When an old friend messaged me to invite me to Austria to snowboard back early in 2016, I’m sure he already knew the answer… it was an an absolute yes, of course I’d be there. We grew up together skateboarding, mountain biking, surfing etc. around Cornwall but in these last few years we had naturally spent less time throwing ourselves about outside. You could blame it on the 500 miles between us, university, careers, or whatever, but it just wasn’t happening like it used to. This trip was more than welcome and snowboarding was a sport I’d been craving since my early teens, the only question however, was could I actually pick it up and feel natural/shred in only five days?
I’d heard of the steep learning curve, the steep icy slopes, and the accidents. I’d actually skied back when I was 16 for a day in Boston, but even my ‘can do’ athletic arrogance couldn’t quite assure me that I was going to nail it first time, plus my lingering history of mishaps with this kind of sport (typically also alongside Joe in our adolescence) had me wondering if it was finally my time in life to break a bone. I had a good five months notice leading up to our trip, planned for the 27th of December, and prepped myself in every way I saw possible to bring in a New Year on the snow. I watched Youtube videos on technique as well as incredible, inspiring, and damn hilarious films like Horgasm: A Love Story, and The Eternal Beauty Of Snowboarding (do yourself a favour and watch these), trained myself relentlessly with the intention of waking up ache free, and scoured the internet for rad and unnecessarily baggy snow gear. This all really meant nothing though, what really mattered was how fast I strapped in and picked it up in real life.
The journey out to Austria began with a night in Gatwick Airport. Typical train times wouldn’t allow me to arrive for my 6AM flight if I left that morning, and something about sleeping in an airport for a laugh kinda caught my attention. I flew out to Munich where I found myself a train. I then found myself a few more trains, and made my way into Austria towards Saalfelden where I was to be picked up my my mate Joe and his wife Lucy (the snowboard/ ski dream team). A direct flight to Salzburg made a little more sense, but I missed travelling across Europe by train and remembered how incredible Austria looked through a moving window, so I did my best to recreate those journeys to and from Vienna last year as the mountains and fresh greenery transitioned into pure white powder. After a few too many hours travelling, I stepped out into the Austrian landscape and the crisp smell of pine trees overwhelmed me. That and the cold. And the realisation that I was actually finally in the Alps, that place you’re taught about in geography all those years ago.
I rented a board and made it back to their chalet; we hung out, took a the dog for a walk into their town, and stared in wonder at the clearest sky we’d ever witnessed. But an early night was ahead, I literally couldn’t wait to fall unconscious and wake up again for a full day going at it. Christmas had just passed, but this was a different kind of Eve worth getting excited for.
I’d never been so excited for an early alarm. After quick stretch, a cup of tea and breakfast, we were on our way to the Lofer ski resort, a quick 15 minute walk up the road. A little badly spoken German and two ski lifts further and I was in the center of the resort, ready to embrace being an absolute beginner all over again. Fortunately Joe knows how I skate and surf and was able to instruct me in a pretty efficient way, getting me up and going on the board soon enough. A couple of hours of falls, a few unexpectedly natural moments and steady progress had me feeling confident enough to move on to the next graded slope (peer pressure may have played a small part in this too), and by the end of afternoon I found myself… snowboarding. My turning technique definitely wasn’t down, I was scared of the flat, and I was starting to wonder how often snowboarders dislocate both their shoulders at once from falling backwards, but I was finding my own space and actually snowboarding. Although shaky, it felt good.
We spent a few days at this same resort, getting the hang of a few different runs and experimenting with the best ways to tackle the steep descents, my main issue. It’s all fun drifting along shallow slopes, but I seemed to have a pretty hard time watching the turn instead of watching my feet when the chopped up snow got steep, leading my edges to dig in and unexpectedly hurl me about at random. When my eyes weren’t down at my feet, I was finding time to take in the absolutely incredible views that you’re blessed with up in these mountains. I have this odd interest in always wanting to see the horizon 360 degrees around me, and up at the peaks of those slopes you get to spin around and see mountain tops in every direction you can point your eyes at.
The next day we took a midweek trip out further to Saalbach and it was everything I had ever imagined snowboarding to be. The slopes were much narrower and even more exposed to the edges of the mountains, where the only real barrier between you and the end of your trip (riding off the edge into the abyss), was the confidence you had within yourself to know that you weren’t going to make a bad move. Aside from this, the drop over the edge was absolutely captivating and it was here that the scale of these wonders really came into perspective, the resort was huge. These slopes reminded me much more of mountain biking trails than the wider slopes of the last few days as they wound their way down naturally, twisting and turning back on themselves, giving you much more time to enjoy the snow instead of hopping on and off ski lifts every ten minutes.
We headed home after this intense day and began the celebrations for New Year’s Eve. Somehow the meal we were invited to took about four hours and we couldn’t make it to the bottom of the slope to count in 2017, but we made ourselves a fire, drank my new favourite drink (GluhWein – basically Austrian mulled wine, perfect for the cold) and set off some kind of DIY firework show under another ridiculously clear sky. After our gentle celebration we made our way to the Karrussel bar which opens all night and lays by the last snow run down from the mountain. The place was full of locals and cliche/ hilarious/ lovable snowboard types (exactly the same characters as seen in the films I mentioned above), who spoke only of competitions, super expensive boards, snow conditions, and snowboarding nightlife.
For our final few days we returned to Lofer and snowboarded like teenagers; racing, throwing ourselves off all the ledges we could find, searching for off piste powder lines (though there wasn’t really enough snow) and hopping about inappropriately. It was a final affirmation in my snowboarding ability and a celebration of having the good fortune to be out there. Despite all that pressure I’d set myself up for leading up to all this, I’d made it, and it was bloody fun. Our final night was spent half an hour North just above the border to Germany where we’d somehow managed to get a deal on a spa visit alongside our ski pass, and soaked ourselves to manage the stress that we’d put our bodies under through those last five days. I lost my phone, told a load of people that I’d lost my phone (thank you GCSE German), found my phone, burnt myself in salt waters, swam in open water under the stars, and immersed myself in the cold water tank for as long as humanly possible (and then some). A pretty lovely way to round off a short but rewarding trip away.
I really discovered a love for snowboarding through this visit and felt the need to share how incredible it was with more than just a “man snowboarding is sick!” tweet or Instagram post… It’s not the most convenient holiday or sport, and far from the cheapest, but it’s definitely up there with my favourites so far. If all goes to plan, I think I’m going to try make a trip each season from now until my legs can no longer bear it. Maybe you’ll be blessed with another in depth snowboard post around this time next year, we’ll see.