Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ski or Soak? Both!

For Lisa's birthday, we headed down south to Carinthia to ski for a couple of days and then to Styria to hit up a thermal spa, Bad Blumau, on our return.  Although the winters in Austria can be blistering cold (relatively speaking, of course), the drop in the mercury doesn't necessarily mean the snow is accumulating.  And if the temperatures are mild -- even warm -- you can easily surmise what the consequences are:  resorts rely more heavily on snow-making and the snow conditions become sub-optimal.  On our first morning in Bad Kleinkirchheim it was sunny and mild -- better than cold and gray, I suppose -- with a moderately warm day forecast so we knew that if the snow was crispy in the morning, it would warm by the afternoon.  I'm not a fan of skiing groomers (bullet-proof or otherwise) all day -- powder, moguls, and off-piste skiing are the norm in Utah -- whereas Lisa grew up skiing on the East coast so she is more skilled and comfortable skiing in icy conditions than me.  At any rate, the snow did soften as the day wore on and, for the first time this winter, we found a couple of trails that hadn't been groomed so some decent mogul lines formed.  There certainly weren't any moguls on the lower mountain, however:  what little snow there was was artificial:  
A ribbon of artificial snow.  Not sure if you can tell from the pic, but the chairlift is total old-school:  the foot-rest swings around from the side.
Where's the snow?!?
Perhaps a visor and sunglasses instead?
Oh yes, there it is...on the other side of the resort

Dear Goulash soup and beer for lunch, I love you. ~me
We considered snow shoeing or cross-country skiing on the second day but since the snow was so spartan and the weather so warm, we decided to run instead.  A nine mile loop with 719 meters (~2350 feet) of vertical climb began right near our hotel -- we actually stayed in a neighboring town, Feld am See, rather than in Bad Kleinkirchheim -- then spent the afternoon binging on cheese, bread, and beer.  A damn fine day, to be sure.  

On our way back to Vienna we stayed at what may be, arguably, the most unique and swankiest thermal bath/spa in Austria:  Bad Blumau.   The resort was designed by the Austrian architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who, among other things, sought to harmonize life with nature in a light-hearted, non-stuffy way.  It was cloudy and overcast when we were there so the pictures, unfortunately, don't really do it justice. 

Smooth, child-like lines are the norm.

Not your typical resort/hotel room bathroom.
The steam rising from the baths.
Maybe Mr. Hundertwasser was a fan of psychedelics?
Not quite a yellow brick road...
So how 'bout it, one last dip in the thermal pools?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Olympics in Innsbruck

Lisa and I hit up Innsbruck in mid-January to ski and see the sights.  Innsbruck hosted the Olympic Games in 1964 and then again, twelve years later, in 1976.  The Olympic stadium -- and ski jumping venue -- is known as the Bergisel.  The stadium is easily visible from most parts of the valley -- it is perched on a hill -- thus offering sweeping views of the valley and mountains across the valley.  This is the view of the valley from the bottom of the ski jump:

Dusk settling on Innsbruck.
The ski jumper's view from the top of the track.  There is a cemetery just beyond the stadium...just sayin'.
Looking back up toward the top from the bottom.
Innsbruck hosted the games in 1976 only because Denver -- the city first awarded the games -- withdrew in 1972 citing cost and environmental impact.
The city of Innsbruck is relatively hip and young -- there is a large student population -- and, not surprisingly, the restaurant offerings veer away from the standard Austrian fare.  We found a Nepalese restaurant -- I think it was called Himal -- that was fantastic with respect to both food and ambiance (you could sit on the floor!).  
Umm, curry.
There are a couple of small ski resorts pretty close to Innsbruck but since the snow cover was rather spartan, we decided to drive about an hour outside of Innsbruck to Stubaier Glacier.  As with many things about our life Austria, skiing on a glacier was a new experience for me.  But to be honest, it wasn't all that different from skiing on a regular mountain, except much more of the terrain was exposed, i.e. wide open bowls and few, if any, trees.  The expansiveness of the resort -- and the mountain range it's situated in -- reminded me of the scenes from the 1993 film about the flight carrying the Uruguayan rugby team ("Alive") that crashed in the Andes Mountains and the awe elicited when they summit a mountain only to see snow-covered mountain after endless snow-covered mountain beyond it.

Wind-packed snow and a mild day...epic!
The view of the t-bar from the other side of the bowl.
So many turns, so little time...
"I think you should hit that sweet jump down there."
"OK, but what will I get for it (aside from your adoration)?"
A Radler and semi-edible hot dog...score!