après-ski

Hike in the Alps with Molly and Alex

Molly and Alex were our first visitors of the year and stayed with us for nine days at the end of March!  We knew that they would be great companions for an all-day hike in the mountains so we began planning a short getaway to the Alps.

The morning after they arrived we packed-up the car and headed south for what was expected to be a spring-like weekend in the Montafon valley of Austria. It was Molly and Alex’s first visit to the Alps, and our first to the Vorarlberg.

This corner of Austria shares a border with Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein and is a popular area for skiing and winter activities. We stayed in Bartholomäberg, a mountainside village that overlooks the small city of Schruns in the valley. The hills of Bartholomaeberg are grassy pastureland that are home to residences and several small farms. Higher there are wooded hiking trails with rocky terrain near the top.  It had several options for Winterwandern ‘winter hiking’ (snowshoe trails and groomed winter hiking paths) which made it the perfect base for the next few days.

 

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We were there during the last week of March, a quiet time to visit.  Some of the Alpine Huttes and Gastofs that serve as hiking destinations were closed for a week of ‘spring break’ before re-opening for the summer tourism season.   We were in search of a traditional Austrian house to stay in and found a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the lower level of a country home. The family operates a small farm with cows and small animals. They gave us a genuine welcome and shared that we were their first visitors from the USA!  It was an extra treat when Sabine baked us the most amazing loaf of spelt bread on our last night.

 

Hiking Day 1: Wannaköpfle

The next morning we packed lunches and set off early for a day-long hike. We began from the town center of Bartholomaeberg (1087 m) and reached the peak at Wannaköpfle (2031m) a few hours later.   The valley was clear of snow so we decided on a snowshoe trail that would take us through the most scenic hiking areas.

There was snow sooner than we expected!! We alternated taking the lead to forge a path for our not-so-waterproof hiking boots.  The snow was losing it’s density from the morning thaw and the unpredictable depth created a number of humorous challenges and surprises!   The winter trails stopped with the peak in sight, so we finished our climb through unchartered snowbanks.

We were the first ‘spring’ hikers to Wannaköpfle!

Really, our “hike” was a lot of climbing through snow drifts and the tripping, falling, and laughing that goes with it — or Molly helping me rescue my foot from a deep snow well.  (Snow shoes should have been essential at this point!)   Thanks to the thaw we were able to walk on gravel part of the way which was a nice break for our damp feet.

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(Below) Halfway there— Time for a rest and a snack.

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Wannaköpfle (2031m)

Our destination! We found some mossy rocks where the snow had melted and made it our seat for lunch and munched while we took in the surroundings.

It was one of the mildest days of the month, and though we were surrounded by snow, the midday sun made the mountain perch a warm oasis. It was sunny, breezy, and nearly 60°F. We snapped photos and watched paragliders float over the valley.  It was a memorable moment for all of us — the views were completely worth the climb!


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Hiking (+ Beers) Day 2 

The next day, we all slept in. With sore legs and sopping wet boots, we opted for an easier ascent by taking the St. Gallenkirch Valiserabahn (a ski gondola) to another scenic Winterwandern path.  We were now on the other side of the valley in a ski area.  The path turned out to be less than 1km of hiking so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking beer at the Alpine Huttes!

We met a lively German man who took our group photo and recalled his trip to California as a young man in the 1970’s.  When he was there he bought a Mercury convertible to drive along the coast.  He laughed at his impulse because he had no idea how he would ship his new car back to Germany, but it all worked out and the week prior he had been cruising from his home near Lake Constance through the Alps!  🙂

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NachtRodeln 

Afterwards we rented Rodel, the traditional wooden Austrian toboggan. One winter attraction of the Montafon is a place that offers NachtRodeln a few evenings during the week, where you buy an inexpensive chairlift pass and ride to the top of  a 5km toboggan run.   We rented our Rodel on site where the tradition is to drink a shot of Schnapps before you set out.  You can watch a few clips of the action in Molly’s video below!

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Relaxing in Bartholomaeberg

Our accommodations were in a serene, quiet part of Bartholomaeberg. The village is referred to as the sun balcony of Montafon because of its southern exposure. The location had nice panorama views of the valley and we could have happily camped out there for the rest of the week!  For Derek and I, it was our last visit to the Alps for the foreseeable future which made it all the more special.  We were happy that we were able to share this memorable time with family.

After our trip to the Alps, we spent the next few days in Würzburg with Molly and Alex. They are a ton of fun and we loved having them as visitors!!

 

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(Above) Photos by the wonderfully talented– Molly and Alex

Ski Jumping / Four Hills Tournament

One of the most exciting things we have taken part in was an invitation to accompany Derek’s colleague’s ski club on a 4- hour bus trip to the opening of the 63rd Vierschanzentournee  (translation: Four Hills Tournament) which is part of the Ski Jump World Cup.

Ski Jumping is one of the most anticipated winter spectator sports in Europe. Skispringer from all over the world take part in the tournament, and many are in training for the future olympics.

The tour takes place in four villages in the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria.  The opening event was in Oberstdorf, followed by Garmisch-Partenkirchen (we actually posted a photo of the ski jump arena in GaP earlier in the year!) Innsbruck, and Bischofshofen.

It was snowing when we arrived, and the views as we passed villages in the Allgäu  felt like scenes out of a snowglobe.  The arena was packed; Viewers start arriving on buses when the event gates open at noon and pitchers of hot Glühwein or punsch are the best bet for staying warm. The athletes had already warmed up once we arrived at 3pm, and a crowd-warming festival in the stands was well underway!  One glance around and we realized that we should have dressed a whole lot warmer!

 

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Leading up to the event is all of the entertainment and music you would hear at a lively German festival: The Zicke-Zacke chant and après-ski party songs like Amsterdam, and the universally loved song by Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline.

It was exhilarating to watch!  Wind speeds are carefully metered and need to measure within a certain low range for each jump. By late afternoon, a few more inches of snow had fallen and the wind had picked up, which meant that the competitive jumps were slow to begin. There were many times when the broadcast screens would show the skier on the edge of their seat, ready-to-go, and he would need to slide off the bench.  It was a cycle of jumps and lengthy delays, until it seemed that the conditions would not abate and an announcement was made that the event would be postponed until the next day.

My feet have never felt so cold!

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Skispringen is well established in Germany and live broadcasts appear frequently through the winter. The next day, we watched the remainder of the competition in Oberstdorf  from our couch with a mug of hot cocoa, and my toes were happy!

Ski jumping has yet to reach the same high level of popularity in the United States.  There was a single qualifier from the USA team and he was unfortunately not able to advance.  This year, a broadcast deal was reached and next winter’s tournament will be televised in the USA for the first time!

Vierschanzentournee is a prestigious tournament for ski jumpers.  The overall winner was a 21-year old Austrian, Stefan Kraft.  Austrians are tremendously good skiers, it’s amazing to watch them perform.

Below are two videos from Oberstdorf —  The first was the best jump of the night!  You can see how revved up the crowd was.

Ski Jump World Cup! #deutschland #oberstdorf #63Vierschanzentournee #fourhills #skijumpworldcup

A post shared by Kate (@_inspirekate) on

 

This jump is a German skier, and he’s easier to spot in the video—

Ski Jump World Cup, #Oberstdorf #63Vierschanzentournee #deutschland #danielwenig #allgäu #alps

A post shared by Kate (@_inspirekate) on

 

We had a great time at this event! Despite our frozen feet, it will certainly be a highlight from our time in Germany!

 

One of the après-ski party songs that is popular in Germany and Austria via You Tube
A-M-S-T-E-R-D-A-M
Here are the lyrics in english

 

 

Links

Vierschanzentournee Tickets and Official Website

How Ski Jumping is Scored Wikipedia

Press: EBU strikes deal with U.S. broadcasters for Austrian FIS Ski World Cups