Friday thought #61 The fun of exploring a new place, on skis!

Moving somewhere completely new can be terrifying, but exploring it can be so much fun! What better way to meet people and explore your new home than through sport? It really does bring people together, makes finding friends so much easier, and instantly gives you so much to talk about and share. Skiing has really been the key for us here in Innsbruck, it’s something we already love, and has provided us with some great friends after such a short time here. Once you’ve shared a powder day, sat and had lunch up a mountain in front of a beautiful view, and laughed your way down a gully that didn’t quite lead where you’d hoped it would, it’s time to sit back and be pretty happy with your decision to take a risk.

This week we’ve been exploring the Nordkette; a huge, south facing ‘freeride’ mountain range separating Innsbruck from the Karwendel National Park. There are 2 cable cars and 2 chair lifts, allowing it to pose as a small ski area, but in reality it is simply there for the off piste, and my oh my is there a lot of it! Fantastic snow, hardly any people and above all, simply breathtaking views all combine to make this a very special place to ski. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time up here!

P1100463
Looking across Innsbruck city towards the Brenner Pass and Italy
P1100468
What a place to ski…
P1100473
Steep couloirs are ok when the snow is good…!
P1100475
The clouds make it so atmospheric
IMG_20160122_110622
I wonder where this goes…? Let’s find out!
Advertisements

Friday thought #52 From Autumn to Winter in a matter of days…

Innsbruck is a wonderful place. Where else in the world do you have stunning mountains and all the nature you could wish for, within spitting distance of a city with all the amenities a person could ever need?

The seasons are changing fast here, the bright orange and yellows are out in force and the colder weather is creeping in, which means Winter is coming…! But not quite yet. Last week we managed both a via ferratta (climbing rock faces using fixed metal railings) and a ski tour within a couple of days. Perfect!

Heading up the wall
Heading up the wall
P1100229
In the cave halfway up, with Kematen, one of Innsbruck’s neighbouring villages below
Quite an impressive wall!
Quite an impressive wall!
No-one around, bliss!
No-one around, bliss!
Stunning ice formations at the top
Stunning ice formations at the top
A well beaten path and spectacular scenery
A well beaten path and spectacular scenery
Powder in October??! Who'd have thought?!
Powder in October??! Who’d have thought?!

Friday thought #50 First ski of the season – in September!

The title says it all really! It seems winter comes early in Innsbruck as the Stubai Gletscher guarantees skiing from October to June. A couple of days of heavy rain last week meant a good layer of snow up high so the lifties were kind enough to get it open a week early. Exploring a new area is always great fun, especially with very few people, fantastic snow and glorious sunshine!

We even found a little peak to scramble up, our first Austrian peak! Looking out over the Dolomites, with snowy peaks as far as the eye could see, I must admit I was feeling pretty happy about our move. The novelty of starting the ski season in September certainly helps! We finished off the day with tired legs and a Weissbier in the sunshine, excited about the winter to come…

A stunning panorama
A stunning panorama
Stunning
Looking across to the Italian Dolomites
Incredible cloud inversion, luckily we were above it!
Incredible cloud inversion, luckily we were above it!
So much to explore!
So much to explore!
First Austrian peak!
First Austrian peak!
We even found some powder!
We even found some powder!

Friday thought #27 Will the mountain environment ever get boring?

You may or may not have ever heard of the Vallée Blanche, some of you may have even skied it, but regardless of your previous knowledge, the pictures of this stunning ski run speak for themselves. Essentially it is a completely off piste ski trail, 18km long, ungroomed, unpatrolled, and follows an enormous glacier down the Chamonix Valley, marking the border between Italy and France. You enter the Vallée Blanche at your own risk, preferably with a guide, as there are no end of crevasses waiting to swallow you up if you head the wrong way. From start to finish the whole experience is simply breathtaking, in the sense that it literally will take your breath away. I’d say it’s worth learning how to ski if only so you get the chance to do this at least once in your life!

It has to be done on a sunny day as the views are just as important, if not more important than the skiing. To reach the start you have to fight your way on to arguably one of the busiest ski lifts in the World and trying to get a space on it between 8 and 10am is every man for himself, yet as we recently discovered, heading back round for lap number 2 in the afternoon is more than worth the effort. After the pandemonium of the morning, at 2.30pm we had the lift to ourselves, and saw just 2 other people in the distance during the entire run down, easily 2 hours of solitude in what has to be one of the most stunning places on earth. Add to this tranquility the beauty of skiing home at dusk watching the sun creep its way downwards behind the mountains and it all makes for a pretty magical day.

Thank you Chamonix.

Just taking a break next to the ice fall...
Just taking a break next to the ice fall…
Heading down the arête for lap number 2, wait till the afternoon and you have your own private mountain!
Heading down the arête for lap number 2, wait till the afternoon and you have your own private mountain!
Stunning ice, different every time
Stunning ice formations, although not sure it it’s pointing at something worthy of note or giving me the finger!
Heading home in to the sunset. So clichéd but in this case very true!
Heading home in to the sunset. So clichéd but in this case very true!

Friday thought #26 Discovering new places – Kosovo and Macedonia

Going somewhere new is always an amazing experience, especially when it’s in an entirely new part of the World, completely unknown and with no pre-conceptions. No matter what you encounter, it will be an adventure, and Eastern Europe definitely delivered. Our only basis for going was that we’d vaguely heard the skiing could be good, and the half term school holidays in France are as good a reason as any to get the hell out of the Alps. You can fly directly to Pristina, Kosovo from Geneva, so why not?

Some of the absolute highlights for me:

* One man chairlifts!

* Dinner for two for €3.50!

* A local Kosovar overhearing us speaking English in the street and proceeding to shake our hands, thank us profusely for our help in liberating his country, and paying homage to Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II!

* The wonderfully friendly and welcoming people

* The heavily armed ski patrollers on the pistes in Macedonia

* Hitching a ride with a cat ski operation in the back bowls of Popova Sapka in Macedonia

* Sledgers outnumbering skiers by at least 20:1!

* The severe looking guards at the Macedonia/Kosovo border seeing our skis, breaking out in to smiles and telling us through the hatch where to go next for the best skiing.

* The total and utter chaos on the roads to Brezovica ‘resort’, Kosovo, with cars, coaches and pedestrians all sharing a one track, rutted, snowy road.

* Getting a ride up to our hotel on the back of a skidoo.

* The touts flogging soft drinks, chocolate bars and cigarettes at the base of the chair lifts from rickety wooden tables.

What an endlessly fascinating and intriguing area, I don’t think I have ever come across a more welcoming, friendly and hilarious people. In both Kosovo and Macedonia there seems to be no logic, very few rules, and a definite lack of urgency. The lifts in the tiny ski areas may or may not open and if they do it might only be for half an hour.

What a wonderful place, we’ll most certainly be back!

Moonscapes in Popova Sapka, Macedonia
Moonscapes in Popova Sapka, Macedonia
Lakeside skiing in Mavrovo, Macedonia
Lakeside skiing in Mavrovo, Macedonia
The atmospheric one man chair in Brezovica, Kosovo
The atmospheric one man chair in Brezovica, Kosovo
The tiny resort of Brezovica, Kosovo, where sledging is clearly the national sport!
The tiny resort of Brezovica, Kosovo, where sledging is clearly the national sport!
Fresh lines in the back bowls
Fresh lines in the back bowls
Animal tracks heading in to the sunset
Animal tracks heading in to the sunset
Now this is what you call chaos!
Now this is what you call chaos!

Friday thought #22 First powder day of the season!!

Well I don’t need too many words to describe this one, the pictures very much speak for themselves, even to those who have no knowledge and no interest of skiing! The European winter so far has been practically non-existent; easily the worst start to a winter in the Alps I can ever remember. Christmas and New Year were a nightmare, bare pistes and lots of angry holiday-makers, and January has been pretty snow-free so far, but finally, finally, the heavens opened last week and provided us with the base we need and at long last, the first powder day of the season!

Up until this weekend I must admit that my enthusiasm for skiing was starting to wane… Two months of attempting to ski on grass and ice will do that to even the keenest sportsman (!) But last weekend restored all my faith in the white fluffy stuff, and team this with blue sky, amazing pals and an obscene amount of brilliant banter, it all came together to provide one of the best ski days I’ve ever had.

Happy skiing to all!

Ah, fresh lines...
Ah, fresh lines…
First tracks of the day
First tracks of the day
Happy skiers on the chair lift!
Happy skiers on the chair lift!

Friday thought #19 Happy New Year and the arrival of Winter!

So it’s been a slow start to Winter in the European Alps by anyone’s standards, a meagre amount of snow in November to get us all excited about skiing, followed by weeks of mild, sunny weather causing what little snow there was to gradually disappear and meaning panic for anyone working in the tourist industry. Most of the Chamonix ski areas were set to open early December yet barely managed to scrape a few slopes open for the Christmas week. We left here before Christmas desperately hoping for some of the white stuff on our return… And thank goodness, we did arrive back to Winter, rather than an even more extended Autumn! The Valley is now thankfully covered in white, although snow cover on the pistes is still the worst I’ve ever seen it for this time of year. There’s an awful amount of grass poking out of the pistes and the artificial snow canons are in full flow, plus it’s well below freezing every day so it’s all about layering up appropriately before leaving the house! But the mountains look beautiful, the sunsets are stunning and it’s always good to be back on the snow, regardless of of how good (or poor!) the skiing is.

Happy New Year!

Pink mountains
Pink mountains
Winter is finally here!
Winter is finally here!
Beautiful snowy walks
Beautiful snowy walks