP607.75].

Bar Scene Espionage

After the Munich movie, Dutchman and I went to Janskerkhof, which is just around the corner of the City Theater we went to. It was a chilly -5C evening but the Janskerkhof area was brewing hot with the lively nightlife activity.

We usually go to this FILEMON bar at the adjoining corner, but that night, we decided to try something else and went instead at HOFMAN.

Cartoon foto taken from spyequipmentguide.com.

To our delight, the Hofman bar, a restaurant and café by day, was playing a series of 1980’s pop and rock music hits. They also have a signage on the wall by the bar counter, in Dutch of course, but the English translation is this:


We looked at our watch. It says 11:20PM. Oh well, talk about capitalism, must be a new thing brewing in the Dutch Horeca [Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe] system on weekends.

The bar was swarming and since I have inadequate measurements [the typical Asian height], I only see backs and shoulders of people. Another disadvantage, when snaking my way in the sea of clog heads is, I easily get tossed, turned, squeezed and sometimes flattened. You see, that night, I wore my low heeled boots, so you can imagine what I suffered, a mixture of minor suffocation and claustrophobia.

The good news: I am not pressing charges against the clog heads.

Anyway, party animals we aren’t but from time to time, we find joining the social evening charade very entertaining. It gives us the opportunity to conduct our little crafty and nasty espionage tricks such as: people watching, profiling and manufacturing fictitious accounts of bizarre looking individuals that stand out in the crowd.

So what did this nosy duo noticed, er accomplished I mean, inside the Hofman bar?

“Dit is een bar voor eenzame mensen.” [This is a bar for lonely people], whispered the Dutchman. “Ah, I knew why you said that...” I grinned profusely, following his sharp observations. “ ...everyone is in their designated gender groups, the XX chromosome circles and the XY chromosome circles.”

“A lot of really old people too.”, I said. The context of old here means 30 and above. “That’s a positive point, at least we belong.” laughs the Dutchman. I too laughed.

“Hmm, shall I safely hypothesize that there are many single old people roaming around in Utrecht then?” I asked after finishing my second glass of beer. “Definitely...” nods the Dutchman in agreement while sporting a sarcastic grin. “ ...and well, they are lonely too, that’s why they are here... that’s their motive.”

Friday, January 27, 2006

Part II of the Ski Experience

Snowstorm Calling

7:30AM, Wednesday. My 3rd day of my ski class.

I hurriedly looked out of the bedroom window to check if the weather man from last night’s news was right and indeed, I saw white drops coming down from the dark grey heavens. I also saw the spruce tree I have been eyeing outside since we arrived [the thing could have been a perfect Christmas tree], was already half to its waist buried under the snow.

Knowing the forecast for the day, I took no chances and clothed myself really warm. I even armed my hands with an extra thin pair under my thermal ski gloves. I also decided to wear the Eskimo muts [beanies] my sister in law loaned me for the holiday. We’ve had splendid weather the last days, so it was steaming hot to wear the thing, instead, Dutchman used the Eskimo muts as one of his photography props.

Here is a lethargic looking Eskimo girl standing by a large alpine tree heavily decked in snow. I think this is one of my funniest and ugliest foto. Next is the ride up in the cable car.

As a result of my no chances act, I was sweating on my forehead a little bit inside the car, on the way to Zillertal Arena.

When I reached our usual meeting place, I noticed that it was only me and this Belgian girl. The Dutch couple, who were really doing well, has finished their 1 week training and the German lady gave up too soon.

The Germany lady, I think she’s my age or older, was having a hard time with skiing. On the first day when I joined them, the ski instructor’s attention was heavily focused on her. I have no clue how long she was with the group but she once told me during a lift ride, in broken Deutsch-English, that everything was too much for her. True enough, the next day she backed out, that is, when she realized that we are going up again on the red slopes with plans of taking some black routes [yes we did! woohoo!]. And today, my third day with them, she was gone nowhere to be seen.

The ski instructor thought German lady is not coming anymore and announced that it’s just the 3 of us, me, Belgian girl and him, and well, the bleak weather too.

Before we proceed, I’d like to give a quick summary of my newborn skiing abilities:

Nieuwegein Ski Piste of course gave me the basics in skiing, that for sure, however, skiing in a plastic brush hill, with only a 300 meter slope runway, tilted up a few meters high, is definitely not enough. Therefore, I must further with the training but this time, in real snow, in a real mountain, with real action. Yeah, go baby go!

This is me training at Nieuwegein Ski Piste in Holland, 4+ months ago.

Within 3 days of non-stop skiing, I have improved tremendously. We have mostly tackled 80% red slopes and 20% are a mixture of the unavoidable black slopes and the warm up blue slopes. I have faired well I think, well my ski instructor says so too, unless he is just feeding my ego.

Adapting the right techniques such as good parallel skiing, carving when doing turns, shoulder down to the valley and the constant force on the knee has become a little bit automatic and civilized in my system. Though, I honestly think I could use some more improvements. Who wouldn’t?

My real big problem is SPEED. When Dutchman and I had a rundown together, he was complaining that I am too damn slow. I told him that speed comes in due time. Eh, I mean hello? I am not a kamikaze skier like Don Pedro our friend!

So going back on the ski class track…

It was a quarter over 10 in the morning. Weather conditions in the arena plateau seemed nothing alarming despite of the snowstorm forecast, though we had no idea what it is like up in the mountains.

We skied to the lift and went up. I love sitting in these lifts and watching the magnificent panorama of the Alps. Its one of the by side activities of skiing that I learned to enjoy. As we approached the summit, the wind grew a little bit stronger and the snow, thicker by the buckets.

On top, visibility was approximately 30 meters, not really that bad. But I loathed the wind because it came with really thick biting snow. Swoosh! Wham! It slapped me on the face.

On a snowstorm category, I would rate this as a light Siberian one, challenging but manageable. Or perhaps I have become such a pompous little tramp who thinks that after 3 days, everything is magic easy?

Let’s just say that we survived this light Siberian snowstorm gracefully. BUT… this was not the end of the story.

Surviving the Siberian-like Snowstorm Nightmare

After the 1 hour break, I was back in the afternoon for my last 2 hours of ski lesson. The agreed plan was again to scale a series of red slopes and a few blacks.

Austrian ski instructor emerged from the corner of the meeting place, snaking stealthily with his skis towards my direction. “It’s just the two of us now.” He said with a wide grin landing in front of me. “Where is the Belgian girl?” I asked. Pointing to a terrace he said, “She’s in there and she doesn’t want to go up anymore.” “Well maybe we can try convincing her?” I queried. “Yeah, maybe, let’s try to do that.” And off we went to the terrace.

A few minutes of encouragement, she acquiesced and joined us. Good.

This is the proud me in action, but taken the day after the snowstorm. We didn’t have foto’s during the snowstorm because the battery of the camera was again having dementia attack.

On the way up in the lift, we noticed that the snowstorm became harsher by the second. I kind of have this strange feeling, looming deep inside me, that this tempest has ruptured into a full blown monster, ready to devour anyone that comes along his path. Bad news, what we experienced in the morning was really nothing compared to this. Part of me started to feel a little bit scared…

When we arrived at the top and slid out of the lift, strong currents of snowstorm winds knifed through us. My spine hairs stood up, I think. We were torn apart, squished and squashed, literally left scrambling to our feet as we tried to balance ourselves with our skis and sticks. Man, what a struggle! I couldn’t even lift my face up as doing it requires a lot of physical resistance against the potent wind, and when I was able to, my brain cells screamed: OH MY GOD? WTF!!! A giant evil BLIZZARD!

Scenes of the Siberian snowstorm I have seen on Discovery Channel TV and Reader’s Digest magazines [my parents subscribed to them when I was a kid], flashed randomly inside my dazed mind, like I was watching a picture slide show presentation. My god, I have never, ever, such a thing like this, seen in my entire life! Which makes me think, why did I ever end up here anyway?

The surreal world swept me again in slow motion swirls. This can’t be... This is all but a dream...

I was groping. Everything is hazy, it is so freaking white, just like the early morning mist but savaged by an angry snowstorm god. Snow invaded and flooded the Alps and it must be around... what... -20C to -30C??? The wind, yeah the wind, is so u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-y harsh! Worse of all, visibility was not more than 5 meters away!!!

I just could not believe I am standing up there in the middle of a real Siberian-like snowstorm! Help!

I woke up from the brief daydream and realized that the ski instructor was actually calling my attention. He wants me to get moving. I wanted to yell back [have to yell otherwise he couldn’t hear me even if he is just a foot away], “How the fcking way are we going to get down and even survive in a weather like this!!!???”

Many lifts were stopped and several slopes were closed. It spelled and smelled D-A-N-G-E-R. However, there is NO WAY OUT, BUT TO GLIDE DOWN.

As I followed ski instructor to the edge, I saw along the way groups of skiers and snowboarders, all of them feeling lost too, their confidence tapered with bouts of reluctance, seen obviously in their every move. What was favorable for me and Belgian girl was the ski suit of the ski instructor. He was wearing a bright blue outfit, thus making him quite visible within the 5 meters range.

A tip learned during a snowstorm: If you are alone up in the Alps, it is always best to have presence of mind, to go real slow and join or follow a group, just in case something terrible happens.

The Dutchman on the other hand, which I only heard from later, was on the other side of the mountain. He was on his own and struggling frantically to come down. The almost impossible visibility and the ruthless snowstorm made him decide to follow a family and use them as a reference point. He recounted to me that the kid of the couple, a little boy, was crying hysterically. The little boy was frightened and didn’t want to move his legs.

This is the Dutchman, on two ocassions, both about to plunge into the steep valleys with his new winter GF, the white snowboard. These were taken the day before and after the snowstorm.

We however had some advantage. The ski instructor knew the slopes and even if visibility was 5 meters to almost nothing, he is a local, a trained one who knew the terrain and the way down.

Determination brewing up in my head:

1. Get over with this and just ski down!
2. This is an extraordinary experience! Live through it!

Belgian girl and I followed ski instructor closely, zigzagging down real slow and carefully. The snow was incredible, it was knee-deep and skiing was really difficult. If I slide further down to the slope gutters, the pack of snow would reach my thighs trapping me and making me immovable. I also noticed that my teeth were clattering fretfully, the insides of my nose frozen and my lips would have been diagnosed in semi hypothermia state.

About halfway down the drop, Belgian girl became quite indifferent and difficult to handle. She crashed a couple of times, stood up and nose-dived ahead of us. Ski instructor explained to me that she has some problem that he didn’t understand. I thought it has something to do with her wearing normal glasses instead of ski glasses therefore affecting her visibility. He told me that she is crying in frenzy, wouldn’t listen a single thing from him, wouldn’t wait and slow down and the only thing he heard from her repeatedly while sobbing, “I just want to get out of here, I want to go down!”

She totally lost it I think. Instead of being safe [this is what’s important!] by skiing together with us, she stubbornly endangered herself by being on her own. Anyway, I think the ski instructor handled her perfectly well. The other advantage was that, visibility has improved to several meters after hitting the halfway down mark. Thus, ski instructor can see her kamikaze act ahead better.

Seeing the plateau arena from the distance, I then charged gleefully through the last of all red slope obstacles. I almost felt a huge and heavy sigh of relief depart from my entire system. It’s like one of those, I am finally home feeling. Well not quite really as I have to finish up this last red runway. It was only when I hit the plateau grounds that I let go of my resolved composure. I, survived a Siberian-like snowstorm up in the summits!!!

Whew, what an experience! But I am still in shock and disbelief. I wanted to tickle and pinch myself so I can get out from the flaccid state. I also wanted to slap my face as a demonstration of congratulations for surviving [as a beginner] the Siberian-like snowstorm, but I am still floating chained in my self-made surreal world.

Taking a souvenir foto of the directional signage covered in thick snow near the apartment during my last day of skiing.

“So this is it, goodbye…” grins the ski instructor extending his hand towards me. I accepted it firmly with a huge smile, still in my dreamy state of affairs. “As a beginner, you are a good and safe skier. You have the right technique. If you want, you can take more advanced courses later, especially with speed” he said.

True, speed was my challenge, but at this time, I opted to be slow than break my neck and leg.

I thanked and waved my last bye-byes to Austrian ski instructor and quickly skied [if only I could run and jump, I would!] to the restaurant in the plateau arena, where the Dutchman was waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to tell him my snowstorm experience!

Tags: The Ski Experience Part I, Wintersport Holiday in Austria, The Austrian Way, Ski Myth

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Ski Experience Part I

During my growing up years, I found out that athletics proved to be the weakest link in my system. It doesn’t go well with my taste buds in life’s choices of pleasurable activities. I am not thrilled with it nor do I have any tiny hint of affinity to physical vigorous dealings. Well, unless if it is the, back hump shaking in a discotheque.

So when I told everyone in the Dutch family that Dutchman and I are going to winter sport in January, almost all of them sat in silence, for a few seconds, with their opaque blue eyes suspended and their eyebrows parting a bit, just like how those midnight prowling owls behave when they see something that piqued their interest.

“Oh echt?!” [“Oh really?!”], sang the jolly chorus after the few seconds of countdown.

Even the Dutchman himself, kept teasing me mercilessly with corresponding gawky movements, of his arms, his legs, coupled with stretching out his butt, like a duck, in the hopes of comically exemplifying me with my skis up in the slopes. He said it’s supposed to be funny but I am not laughing.

The Dutchman, standing tall on his promise. Let’s see who will win this bet.

And because he was so damn sure that I won’t survive a whole week of skiing, he played his chances up, by convincing himself that I will bail out on the second day. That wasn’t enough; he challenged further my quality by placing a whopping € 200 bet on my head. Hmm, if that’s not a real case of chutzpah crisis, then I don’t know what it is!

I really think some people, rather, a lot of people, need the basic feminist lesson kit.

Being a feminine woman, remember not all women are feminine in appearance, that wears fashionable clothes, high heels, make up and also happens to not belong to any type of sportive club, including the trendy gym and yoga, doesn’t always necessarily mean that they are a coward bitch. Leave the bitch in there please but take the coward out.

The Gears

Anyway, seeing that the Dutchman already has his own snowboard gear [he bought them, I’m still reeking in envy], I am left alone, well not literally but between the two of us, to rent a pair of ski materials and ski boots.

There were abundant supplies of rent-a-ski stores in Zillertal and after canvassing [typical Dutch] a couple of shops and realizing that they have standard pricing all over, we decided to take the one very near to the lift and the parking area.

Posing with my gears in the plateau arena during a lunch pause and the second foto at Karspitz summit, ready for a downhill run.

It took us quite some time to figure out the right shoes that fits well with my two small feet. I got somewhat half disoriented on how tight the shoes must be because the Dutchman was nagging in front of me, repeating endlessly, “Ze moeten echt strak zitten!” [They must really fit well!] “ …en houdt er rekening mee, je draagt ze niet als dagelijkse schoenen.” […but keep in mind, you don’t wear them like your normal daily shoes].

How is this fitting the ski shoes done then?

The ski or snowboard boots must be at least 1 size smaller than your normal shoe size. When fitting on your choice of boots, you must wear ski socks in order to determine the right spacing of your feet inside the shoes. Bear in mind that you have to do the fitting while standing up and not by sitting. Next, you must feel the inside nose of the boots with your toes lightly kissing its edge. Then you put your weight forward on both your knees, with the end result of, you somewhat hanging to the fore. When you do that, you must feel some little space in between your toes and the inside nose of your boots, making you able to move your toes back and forth. This, as they say, is the good fit.

I’ve also heard this timeless wisdom of a litany a hundred times. “The ski or snowboard boots are the key to enjoying or wrecking your winter sport holiday!” from who else, the Dutchman.

I settled for a 22.5 centimeter size ski boots and a 140 centimeter skis. When we were wrapping up with the cashier, the Dutchman laughed heartily looking at the receipt. I found out that I actually have a super discounted price because both ski boots and ski equipment fall under the children’s special price.

I paid € 51 rent for 6 days instead of the € 90 set price for adults. Great deal, little me has an advantage then!

Down direct to the Red

Something I grieved over: With my couple of months of diligent burning my buns off at the Nieuwegein Ski Piste, I bitterly realized later that all what I have been through, was not really enough to be directly and cruelly initiated into the red slopes of the Austrian Alps. I had not an inch of an idea what awaits me, not with the Nieuwegein Ski Piste experience in mind.

Unaware of what I have to face in the next few minutes, I took myself to voluntary heights of pure enjoyment during the 15 minute lift ride, delighting and absorbing on the beautiful scenery of the Austrian nature... the white chaste peaks... the fresh scent of alpine trees. We do not have these in the Netherlands, so I must soak up in the experience.

The stunning panorama up in the Alps.

Upon arrival on top, I slid down from the lift, stopped midway a few meters away and savoured for a moment the wonder of being up in the summit with alpine glaciers staring parallel brazenly at me. How immaculate, how sharp, how intimidating, I am at awe.

Suddenly, strong gushes of icy wind swept the terrain leaving me partly frosted on the cheeks. I felt an abrupt chill so I moved slowly gliding my skis to where the people are standing and surveying. I thought, “Let’s get it done.” and the next thing I knew I was hovering over on the edge of a red steep slope.

“OMG!!! I will scale this down?!” I exclaimed unabashed, my composure sacking and the feeling of a tight sour knot has started to develop inside my stomach. The earlier chill I encountered haunted me back quickly, in multiples of newfound fear, coupled with indescribable spasm. All my Nieuwegein Ski Piste skills have totally vanished into thin air, replaced only with the growing and throbbing anxiety. Glub, glub, glub... pounds my heart.

Panic brewing in my head. More panic... “Damnit, I am not ready!!!”

My rational side picked the shredded pieces of confidence left. I knew the answer was nothing less than a YES I HAD TO SKI DOWNHILL because there are no lifts to bring people back down, unless I decide to walk the 30 kilometers of arctic runway. In other simple words, I have no choice.

So I collected myself bravely and tried to vividly scan through my Nieuwegein Ski Piste learned memory banks… the ski tricks, how to make turns, the right posture on a steep slope, etcetera. I took a deep breath and descended slowly.

If it was not because of Cop Sandy whom I met the other day, I would have not survived all the way down. She little by little guided and waited on me, as I slowly, yeah REAL slow, haha, progressed down on the series of 30 kilometers epic of red slope varieties. A metaphor in action, she is. Cop Sandy was my angel.

This is the mountain that I conquered. Those tiny dots and sticks are skiers and snowboarders. And the next picture is the training ground that makes you laugh: the plastic brush hill, Nieuwegein Ski Piste in Holland.

Later part of the day, we sat under the big pine tree in the arena, and I looked back at the snow capped mountains before me, with pine trees protruding like green fluffy needles everywhere. Wow... I still could not believe I scaled this intimidating white mountain down. In fact, it all felt so surreal in my head. Something kept repeating, like a chant behind my ears, “You-couldn’t-have-done-that-Miss!”

Skiing Supplements

The next day, my cerebral faculties were debating anxiously. Should I take further advanced ski lessons? Should I not? Should I just stay put first in the blue slopes and until such that I am confident enough, move over to the red slopes? But why the FCK no one told me that the red slopes are this steep!

Finally, the coast was clear. I will take ski lessons so I can join the ski marathon with the others later part of the week, but advanced ski lessons, since I’ve had a few already on my belt with [insert a sarcastic grin here] Nieuwegein Ski Piste. If you understand the Cebuano dialect in the Philippines, you can really say PISTE! [it’s a local curse word, lol]

I paid € 120 for 3 days equivalent to 12 hours, which I found quite cheap. That’s like € 10 per hour.

I was supposed to be with this advanced red team, but I was late and it seemed that they have left for the mountains already. This ski instructor in blue approached me asking if I want to join temporarily his blue team and explained that his group is really moving fast and many in fact are already advanced for their level. I didn’t want to wait out freezing in the cold so I joined them.

Well I was not wrong with my decision, he was a good one, patient in pointing out our mistakes, and well very important too, he was a charming gentleman. He spoke English to us since most of us were Dutch speakers [man, so many cheese heads walking around!], though at given moments, he spoke alternately in Deutsch because one of the students was a German lady.

I think my impression of Austrian men have just been positively stamped with flying rainbow colors of approval because of this ski instructor’s exemplary and judicious example. Oh, he also has bright, deep sea, blue eyes.

The deep sea blue eyed Austrian ski instructor. And that’s me posing for a photograph.

The Dutchman interrupted my fleeting reverie and loudly announced in a sleazy gruff tone in front of the Austrian ski instructor, “Be careful of ski instructors…” followed by a smirk, nodding of his head and a quick wink from the corner of his right eye. I knew this perennial joke very well, so I giggled and laughed, well we both did. Too bad, the ski instructor didn’t understand a single thing!

The joke or stereotype is this, ski instructors are widely known as promiscuous men thriving on their ski expertise to attract the opposite sex.

The explanation is quite simple. Time and time again, the playful attraction between a teacher and a student arises, and since the ski school isn’t a pedagogic institution highly acclaimed to stand steadfast to its so-called morals between student-teacher relations, thus the act of harmless flirting, easily be consummated into the hot danger zones of passion.

Ladies, remember when you had your first male teacher in high school? I went to a private all-girls school and I can only marvel the harassment our first ever male teacher experienced. The Catholic German nuns decided that he was to be the only and the last male teacher to come! Well the dork was a celebrity even if he only had very average looks. And since we only see skirts the whole day each day, we became male hungry high school kittens and feasted on him like he’s Scott Baio’s twin brother [1980’s rock!]. Sadly, we couldn’t touch the poor thing because his ardent girlfriend was religiously picking him up in school at the end of the day. Very clever girl!

It goes the same way with the ski instructor. The students do not really mind being preyed upon. In fact most of them would proactively invite it. This is how the modern fairy tale theory goes: Knight in shining skis shags the wannabe damsel skier in distress.

BUT! Our deep sea blue eyed ski instructor declared in a purposeful tone during a terrace session, “I am married. No smokes, no booze, no girls, no sex for me.” Hmm, he knew after all the stereotype... but we were wondering if we should believe him?

COMING up next: The Ski Experience Part II

Tags: Wintersport Holiday in Austria, The Austrian Way, Ski Myth

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Austrian Way

The Austrian map, looks like a fried chicken thigh, hehe. Check Zell am Ziller on the west tail end, our point of arrival, about 60 kilometers east of Innsbruck, the capital of Tirol region.

Being used to living in a flat surface country and a cold Dutch winter that seldom snows, I was almost in a speechless state when I looked out of the window as we rolled in into the Austrian highway.

“Are we in Austria?” I asked while rubbing my finger knuckles on my eyes and gazing back out of the car’s window. I slept halfway through the ride, somewhere after Frankfurt to the direction of Munich, I think. “Yes we are.” said the Dutchman grinning at me. “Did you sleep well?” “Yeah, I did.” I answered sleepily with my mind far away still lost into my new striking green and white surroundings.

1st foto is a service road going to the direction of Aschau and the 2nd foto is a panoramic view of Mayrhofen. Pay attention to the ice cap glaciers, the white blanket of snow and the lush of pine trees. That’s what you will see all over in Tirol region.

Amazing white alpine peaks and tall narrow stretch of alpine trees greeted me. The unsullied expanse, the soaring altitude, the beauty of nature and the lofty trees that flanked the roads, rivers, cliffs and mountains now covered in a mass of whiteness looked so exquisite, just like a dream.

The whole dreamy scene that leaped right in front of me seemed like a winter re-incarnation of some alpine dairy commercial that I once saw on TV back home in the Philippines. No wonder my sister in law loved Austria, she found what she has been missing all along in flat and jam-packed Holland.

The small street leading to our apartment between the municipalities of Aschau and Zell am Ziller in Ziller valley. The house on the far right end in front of the pole is our apartment. And yes, that tower is a church!

I was told that the idyllic and picturesque Ziller valley is conveniently located on a high alpine plateau about 1,300 meters to 3,250 meters above sea level, so even if the sun shines like crazy and wet snow pours, the thick laid white carpet of snow in the valley will never melt.

Ah... this is what people say, winter in wonderland.

Here are some of the distinctive things that we noticed in Zell am See [I believe is the name of the province Ziller valley belongs to under the Schwaz district of Tirol region]:

Super Ski Pass

The Zillertal [Ziller valley] municipalities promotes a very aggressive, organized and cooperative tourism business that benefits not only the organizations and entrepreneurs that sponsors the program, but also us, winter sport tourists.

The ski pass we had, worth € 170 per person, already includes unlimited public parking, information assistance, use of 176 lifts and cable cars, 625 pisten kilometers and unlimited use of the ski bus and public train. All these are inclusive from Hintertux to Fugen, in short, all over Zillertal, for a whole week.

The super ski pass and the ski information brochures.

The biggest of all ski zones is of course the Zillertal Arena, where we frequent in Zell am Ziller, and is the busiest small city in the Ziller valley too.

They also did a migration on the old ski pass scheme, from the previous hassling magnetic swipe electronic card system [like the ones we use in the office to get in] into this very handy barcode data capture scan system.

So no more swiping struggles, getting choked and worse, being hit back by the elastic necklace band where the ski pass card is supposed to hang. Now, you just conveniently pass through the secured terminals and the bar code scanner will scan through your jacket [or your trousers if you place your ski pass there] and will give you access to the lifts and cable cars.

A very opportune thing is the ski jacket I bought. It has this transparent plastic pouch on the lower left part where you can insert the ski pass in. Really brilliant design!

Overall, I am positively impressed with the super ski pass arrangement in Zillertal.

The Locals

Quite unexpected, the Austrians are relatively friendly, much friendlier than say, the calculated Germans. Or perhaps it could have something to do with the place since its a tourism infested valley.

The prime religion is Catholic and you will notice the colorful pastel church towers pointing to the skies in every village. I have seen rose pink, beige yellow and mint green churches. Really charming.

One of the mundane things I also noticed, which is to my delight, is that these Austrians aren’t that tall. And being at a disadvantage in Holland always [damn these tall cheese heads], I can only say that in this country my height has some sort of little value.

A pink Catholic church! Deutsch signs in Zell am Ziller center.

Deutsch is the official language of Austria but they have some localized accent and dialect variations. It’s the same case with the Belgian Dutch and the Dutch Dutch.

Many also speak English but since I can understand Deutsch just a teeny bit, I acquiesced and bravely marshaled myself.

On a given chance, I spoke select absolute Deutsche nouns and verbs, well the ones I only know, complete with accompanying hand movements in mono syllabic Dutch accent. Oh boy, was I very surprised. These Austrians are so clever, they perfectly understood me, haha!


An Austrian trademark is not only the inverted V roof design of the house but rather its artistic balconies. Some are quite modern but a great number of them speckled all over the valley were done in very intricate woodwork designs.

First 2 fotos is the city center of Zell am Ziller by the river and third foto is the center of Mayrhofen taken late in the afternoon. They are about 15 minutes from each other.

I wasn’t able to take pictures of some of the fancy balcony designs because the battery of our camera was experiencing dementia.

The houses too are very well insulated as they were built with really thick solid walls. Up to some point, we had to ask the lady running the apartment to turn the central heating a little bit down because we were horribly hot! Imagine sweating during winter? She did turn it down but it was still too freaking warm for us. So even if it was a freezing -17C outside, I managed to open a window about an inch or two in the bedroom. Man, I was just so dying for some cold air to flow in and freshen up the sauna apartment.

There, I was able to sleep without wetting myself in bed!

Environment Friendly?

And I thought the Dutch was bad enough! Hell, no! The Austrians are crazier bordering OCD and trichotillomania tendencies.

The land lady of the apartment ran through the house rules with us, lingering more on the interesting topic of afval [garbage], which is actually a very serious business there.

As a consequence, we had several boxes lined up under the breakfast table. A box for metal trash, a box for used plastic bottles, a box for used glass bottles, a box for all plastic trash and a box for all paper related trash. What else? Oh, a sack for all organic trash such as vegetables and fruits and a sack for any other type of trash not listed above.

This is our cozy kitchen in the apartment and check the boxes on the floor. On the 2nd foto is our scenic and tranquil view from the living room outside the balcony.

Okay, so where is the fuss then? Well in Austria, they meticulously clean and separate every damn little waste. Like the tomato sauce tin can, the plastic sack of green peas and the pack of milk or orange juice, they must be first cleaned, rinsed I mean, thoroughly, with tap water before depositing them in their respective trash boxes and sacks. The land lady specifically instructed us that they must be really, really clean!

I mean, WTF, is it not that a waste is a trash and therefore a garbage, so why clean that damn thing when it will just be thrown away to decompose or be recycled anyway? Don’t they have those high tech equipments that clean and separate every damn type of waste? Certainly rubbish!

And well, the plot thickens too, you can’t just use any garbage sack for the organic items, a special green sack must be used and that can only be bought from her for € 0.50!

Wurst Land

The number of dried wurst [sausage] shops in Zillertal would probably compete with the number of cheese shops found in the Netherlands.

A special meat shop, everything dried and cured… and my just enough Austrian take home kitchen souvenirs.

Having claimed the status, staunch and mighty disciple of the dried and cured sausage clan, I had the impression that I was in my ideal country of vacation. I almost raided the supermarkets and a few special shops, when I realized that I can’t really eat everything at the same time nor I can horde them all back to the flatlands because of staling and dietary reasons. Alas, I still have some sense of reality left in me, I do check the best before and how much my stomach can muster.

Fact: The Bavarian landjager dried sausage snack stick is very popular in the area and you can even order them in any terrace up in the Alps.

Tags: The Ski Experience Part I, The Ski Experience Part II, Wintersport Holiday in Austria, The Austrian Way, Ski Myth

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Winter sport holiday in the Austrian Alps

We just came back from our winter sport holiday in Zillertal, which in English literally means, Ziller Valley, nestled peacefully in the heart of the European Alps in Tirol, Austria. One week is indeed enough of this back, leg, knee, arm and neck breaking snow sport.

1st foto: the Zillertal Arena cable car; 2nd foto: lift somewhere in the Tirolean Alps; 3rd foto: me sitting in the lift, ready for some action.

At any rate, my body’s resistance was gnarled, and my character, put to the ultimate test, ergo, I am so beaten dood moe [dead tired] but I have many exciting and scary stories to report!!!

Here is a quick wrap-up for the eager ones who can’t wait...

Day one of our official ski holiday, this ruthless beginner, that’s me by the way, who actually never skied on real snow as my training in Holland was done in a plastic brush hill with a 5 to 10 meter tilt... guess what, directly scaled the steep red piste [slope]! Daring? Well not yet, not quite enough. I also braved, had no choice actually, a Siberian-like snowstorm up in the Alps, in where else --- in the red and black pistes! OK, I’m a braggart, but so what, this is my blog.

Something odd and beside the point though, I injured my finger on a non-ski related incident [blame the Dutchman]. This, I found quite funny because a number of people that go on winter sport normally injure themselves from, ie. falling on the slope, twisting their legs with the skis, jumping on somebody else or crashing on a lift pole or pine tree.

Terraces [cafe, bar and restaurant] up in the Tirolean Alps.

After a mid-way scale down, I like to rest in a terrace and drink a warm glass of gluewijn [gluhwein/glowing wine] and sometimes munch on a droge worst [dried sausage].

With the ski thermal jacket and layers of clothing, take note, fleece, it can be sweltering hot up in the mountains, that is, if the weather is nice. If not, it can be freaking hypothermic cold.

See, I am ready to conquer Austria's Tirolean Alps! This is by the way a red piste, quite steep... and well, what else is new, I look like a snow mascot.

The Zillertal Arena by Zell am Ziller were predominantly laid out in red and black pistes, definitely not the place for a beginner like me, but lo and behold babies, I survived, hehe.

There were only two blue pistes I saw on the map. The one near the main lift was pretty damn boring because the route is too short, great for kids but only a teaser for adults. Hear ye people, the pumping the adrenalin rush must not be wasted in vain. Then the other better blue piste is located at the back of the mountain range and to get there, you must first slay a series of challenging red and black mazes. Talk about many Goliaths.

Even the ski teachers said that a number of the red pistes in Zillertal Arena were actually blacks. I’m going to gag them myself, maybe in the next trip.

More breathtaking sceneries up in the pistes. I have never seen so much white in my life!

I will post a few entries about this ski holiday in the coming days, just give me some time to organize the many pictures we took.

So for now, enjoy the beautiful scenery above, of the Austrian Alpine peaks in the Tirolean region.


Green piste - for beginners and sledding, very easy terrain
Blue piste - for beginners, light and manageable slope
Red piste - for advanced skiers, middle with relative steep slope
Black piste - for experts and daredevils, hard to manage and very steep slope

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