By Barbara Sanders

From Innsbruck, we asked Money Penny, our GPS, to direct us toward Soelden, a ski area in the Ötztal Valley of the Tyrol in Austria. But we had to make one stop first: the Aqua Dome in Langenfeld — a New Age indoor/outdoor spa and swimming complex about 30 minutes shy of our ski destination.

It was still snowing — though much lighter than it had been — and following the winding road through one charming medieval village after another was akin to driving through a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm. Much against the protests of Money Penny, I veered off-course to capture some photos of a majestic church framed by magnificent mountains just outside Langenfeld — gorgeous.

snowy church

Spa Sensations

Once we reached the Aqua Dome, we were given towels, robes, and “watches” that acted as keys for our private changing cabine. The boys raced for the big pool; Lori and I tried to keep up. The warm water felt fantastic after a day spent touring Innsbruck in the wet snow. We headed for the outdoor section immediately — the sun was just setting and the lights were coming on, illuminating the outdoor river-like pool and towering pinnacle. We climbed up the pinnacle to access three separate pools — they looked remarkably like space ship saucers.

Having tested all three space ship pools, I left the boys to play and went to visit the spa facilities. The journey to the adult-only spa was like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, even without eating the special cake! There was a long corridor with sights and sounds of the four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Once there I had to choose which type of spa experience I was looking for: hot dry sauna, wet sauna, hot tubs, etc. I’m sure I was committing a huge faux pas, but I wasn’t ready to get naked, so I kept my swim suit on. I’m certain this was akin to putting a sign on my head saying “American” and “Prude” but I didn’t care!!! Maybe next time… you have to ease into these things.

While I was gone, Lori and the boys went to check out a special kids’ area. Apparently I missed Micah running across the snow barefoot in his swim suit to reach it rather than taking the long way around. When I joined them the boys told me I had to try the water slide, too. They mentioned it was “a little dark in there,” but they didn’t prepare me for the pitch black that you slide through for at least 20 seconds as you are spun from left to right down a narrow, wet, and slippery tube. I was the only adult in there and I was screaming as I was spit out the hole.

Since this was a spa, I felt like it was time to relax. I settled into one of these ergonomic chaise lounge chairs for a wee snooze before getting back on the snowy road to Soelden.

The Aqua Dome

SNOW Re-Meets Soelden

We then drove the short distance to Soelden. This Austrian ski village is both charming and happening. My eyes lit up as I saw some of my favorite stores! First Bogner, then J.Lindeberg, then Napapijri. I was going to have to do some retail therapy here! There were also rocking après spots and restaurants lining the main drag, but that would all have to wait ‘til tomorrow.

Now, I’ve been to Soelden once before, a few years ago to see the World Cup opener that’s held each October. I was so traumatized from almost dying going over the Timmelsjoch Pass that my first visit is all a blur. We had been in Italy and I saw a short cut on the map — we could come into Soelden by the back door. The only problem… we were in a very small Fiat. We had chains, but they weren’t on our tires when it began to snow heavily. If it weren’t for the skill of Joan Valentine, who had years of New Zealand ski field driving under her belt, I wouldn’t be here today telling this story.

I know I’m making that first visit to Soelden sound dramatic, but at the time, all I wanted to do was get out of the car. When I told Joan this, she calmly asked: “And go where?” By then we were at the top of the pass and there was nothing but snow. So I tightened my seat belt and hoped for the best. In the end we made it, but as I mentioned, that is all I remember of my first visit to this ski town.

That is the reason why this second time I was so happy to be arriving in Soelden relaxed and calm. We found our hotel at the top of the town —The Alphof. It is bright yellow, warm, and very welcoming. I managed to get our car, SNOW Bernard, into the building’s narrow car park, then we unpacked and went straight to dinner.

The dining room at The Alphof had a Portillo-like feeling to it. You have your table for the time you are there and you have the same servers for breakfast and again at dinner. You also get to know the people seated close by, we shared a “comment ca va” with a French couple and nodded discretely to a Russian family on the other side as we entered each time. We had built up quite the appetite “spa-ing,” so we dug hungrily into the salad bar. Lucky for me I got a chance to have the schnitzel and strudel I’d missed earlier that day. Knowing we had a big ski day ahead, we slipped off to bed early…