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Pertisau, Austria. January 2007

Pertisau  2007

A week of cross country skiing and snowshoeing - or at least that is what we had expected. 13 falls later (within 2 hours) and Kev decided he wasn't that keen on the skiing whilst Lizzie bravely carried on despite the snow melting away. All of the pictures can be viewed here.

In January 2006 we had a few days in Alpe d'Huez and noticed lots of people gliding effortlessly along cross country ski trails, that looks like fun, we thought, and booked a cross country skiing 'try it out week' with Inntravel for the following year.

Inntravel are a company offering Independent, Individual walking and adventure packages, quite how independent we were to discover on arrival at Innsbruck airport. Expecting to be met by a rep or at least a driver we stood in the arrivals lounge but couldn't see anything obvious. Lizzie took out the Inntravel pack to check the details given and was immediately approached by several others asking if she was from Inntravel. Our driver was eventually located outside the terminal holding a letter which luckily had the name of the coach company at the top - he was missing 15 arrivals - most of whom had been waiting inside whilst the remainder were still at the baggage carousel wondering what had happened to their cases.

Eventually we set off for the short transfer to Pertisau,  the apparent lack of snow  was already causing some concerns but the ground around our hotel did at least appear to be white.

After checking in we went up to our room, which was fantastic, a cosy sofa and balcony although by now it was dark and difficult to get an impression of what the view would be like.

Kev managed to not only knock the coat stand off the wall but also pulled a handle off the chest of drawers, once fixed we headed down to the restaurant for dinner.

Dining, like everything else, at the Weinhof Hotel is an unforgettable experience - waitresses dressed in traditional outfits showed us to our table - we all had our own personal name plaques - 'Family Wilkinson Table 13'. Hoping that this did not prove unlucky we were advised to look at the menu which was in a nice little folder that also contained information about activities organised at the hotel over the next few days and asked to mark off which of the daily selections we would like or make any special dietary request. This procedure for choosing the evening meal would then be followed each morning at breakfast.

Finding somewhere that caters for special diets is relatively difficult and rumours of Austria not catering too well for vegetarians had us thinking we might be living on pickled vegetables all week so we were pleasantly surprised to get some choice for the main meal - and if that failed there were enough choices in the huge salad starter buffet  to keep us going.

The hotel even managed to provide a variety of gluten free bread rolls each day for Lizzie, each day the napkins on the table would be folded in a different design and the duvet on the beds folded into a variety of shapes - transformed into daily works of art. Amazing attention to detail with nice little touches, milk for a coffee came in a small chocolate - pour the milk out and then have the chocolate with your drink.

On top of that the Weinhof has unbelievable spa facilities with pool, rest rooms with heated tiled loungers, various saunas including an alpine herb, traditional, menthol and for the very brave one outdoors. By the second day even the reserved Brits were taking full advantage of the facilities.

According to the information pack we were due to collect our ski gear next day at a local hire store, no time given nor any further information about lessons so it was left up to the hotel receptionist to call the store on our behalf to find out.

Monday 9.45 we all headed out across the snow and ice to pick up the skis and boots ready for our first lesson at 10.00 very quickly realising that even expensive 4 season walking boots are absolutely no good on icy paths! This problem would be rectified later.

By comparison the cross country ski boots we were supplied with seemed very cosy and secure as we headed towards the end of the village towards the training area, even though they appeared to have very little grip on the soles.

Splitting into two groups we set off with our instructors, the first bit was relatively easy clipping your feet into the skis, the rest appeared more daunting especially for Kev who 13 falls later was ready to hand the skis back in to the shop, Lizzie on the other hand progressed, if a bit slowly, and by the end of the first lesson was able to balance and travel if not quite glide along the tracks.

Rain on the second day didn't help Kev's confidence, at least yesterday there was a little soft snow to fall onto, today the training area was like packed ice and it wasn't long before he had lost the enthusiasm watching whilst our instructor rushed everybody through a variety of manoeuvres designed to give you the basics - one of which appeared to be how to stop. Lizzie and the rest of her group, most of whom hadn't quite mastered the art of stopping, headed off along a snowy track on one of the prepared routes whilst the other group were taking things more slowly and still tackling the art of gliding.

The final lesson and there was a bit of mutiny in the remaining ranks of our group. Kev had by now decided that skiing wasn't meant for him especially with the snow rapidly disappearing turning the tracks into an icy slush. With the exception of a few people who had skied before, our group still didn't know how to stop and were in no mood for being taken around another route so asked to go with the other instructor who was considerably more patient and able to explain what had to be done better than the previous instructor. Gradually Lizzie and the others mastered each technique and grew in confidence and by the end of the morning they were all heading off on one of the cross country ski runs leaving Kev with his hot chocolate in the nearby restaurant.

On the remaining days Lizzie continued to persevere despite the training area slowly turning into a boating lake, the lack of snow in the valley was causing a lot of concern to the locals who relied on the influx of visitors during the winter months, with all the ski runs closing, the tourists were staying away. At times it appeared to be warmer than at home.

The snow shoeing and walking went much better than the skiing.

In the afternoon after our first skiing lesson we took advantage of a free pass to take the Karwendel cable car up to the top of Zwolferkopf where there were several downhill ski runs and a panoramic winter walk. The young children enjoying the downhill runs made our effort on the flat cross country tracks look rather pathetic zipping passed us as we walked and slipped by along the panoramic route.  Luckily we had taken trekking poles with us otherwise we would have ended up on our backsides on more than one occasion as we followed the path around the top of the mountain with spectacular views of Achensee Lake and Pertisau below.

The panoramic maps supplied by the hotel were not really detailed enough to follow whilst out walking although most of the walks are relatively well signposted but we managed to buy a more detailed map and planned a few short afternoon walks. Most of the winter walking is along traffic free roads into the various valleys around Pertisau, we watched in awe as geriatric locals headed off up these routes with relative ease while we were slipping around all over the place. Close inspection revealed that quite a few of them had some sort of attachment on the soles of their boots so it was back to the shop where amongst the traditional sets of crampons we found a variety of products that allegedly gave a firmer footing on ice and compact snow. Not wanting to bring any attention to ourselves by walking up an icy valley road in crampons and ice axe we settled on a brand called YakTrax   - chains for boots. Once strapped on it was difficult to tell that you were walking on ice, until that is you look down and suddenly realise that you are walking across something that you wouldn't even contemplate at home. Unfortunately they do not work so well in deep snow,  although they hold no claim to do so, and they popped off the boot on  a couple of occasions.

Armed with our new chains we decided to be a little more adventurous taking some of the summer tracks rather than those marked out for winter walking and found ourselves amongst some spectacular, isolated scenery but to really get a feel of the wilderness and contend with deep snow there is nothing quite like snow shoeing.

We had two afternoon treks the first  was organised by the hotel and to the disappointment of the guide a group considerably larger in numbers than he had wanted headed off into the wilderness - ok it was the golf course and a few forest tracks - but with the mist clinging around the trees and obscuring the mountain peaks it was like trekking of into a snowy wonderland. Our guide was an Austrian 'Ray Mears' pointing out all of the animal tracks and informing us of the nutritional attributes of some of the trees, it was not hard to understand why he would have preferred a smaller group as we crunched our way around.

A much smaller group of 5 went on the second trek and you could tell our guide was much happier, passing his hip flask of cherry schnapps around after stopping to explain that yesterdays group was too big and care had to be taken not to alarm wildlife as in winter they are not normally able to find sufficient food to replace the energy used up in running away from large groups of tourists stomping through the snow. Instead of the golf course he led us through forests stopping now and again gathering berries in a hunter gatherer way advising that they were good for the heart, continuing river beds deep in snow with the occasional boulder sticking out from the snow reminding us what we were actually walking along.

The snow shoes would have come in handy on our final day. The snow was rapidly melting away from the valley paths and we decided to be a little more adventurous and head up to Barenbadalm a mountain lodge in a high valley beyond the cable car station. The boot chains giving increasing confidence even on sections of narrow snow covered paths as we headed uphill moving around the eastern side of the mountain then about 500 metres from the top we noticed snow through the trees to the side of the path and came out onto a snow field. There may not have been very much in the town but up here we were wading into deep snow progressing slowly uphill the snow became deeper and we decided that it would be wise not to continue and backtrack below the snow line later joining a lower path that headed off above the lake towards the town of Maurach, which being in a more open part of the valley benefited from more sunlight and was completely snow free, before taking the lakeside path back to Pertisau.

Unfortunately the week was over too quickly although we didn't make too much progress with the cross country skiing and there was very little snow it had been worth the trip just for the hotel alone and the friendliness of our Austrian hosts.









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