By By Tom Russell
Saturday 23rd March 2003 saw three new SCoM members, Carol, Lucy and Tom (that's me), arrive in Zell am See after a good flight from sunny Manchester, and an efficient transfer from Salzburg. From the bus it was a bit disturbing to see how little snow there was, and Zell itself was warm and sun drenched.
Our bus dropped us 100 metres from the Hotel. On entering the hotel we saw our first slope and heard the wail of (presumably) the piste groomers. Further investigation revealed the slope to be the steep flight of stairs up to the hotel reception, and the wail was from Carol and Lucy as they realised that that was where they had to carry their luggage fleet.
Check-in revealed a further problem for Carol and Lucy as they investigated their shared room; the bed and the duvet! For a twin bedroom, the bed looked very double, and the duvet looked suitable for a single bed. Hmmmm, perhaps Austrian twin beds are different to English ones. However, a helpful owner and application of further largess soon opened up another room, so, problem solved.
Next it was off to retrieve the hired equipment. InterSport seems to have this part of Austria well covered with a very slick operation. There are shops and depots all over, and equipment can be stored and/or exchanged seemingly at any of them. During the week both Carol and Lucy exchanged their skis (a woman's prerogative, apparently) to try mini skis.
Sunday saw the first assault on the Schmittenhöhe, the main ski area for Zell. Bryce Cooper, who was the Ski Club of GB rep for Zell, offered to meet us at the gondola station to introduce us to the area, which Lucy and I found very helpful. After helping me to solve a boot problem (of the "engage brain before fastening boots" kind) at the top of the lift, Bryce raced off to meet his group.
Being the baby of the group (in terms of skiing ability) I elected to take a ski school course. Since I hadn't skied for two years and had forgotten everything, my first descent of the nursery (!) slope was a disaster (I bet nobody else has that problem!), the second not quite as bad, and the third was only awful. However, Cristophe, our patient Instructor, merely sighed and said "Right, let's start". From my point of view, the whole week was fabulous; I skied a lot, fell a lot, but most importantly, laughed a lot and had my best ski holiday ever.
Carol and Lucy, being much better skiers, tackled the harder slopes of the Schmittenhöhe and Kaprun glacier. Lucy did her first black run, but only because she fell asleep in the sun at the top station and arrived back at the lower gondola station after it had closed. Bryce escorted her down to ground level, via the black run, allegedly sending a text message as he skied! Both girls changed to mini skis during the week to test Carol's assertion that they are a lot of fun. Both later changed back to normal skis, but then Lucy claimed prerogative again and spent the last day on minis. The only negative side was that, because of the beautiful weather, the snow was fast disappearing, and the lower slopes became very slushy by the end of the week.
Highlight of the holiday for Carol and Lucy was their paraglider flight. Both they and Bryce flew from the top of the Schmittenhöhe and landed in one of the adjacent valleys. Pre-flight conversation hovered round the topic of how butch and handsome their pilots would be, but this didn't seem to be of much interest to Bryce! Takeoff (or is it launch?) involves running as fast as possible off the edge of a steep slope (preferably with your eyes closed I would think), to get the parachute filled and flying. Lucy dragged her feet during the takeoff (i.e. she fell over), but was hauled aloft by her (presumably butch) pilot. Post flight conversation was about how wonderful the experience was.
The original group of three very quickly expanded. Bryce had already been there for two weeks, and Carol's skiing friend Ian was at the Hotel when we arrived. On the first day we got friendly with Mike who was staying in our Hotel. During the week Ewan and Christina joined up with us, and at the end of the week Heather and Bob from my ski course tagged on, so we ended up as a group of ten.
On the last full day, since my course had ended (since you ask, I came fourth in the slalom race - just missed a medal, damn!), Bryce led all ten of us skiing on the Kaprun glacier. I've never skied so high before or on such a wide expanse of perfect snow; it was brilliant.
The other aspect of the holiday where Bryce helped was with the après ski. By some means he seemed to know where the best spots were. His pièce de résistance, however, was the swim and sauna he arranged for us. After a sweaty day's skiing (that was only the men, Carol and Lucy merely glowed!) a refreshing shower and swim was very welcome, and the heated pool was outdoors with a magnificent backdrop of sun-tipped mountains. The sauna was a bit nerve racking though; being Austrian, it was mixed and you weren't allowed to wear your cozzy or towel, so there were four sweating males in a small overheated wooden box apprehensively watching the door. Mind you, it would have taken a brave female to join that group!
There was a bit of partying by the younger members of the group. One of our original group, whom I can't name but she wasn't called Carole, complained that on returning at 4 am she found that the management had removed the keyhole in the Hotel's front door, and that even after they threw it down to her, her key wouldn't work in it.
Overall it was a great holiday, only slightly marred by the lack of good snow, and our thanks go to SCoM and particularly to Bryce for organising it.