Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alpbach and the Austrian Alps

I think Big R would agree with me when I make the statement that this was very close to one of the best weekends we have ever had. I could probably write a dozen blog posts about our Austrian skiing adventure, but I'll spare you and just hit the highlights and share some of our adventures through photographs.

The drive to Austria was painless and easy. When I planned our winter vacation in Austria I was looking for a family friendly Austrian ski resort in a comfortable and quaint town. Somehow I hit this one out of the park. It was all we could have asked for and more.

We stayed in a little Tirolean town called, Reith im Alpbachtal. The ski resort is called "Alpbach," but it's a large mountain comprised of three separate bases spread out across about 10km. We found our destination, and the barn we called home for three nights, with ease. Yes, you read that right - we stayed on a farm in a barn. We were sharing a roof with about 20 cows and probably a dozen pigs.

In the winter they bring all their livestock inside to keep warm. There's an indoor barn attached to the family's living quarters, and many of the farms in this area turn their living quarters into apartments to rent for those seeking a wonderful Tirolean adventure. The gasthaus was perfect for our needs - comfortable, charming, spacious, and full of friendly Austrian hospitality. My German came in handy as well because the host hardly spoke a lick of English, or if she did, she decided I knew enough German that she didn't need to bother. I probably only caught about half of what she was saying, but I got the gist of it, and somehow we always had everything that we needed during our stay.

We had a little time to spare before picking up our friend, J, from the train station, so we quickly settled into our hotel, and then took a stroll around Reith to explore all the charm offered in the quaint little town. There was very little information available online about what to expect in this area as far as restaurants or anything else really. So we were pleasantly surprised to find out the village had much to offer. Including homemade donuts - who doesn't love those?! (I'm in the middle of my 12-week challenge so I just stole a couple bites from Big R to taste - yum!)

There was a beautiful church in town with an adjacent snow-filled cemetery. If you look closely at the wooden door on the structure in the cemetery you can see a skeleton - spooky...

Although the village was small, it was full of Austrian charm. And we quickly discovered that the base of the ski mountain was in the village, and a mere stone's throw away from our hotel. After J arrived and was happily settled into our room in the barn, we found ourselves enjoying an authentic Austrian meal in one of several excellent restaurants in the village. Dinner was lovely, but there was nice skiing to attend to, so the boys quickly ate up, and climbed into their gear to hit the slopes. When Big R and J returned later that night, Big R looked at me with wide eyes and said, "OH MY GOD! AMAZING!!!!" Guess that's sums it up :) Here are a few shots from their AMAZING night skiing adventure.

And don't you worry, after we ate another insanely good Austrian meal the following night, Big R sent me out with J to get in some incredible night skiing as well while he enjoyed some bonding time with little r. And Big R's description of how awesome the night skiing was could not have been more spot on!
We kept telling J that he must have said all the right things to the Sun God because the weather was absolutely incredible for our trip. The first full day we were there, it was sunny and warm and the snow conditions were fantastic. We took our time getting up, and we enjoyed our breakfast at the farm, got in some good snow time with the pup, and then gathered our gear to hit the slopes.
The day started with little r trying skiing for the first time. The backdrop for this adventure could not have been more breathtaking... Can you imagine learning how to ski here? I mean talk about spoiled!
One of the reasons I chose Alpbach for our destination is because they have a kids' center where they offer child care during the day while you ski. What was especially cool about this kids' center was that it was located at the top of the mountain. So, we enjoyed lunch in the sun after some morning skiing, and then grabbed the bus to the main part of the mountain where we could take little r to the kids' center and enjoy an afternoon on the slopes sans toddler. Little r was especially fond of the "flying train." I think being able to take the gondola with us helped little r feel like he was part of the adventure.
After a couple hours of skiing, it was time to pick up little r. So, he and I headed down the mountain in the flying train, and enjoyed some hot chocolate at the base while Big R and J enjoyed one last run for the day.
It was a small outdoor "bar" with stools and wooden tables with music playing for all to hear. We have gotten somewhat accustomed to always hearing American music everywhere we go. Here they played the local goods. Little r was having a blast dancing to the fun polka beats of the more traditional German and Austrian sounds. He was quickly making friends with all the ladies as well. By the time Big R and J arrived, he was sacked out.
The next day the sun turned to snow, so it wasn't as brilliant, but the skiing was still amazing. We took little r to the kids' center so we could spend the morning skiing. The Austrian slopes are not your grandmother's ski trails though, and Big R taught us the hard way why we appreciate the term "packed powder" far more than we ever realized. Try losing a ski in four feet of powder. It's not an easy task. After Lord only knows how long of climbing around in the powder and bemoaning how we would get Big R safely down the mountain on only one ski, we somehow managed to retrace his crash and locate the precious ski. We all got safely down the mountain with just enough time to spare to enjoy the snow before it was time to pick up little r.
Little r was so good for them at the kids' center that I had to let him try skis again. The guys at the rental place thought he was so cute, they practically gave us the rentals for free. Little r loved every minute of it. Next year he'll be ready to take the bigger lifts and attack the slopes with gusto!
We found ourselves back at the base of the mountain enjoying each other's company, sipping on gluhwein and beer, and playing with little r in the snow. It was a perfect end to an awesome day of skiing.
We got lucky each night finding a great restaurant to enjoy the local cuisine, and the last night did not disappoint. Because it was a Sunday night during a big holiday week for the locals, we ended up eating at the restaurant at the base of the mountain in Reith. The atmosphere was perfect though, and little r was so exhausted from his skiing that he fell asleep on my lap after dinner. It was an unexpected treat to slow down and enjoy a glass of wine with Big R and J before heading back to the gasthaus.
Zum Voll!
It was sad to see J go, but we couldn't have been more happy that he make the trek across the Atlantic to spend this awesome weekend with us. Just made it that much more special to have his company here. We were enjoying our time in Alpbach took much to hit the road right away, and since we didn't have time to go tobogganing we rented a sled and got in a some more fun before driving home.
It was such a great weekend, we really didn't want it to end. The gasthaus was perfect (and ridiculously affordable - only 19 EUR/person a night), and the skiing was like none I've ever experienced before. You know this will be on our calendar next year - at least once! The Europeans love their ski vacations though, so things book up quickly. Maybe if we're lucky we'll make it back one more time this season. If not, we'll surely come back for a quick summer get-away.
Auf Wiedersehen, Alpbach! You know we'll see you soon :)

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