If you’re heading to anywhere remotely near a mountain range, never mind a world-famous one, it’s pretty much illegal not to go skiing. Or snowboarding, whatever you wish. Especially when the culture you’re trying to immerse yourself in is also world-famous for pairing up skiing with partying.
It turns out the ski trips run by ESN Alps (a joint effort by the ESN factions in Graz, Salzburg, and Vienna) are incredibly popular. So popular that it took me three attempts to bag my spot on one of their coveted trips. I was later told that each of them sold out in less than 20 seconds if that gives you any indication of how fast you need to work.
At home, this trip wouldn’t exactly be budget-friendly, but here I find I have a lot more wiggle room when it comes to splashing the cash. The whole three-day trip set me back around 370 euros, but that’s for room and board, ski hire, food, clothing hire, transport, the whole lot. I think the only things we needed to pay for ourselves were drinks (there’s an ADEC supermarket super near so we all headed there, or had the one euro drinks at apres-ski) and lunch on the mountain (which… wasn’t unreasonably priced, but still more than I would have liked to pay of course).
Anyway, onto the blog.
We all stumbled our way to the Opera for 10am on a Friday, me and many others opting to skive off class for the day in order to hit the slopes over the weekend. Easy choice really. Once we all loaded our bags into the bus, we set off, the drive taking up the best part of three hours. We were heading to Mölltall in the neighbouring state of Carinthia (everyone boo! For some reason (I’m going to assume it’s valid), we in Styria dislike our westerly neighbours enough to have a healthy stock of memes about it). You’ll see snowy mountains pretty much as soon as you leave Graz, but those aren’t our goal. They’re far too small for what we need, something I struggled to grasp coming from the flat Midlands of the UK.
We made our way past Klagenfurt, on the banks of the beautiful and very expansive Wörthersee, and crept nearer and nearer to the “real” mountains where we would soon be hurtling down the slopes at high speed. And trying not to die. Eventually, we made it to the little hamlet of Flattach, the place we would call home for this little jaunt into the alps. We piled off of the bus and were sent to our various hotel rooms, which we shared with between 3 and 6 other people. The guys I shared with were pretty chill, and from Mexico, the USA (Missouri specifically), and Singapore. The rooms, while tightly packed at this point, were nice enough, and the beds were fantastically comfortable. This is exactly what you need when skiing because skiing is not a sport for people who like to be comfortable.
After that, it was time to collect our rentals. Another thing, by the way, carrying skiing gear is, in itself, a sport. They’re heavy and awkward, and when you rent gear in large numbers there will be a fair amount of standing around. We also picked up our skiing clothes, which I wanted to steal badly because the jackets we had were amazing. Then it was time to lug these all to the ski storage room and our rooms, thank god for lifts. I’m pretty sure everyone just unpacked and vegged out between then and dinner, aside from a quick snack and drinks run to the supermarket.
The dinner routine reminded me of dinner at a boarding school, complete with strict matrons. We set our own tables and served our own starters and then made orderly lines for our mains and salads. But the food was great. We had soup for starters (some kind of clear broth with bread dumplings) and then what I’m going to assume was Maultaschen with cheese (German pasta basically). The dessert was some kind of plum cake, which was also pretty good. After dinner, we played cards for a bit, and I found some fellow Irishmen, which reminded me that it was still Paddy’s Day even if I was hundreds of miles from home. It was also time for our intro talk to the weekend, something which really could have been a text message but still.
Now came the start of the fun, a torchlit walk down the river and through the forest. And by torches, I mean like… torches and pitchforks torches. The fiery kind. The kind people hunted down Frankenstein with. I don’t think there are many places that would trust a load of potentially drunk university students with fire, but apparently, Austria is just built different.
We headed to bed at a reasonable time, because breakfast began at 7am sharp. I don’t like eating breakfast at the best of times, but especially not at 7am. Nevertheless, I shoved a Semmel (bread roll) with ham and cheese down my throat because I was not intending to faint out of hunger halfway up a mountain later on.
We’d already been told that we needed to catch a ski bus to the mountain, which would take around 20 minutes. We were even told we would need to catch the glacier train to where the pistes actually were too. But no one warned us this train took almost as long as the bus to reach its destination. That’s how high up we needed to go. I didn’t get a seat so my legs were already dead by the time we saw snow for the first time.
The glacier is beautiful, really stunning. But it was straight to business without much time to gawp at the snow-capped peaks. We crept down a set of stairs very precariously to get to the little practice slope out of the way of all of the people who can actually ski and ran through the basics. I already know how to ski, but at this point, it had been the best part of a decade since I’d actually gone skiing and I’d never actually stepped foot onto an actual piste before this weekend so I was happy to be eased back in. Turns out it’s like riding a bike, you never really forget. Ironically I only fell over like three times and that was when I was standing still…
Just before lunch, they moved us onto something a bit more challenging: the ski lifts. Okay so admittedly ski lifts are perfectly easy, but they really require a) good leg muscles and b) some level of quick thinking when it comes to getting off the damn things. There’s a knack to it but my god is it stressful sometimes. Anyway, the slope we skied on just before lunch was something I was a little more accustomed to from my school-day skiing, so getting down the slopes wasn’t a problem. Before long I was told to go join the next group up after lunch so we could try out a slightly trickier slope.
Lunch took place at the restaurant near the peak, which required a 15-minute or so ride on the gondola. The ride itself was absolutely breathtaking and I spent the entire time slack-jawed and camera in hand. As I expected, dinner was… slightly pricier than I would have liked, but it was basically the only option and the food was great, to be honest. I had schnitzel, fries, and a beer, which came to the tune of 20-something euros. Then we all got the call to go to the terrace to go take a group photo so I shoved the rest of my lunch into my mouth and dragged myself and my half drank beer to go lie on the snow for five minutes, such was the number of skiers we had brought with us. It was a struggle to fit us all into one frame. But there was a drone and the views were superb so it was worth the hassle in the end. I fitted in some time to FaceTime my parents and my best friend so they could see the view, and then I went to buy schnapps and souvenirs. Because, well, skiing really comes hand in hand with the consumption of alcohol here.
After a quick lunch we were back on the slopes, and tackling another type of pull lift. Hated this one even more, not least because the margin of error when dismounting was even smaller. But this slope was certainly more challenging and tonnes more beautiful too. This is when I felt like I was properly skiing, when we were able to practise going parallel on a slope that looked a little less like it was built for kids. I already kiiiiind of knew how to parallel ski, but I was not (and still am not) super confident doing it, but I proved to myself that I remembered how to do it and didn’t end up falling flat on my face so, mission accomplished.
By the end of the day, my legs were shot, though I didn’t realise this until I undid the buckles of my ski boots and finally got blood flowing to them again. My next mission was to head to the train and bag a seat. Spending 15 minutes standing was not something I wanted to experience after a day of skiing, so I headed there early and was one of the first on. Then it was time to bundle ourselves into the ski bus and head back to the hotel. I decided to switch out my ski boots for my house shoes at this point, which was more comfortable but it meant I had heavy-ass ski boots to carry so apples and oranges really.
After shoving our gear back into storage, we had some time to shower and veg out in our rooms before dinner. I asked what dinner was as I got to the dining room and was told schnitzel. Which is what I had for lunch. Whatever, schnitzel is always good. Fortunately, it was a “naturschnitzel,” which was unbreaded and came with rice and a sauce so it was very different from lunch so I was happy about that. I don’t even know what the soup course was specific, some kind of root vegetable one. I’m a soup fiend so yet again it was the start of the show rather than just a starter.
After another hour of vegging out, it was apres-ski time. Because after a hard day of skiing, people will still find time to drink excessively. Me and my roommates made our way to the unsuspecting basement of the neighbouring hotel and were met not only with the sight of a tiki-themed bar but with free shots and drinks vouchers. Frankly, the drinks vouchers were not needed because the drinks were all 1 euro each so it was hardly going to break the bank. I think I spent about 10 euros in total so you can imagine how much I managed to drink. Shortly after midnight, I decided to cut my losses after my ?th vodka and orange. Feeling sick, naturally, I headed to bed and slept like a log until my alarm woke me for breakfast at 7am. I felt terrible, not for the alcohol but for the meagre amount of sleep I got. Nevertheless, I dragged myself out of bed to grab something quick to eat before we hit the slopes again. We also had to pack our stuff ready to check out, so we dragged these to the storage room after we ate.
Skiing progressed like the following day, grappling with the pull lifts and practising parallel. It was a short day because we needed to be heading back at lunch to return our rentals and gear, but once again it was a gloriously warm day for skiing and we had a ton of fun. We had some time to kill, so many of us headed to the little Italian restaurant under our hotel and quite literally bought them out of pizza entirely. Finally, the bus arrived mid-afternoon and we piled on and settled in for the three-hour journey all the way back to Graz. I got home at about 7pm and made a beeline for my bed. Everything was sore and I was dead tired, so it was an early night and some Netflix instead of enjoying the last hours of the weekend.
Monday morning arrives, I’m still tired, my legs are stiff, I bunk off my two lessons that day. Luckily they’re big seminars so everything relevant is on Moodle for me to browse and make notes from when I wake up. A well-needed rest day after two days of hitting the slopes.
In summary, I highly highly recommend taking part in ESN Alps. Like really. It’s the coolest thing ever. It’s also probably the cheapest ski trip you’re likely to come across and they cater for everyone to absolute beginners to people who grew up attached to skis. Or snowboards. Again, the choice is all yours!