Mon 29 Jan 2007
If you go to the Austrian Tyrol in the middle of January for a spot of skiing, you kind of expect (or at least hope for) some snow, but not this year. As we flew in over the Alps on a clear sunny day, the view from the aircraft window was alarming, where was all the snow? It looked more like March than January, the north sides of the mountains only had patchy snow cover and the south faces were largely clear of snow.
In January snow is not always guaranteed in the Tyrol (especially early January), as it can often be quite dry around the new year. However, the low temperatures mean that any snow on the upper slopes stays, so some limited skiing is usually available, but not this year. Not only has the weather been very dry but also very mild, so the lower pistes were clear of snow. On the upper pistes, where there was some snow, the surface of the snow had melted and then frozen. The first few days there were an unusually large number of yellow helicopters flying along the Inn valley, which is not a good sign. The local news told us that the hospitals were reporting a larger than normal number of upper leg fractures, shoulder and back injuries. For an intermediate skier like me, the opportunity of skiing on the ice of the upper pistes was not an appealing prospect.
My normal fallback position in this situation is to take the train to Seefeld and go x-country skiing. Seefeld is on a high plateau (above 1000 m). Unfortunately for me, there was little snow in Seefeld due to the dry conditions, and what little snow there was, was in use for the Nordic Combined Championships. Now while I am a competent x-country skier, I am not anywhere near that good and I can’t ski jump. So Seefeld was out.
Then came the storm. Before the storm there were warnings of high winds of up to 100 km/h all across western Europe. Coming from Scotland, where wind of 60 mph are normal in winter, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and in the Tyrol the general attitude was that it would be no worse than the Föhn, but just to be on the safe side many ski uplifts were closed and everything lashed down. When the wind did arrive, it seemed a bit of an anticlimax, as it was relatively light in Tyrol. The TV news on the other hand showed a trail of damage across Europe including other parts of Austria. Turning to BBC World it was briefly mentioned that there were 13 dead in the UK before moving on to more World news. To find out more, I tried Sky News, only to be told at length about the goings-on in the Big Brother House.
Unlike the Föhn which is usually followed by heavy snow, during this storm the temperature rose reaching a record 20°C in Innsbruck (remember this was in mid January in a place where -20°c is not unusual). So it was that I found myself out mountain biking in a tee shirt up a x-country ski track which a year previously I had taken great delight in skiing down (and back up).
For those whose German is not so good, the sign says:
The ski track leading to Maria Larch [Mary of the Larches, a small church] 2.6Km, the middle part is difficult, stay in the right hand track, you use this track at your own risk.
Now addiction is a terrible thing, especially when it is one which can only be satisfied for a few months each year (and no, skiing on artificial snow in a big shed is not the same thing, especially if it is in Dubai). Walking through the woods looking at the spring flowers is all very well but is something I would much rather do in April or May.
Fortunately two days before we left there was a just enough snow at Gschnitztal (shown below) and then locally, at Gnadenwald, to get some skiing in.