Mayrhofen, Austria

Let’s start this off with one very important fact: my athletic abilities are, at best, minimal. Some would say that I have none whatsoever, and I wouldn’t be able to put up a very persuasive counter-argument. Sure, I do some aerobics and yoga, but generally my exercise activities are solo and involve some kind of stationary equipment, like a cross-trainer machine. “Graceful” is never a word that has been used to describe me, unless the words “really not” are directly in front of it.

So when Richie said he’d like to take a ski trip together, I was understandably a little nervous. Richie is one of those people that picks things up very quickly and, well, gracefully. He went skiing once, last April, and immediately loved it. I went skiing once, when I was thirteen, and it did not go well. It involved a Spanish-speaking instructor and a class full of Spanish-speaking students, and little old non-Spanish speaking me. I think I cried for two of the three days of the trip.

Given this encouraging history on my part, and the fact that we were going with friends who have literally been skiing all their lives, I decided it would be wise to take some private lessons. In English, this time.

We arrived in Mayrhofen, a ski area approximately 6.5 hours from Budapest, Friday morning, and I started my first lesson after lunch. It was definitely a good thing that I was taking lessons, because I couldn’t even put on my skis without almost falling. In the first 2-hour lesson with Nicola, I learned the basics of snowplowing and turning in the instruction area. I did pretty well at this, so after my lesson ended, I decided I was game for the easiest slope on the Penken mountain. With Sophie trailing alongside me to make sure I didn’t die, I figured it would be no big deal. The first half of the slope was great, but just towards the end, a steep turn did me in and I had an inelegant spill right in the middle of the piste. Garrett, who was standing off to the side, described it as, “not the worst thing I’ve seen” and told me that I looked like I’d basically given up and decided to sit down. Confidence (and backside) bruised, I made it down the rest of the run, but headed straight for the Babylift for the rest of the afternoon. Yep, the practice area’s lift is called a babylift. Because children can use it. I cannot tell you how unnerving it is to see a five year old skiing more effortlessly and faster than you. At least the scenery was pretty.

View near the Babylift
View near the Babylift

On day 2, I had a full day of private instruction, with a different instructor. About five minutes into the lesson, I was missing Nicola. Not because the new instructor wasn’t good – he was, and I learned a lot – but he had a way of slipping traumatic stories into every conversation. Example: we went down the same run that I’d done the previous afternoon, and I told him where I’d fallen the day before. He then told me a wonderfully encouraging story about the last students he’d had fall on that spot. They were three girls taking lessons together, and one of them fell into the other two girls, sticking her ski pole straight through one of her friends’ legs. She had to be airlifted out. He told this story as I was standing on the exact spot where it happened, and I had to ski through it. Needless to say, I once again fell. There was no ski pole impaling me, though, so I call it a win.

Through that afternoon, I started to regain my confidence and I actually skied fairly well (partially due to the fresh powder that made the trails a bit slower, partially due to the lessons). While we were on the last trail, which was close to a kid’s play area with jumps and obstacle courses, we saw a medical helicopter landing for a kid that had flipped in a very unfortunate way. Of course, my instructor took this as another opportunity to tell me horror stories about how many people got injured or died in a given ski season. Thanks, buddy!

Watching the medical helicopter (the tiny yellow one in the center of the photo) come in for a landing
Watching the medical helicopter (the tiny yellow one in the center of the photo) come in for a landing

Just after this, we were heading through one of the steepest parts of the run and, as I was making a left turn, my right ski hit an icy patch and started sliding. I couldn’t recover control of the skis and, before I knew it, I was doing the splits. I used to dance, and I could never pull off the center split. Apparently the key is to be on a really slippery surface, because I certainly did it this time around. With my legs in a completely split position and my poles nowhere to be found, I faceplanted directly in the snow. Whoops.

Despite being completely uninjured, that ended the skiing for the day. As my instructor pointed out, at this point my muscles were tired and I’d just had a confidence-killing fall, so any further skiing that afternoon would likely not go well and would make me hate it. I gratefully took the gondola lift down to the main rest area and spent some time people-watching and photo-taking until the rest of our group was ready to call it a day.

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Not a bad view while waiting, hmm?

The next day, Sophie and I tried out a different kind of winter adventure… paragliding! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s either been too expensive or hasn’t meshed well with my other vacation plans. It sounded like a great way to take a little break from skiing, too, since the brochure mentioned that you didn’t have to have any ski experience in order to do it.

The paragliding spot
The paragliding spot

Well, as you can see from the picture above, you have to ski to the paragliding spot. My guide, Flo (yep, just like the Progressive Insurance commercial, except this Flo was a man) told me, “Okay, just ski to the edge… don’t fall off… and we’ll put the glide on down there.” Sophie saw the terror in my eyes and explained to the guides that when I said I was a novice skier, I really meant it, and that skiing to that spot (and stopping in a timely manner) might be a bit much for me. Flo was a good sport and escorted me down, but I have a feeling this is when I entered the race for “most annoying client ever.”

Paragliding itself was easy (for me, anyway, the tandem guide did all the work!) and awesome. Literally awesome, in that I was completely awed by the experience and could. not. stop. babbling about how amazing the view was and that it was the coolest thing I’d ever done. Poor Flo. To shut me up, he asked if I wanted to take the controls for awhile. Did I? Heck no. I leave that sort of thing up to the experts. However, despite my firm “No, thanks,” I ended up with the controls in my hands. I think Flo’s arms were getting a little tired.

Yep, I'm in charge. Not scary at all. Ahem.
Yep, I’m in charge. Not scary at all. Ahem.

We continued circling the mountaintops for about another 10 minutes, while Flo took various photos and video for posterity.

Taking photos while hovering in the air is actually really fun!

While Mr. Flo was filming the video, we caught a stray wind current, probably from Sophie’s glide just ahead of us, and since Flo was taking photos and not holding tightly to the controls, we dropped and bounced around for probably 3-4 seconds while he juggled the camera and the controls. I was surprisingly unruffled by this. You can watch the video here (click) – the incident happens right around 0:59. You may want to mute it if you don’t want to hear maniacal laughter.

Since we recovered from that so easily (or perhaps because I was still on a bit of a rush), when Flo asked me if he could do some “roller-coaster-type tricks,” I said, “You can do whatever you want!” This was a huge mistake. Those words should never come out of my mouth, and probably won’t again. He immediately dropped us into a downward spiral that lasted for about 10-15 seconds, which doesn’t seem like a long time… but trust me, in that situation, it is. I immediately became so incredibly dizzy. Luckily for me, Flo, and the people below us, that was the end of our glide and we landed about 90 seconds later. As Flo was slowly unbuckling the glide and the parachute, I said, “Uh-oh!”…. and then promptly lost my lunch in the snow.

Yep, I think I officially go on the top of Flo’s list for the worst client ever.

Luckily, neither he nor his equipment was impacted by this whatsoever, so he just laughed it off and said, “It happens ALL the time.  Hey, can you sign this form certifying that you didn’t die?”

On the last day of our trip, we started off on a different mountain with some easier blue trails for me, since I had become a little bit scarred from my skiing experience and needed something completely painless. It was awesome – the piste was nice and wide and I could do pretty much everything my instructors had taught me. While I was on the little baby slope, Richie, Sophie and Reiner were next to me doing a timed slalom course. It worked out really well – they could babysit me to make sure I wasn’t falling down the mountain and dying, but they got to ski something a little closer to their level of expertise while doing so 🙂

Confidence regained, we trekked over to a mountain on the other side of Mayrhofen where Sophie and Reiner had dessert the previous day. We were promised both an excellent view and delicious food and we were not disappointed.

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View from the terrace at lunch
Best mille-feuille ever... cream on cream!
Best mille-feuille ever… cream on cream!

And of course, plenty of fellow skiers were on hand to take a group photo.

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Our group! Love these guys!

There was one teeny problem – we had to ski down, rather than take a lift, and while the slope was a blue one, it was much longer and had places that were much steeper than my previous baby slopes had prepared me for. I cannot say enough times how awesome everyone else was for getting me down the mountain. For the first forty-five minutes or so, they made themselves into little guideposts for me to ski towards. After I was taken down by a guy who was rolling his way down the mountain head-over-skis, and I was on the verge (let’s be honest… slightly beyond the verge) of tears, Reiner saved the day by skiing me down the whole rest of the trail.

Taking the Reiner train down the mountainside. Thanks friend!

At one point while doing this, my right ski once again hit a patch of ice or a bump and went 180 degrees from the direction it was supposed to be. I was skiing while doing the splits… again. Except this time as I was falling, Reiner (who couldn’t see my skis) said, “Don’t fall! You’re totally fine!”  At which point I managed to pull myself up and continue skiing in the split position. Apparently as long as someone tells me that what I’m doing is fine, I believe them. Sophie and Richie, who were skiing by to keep an eye on things, gasped and started yelling to Reiner, “HER SKI IS BACKWARDS!” It is a true testament to how expert a skier Reiner is that he managed to stop us without falling, because we weren’t exactly on a flat part of the mountain and I was deadweight, unable to snowplow to slow down. I stood there for a few moments, with my skis still parallel but facing in opposite directions, staring at my skis and bewildered as to how I’d gotten in that position. I guess I am more flexible than I thought. Once I was able to turn my right leg around again, we finished the trail without further incident. And thus ended my first ski trip in 17 years.

The verdict: skiing can be really, incredibly fun. It can also be completely terrifying, at least to someone who values control and doesn’t yet have a lot of it on skis! I would go again, but I would 1) take more lessons and 2) schedule lots of other activities during the trip, like hiking… or a nice spa day 🙂

My next trip is a solo one, back to the U.S. at the end of March for my dear friend Kristen’s wedding. I am so honored to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, just like she was in mine.

Kristen and me at my wedding - this picture will be reversed in just over a month!
Kristen and me at my wedding – this picture will be reversed in just over a month!

I can’t wait! For those of you in Houston, I’ll be there from the 25th through the 28th before the wedding festivities begin, so let’s meet up!

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4 Replies to “Mayrhofen, Austria”

  1. Hey SMO! I saw a picture of you skiing and had no idea that you skied…or as you put it, tried skiing. We’re headed to the mountains tomorrow, it’s been 5 years for me and 10+ for the hubby. Loved your story, hope you and Richie are having a great time overseas.

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