By Barb Sanders
We woke to a picture postcard day. The sky was blue and the snow was fresh, leaving a beautiful white coat of paint on the slopes. The snow crystals were reflecting the sun, sparkling like our neighbor’s new veneers. Soelden and Obergurgl are both high mountain resorts, so though it was late March, the conditions were mid-winter. We had breakfast and jumped in the car to drive the short distance to Obergurgl, where a guide was waiting to meet us.
We drove into the charming village of Obergurgl, where, after driving around lost, we found the tourist office. The woman in the tourist office told us frankly that we were 15 minutes late and in the wrong place. We were meant to be in Hochgurgl, we were told, so off we went. As it happened, Hochgurgl was wrong, too! Our meeting point was Hochgurglbahn (lift), which is Untergurgl… geesh!
We raced to the Hochgurglbahn and I parked the car while Lori went to find our pro and apologize for being late. At the lift pass window she was told we were still in the wrong place and now very late. As Lori just stood there dumbfounded, the woman began to repeat herself loudly, then ask: “Why are you still here?”
It’s remarkable that when there is a language barrier people believe turning up the volume to speak louder gets the point across. Turns out we were in the right place, just the wrong building. Lori located our handsome ski pro in a nearby bar; Ollie rescued her from the clutches of Brunhilda, a woman having a seriously bad day.
Ollie the Magnificent
It took about a minute for all of us to fall in love with Ollie. He had a big smile, and although he was born and raised in Austria, he spoke perfect English with a fun Australian/Austrian accent. What’s more, he connected with the boys immediately.
We headed up the tram and together we made a plan for the day. We took the lift to a breathtaking outlook over the Austrian and Italian border, and we enjoyed long warm-up runs over rolling groomers. Then we skied the piste that the US Ski Team uses for training when in Europe.
Good ski pros are always evaluating the conditions and checking the snow. While racing down a cat track, Ollie dipped his pole into the untracked snow to test how light it was and to see if we might want to venture off piste. Micah was right behind him and did the same, except he dipped a bit too hard and literally did a flip and a half and splattered all over the cat track. We picked him up and dusted him off and headed over to the T-Bar to ski the US Team slope.
The conditions were perfect as Ollie skied us past inviting mountain huts to a lift that connects one end of the resort to the other. It was a little like riding Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak, just not so scary.
Ollie took us to a lovely mountain hut for lunch and we soaked in more of the magnificent scenery along with delicious Austrian cuisine. Ollie told us more about himself, his family, and his years teaching skiing in Australia. The ski world is a small one. Turns out his boss in Australia was a longtime friend of mine, Egon Hierzegger.
The woodwork and detailing in the hut competed for attention with the mountain peaks outside, but with bellies full, the mountains were calling. Ollie asked the kids if they liked tight tree trails and they both lit up. I did my best to keep up, wishing I had a pair of 130’s and some new knees. We said our goodbyes to Ollie and thanked him for making our day truly special. We would have been fine without a guide, there are no crevasses and the trails are all well marked, but Ollie is a world class ski pro and extended our experience with the resort. We skied trails only locals are familiar with, we got the inside scoop on where to go and when, and we were given the opportunity to follow Ollie’s powerful, yet elegant, turns down the mountain. We finished the day at an on-mountain hut, then skied back down into Obergurgl. We took a bus to the car, and returned to Soelden.
Sigi and the Hotel Bergland
Back in the old days, I used to compete in the Powder 8’s with my friend Sandi Rowan. We competed in the World Championships up at Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing in Blue River, Canada for a few years, at which point the mens’ champions were Sigi Gruener and Christoph Brugger. Sigi and his wife Elizabeth now own a boutique hotel called the Bergland Hotel Soelden. It is right in the middle of town, and it is the kind of place you walk into and immediately feel sexy and more beautiful in its environs.
Bergland Hotel oozes chic, taste, and class. We sat at the bar and I ordered my new favorite drink, an Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian orange liqueur. It is made with Prosecco, Aperol, soda water and an orange wedge. Not only is this a beautiful drink with it’s deep orange hues, it is low in alcohol and easy to drink.
We met with Sigi briefly—he was on his way to Vail Beaver Creek to discuss Soelden’s presence at the upcoming World Championships—and told him how much we were enjoying his hotel. I shared the latest copy of SNOW, and we chatted about how his property has defined the concept of “Alpine Lifestyle”—a concept central to SNOW’s audience.
We headed back to the Alphof and had our last meal in the warm and welcoming dining room. By now we felt like locals at our special table; we smiled at our French and Russian neighbors and at the staff, who knew just what we liked without asking. (In the back of my mind I was wondering if anyone in the dining room recognized me from the sauna, then put that thought out of my mind immediately!)
The next day we would be off to Salzburg, and the land of The Sound of Music. Before we’d come to Austria, I had tied Micah to the couch and forced him to watch my second favorite movie of all time and listen to me sing along with every song. I was sure that this would increase his appreciation for Salzburg. Who doesn’t need a dose of Julie Andrews spinning and singing her way around the mountain tops?
www.alphofsoelden.com, www.obergurgl.com, www.bergland-soelden.at