Outside the Munich Airport, a ski-tanned, ski-dude threw our gear into the back of a big van and we set off under darkening skies toward Austria.
As we turned onto the autobahn, he flicked on the radio and the van was instantly filled with the heavy, repetitive beat and chorus of Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero”:
“And be a juke box hero … (got stars in his eyes) … he’s a juke box hero … (got start in his eyes) …”
The van. The music. Skiing in Austria wasn’t going to be glamorous. It was going to be just like Utah in 1983.
As hits from Foreigner, ACDC and Boni Jovi, played in rotation from the German-language airwaves, we made our way up into the Alps. Between helping my carsick children vomit into plastic bags, I looked out of the van windows and noted that the Alpbachtal ski area was peppered with old-fashioned wooden houses and was charming, unpretentious and cozy. Further, the weather report called for spring skiing conditions with additional fresh snowfall almost daily. Ski bliss was expected and happily delivered.
There were but three surprises during the week:
First, we were surrounded by Dutch people, who were also taking advantage of the school break. This meant that, despite being in Austria, I received my full weekly dose of the Dutch conversation fillers — “lekker,” “ja, hoor,” and “dat klopt” — while sharing gondola rides up the mountain.
Second, in the later hours of the afternoon the smell of cow shit rose from sections of the lower mountain base. After noticing this smell, I realized that the charming wooden houses dotting the slopes each contained a bevy of cows. The cows lived on the ground flour below the living quarters and produced giant piles of manure which the farmers kept out back. These piles, while often hidden by snow, perfumed the air when temperatures went over freezing.
Third, the ski runs were numbered rather than named, which saps some of the joy out of it. Ski resorts in North America delight in unique ski run names like “Widow Maker,” “Ego Bowl,” or “Barry, Barry Steep,” but these runs were signed like motorways. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to glide off the lift and cooly say, “Let’s do ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ again,” rather than “Let’s take the number ’47’ down”? The latter sounding too much like a trip to Sears to buy back-to-school clothes in 1983.
I’m ready to do it all over again next year, but before then I will re-name the ski runs with a custom trail map that liberally mixes Dutch swear words with Sound of Music and manure references in order to spice up the ski lift chat. Please submit your proposed ski run names in the comment section.