A Spontaneous Ski Trip (a guest blogpost from Josh)
Josh, here. Sarah’s written all of our other travel/life updates, but as this was a Dad’s & kids only trip, I thought I’d give it a shot.
Following the buzz generated by our amazing trip to Zermatt, we really wanted to give the boys another chance to ski in Europe before the end of the season. That opportunity magically provided itself to us in the most unlikely way. Over a very nice dinner in Maastricht, we shared our desire to ski again with the parents of our boys’ UWC school besties. The father related his family’s love of skiing as well and suggested we travel together to Austria to ski… in a car for 8 hours… in 2 weeks time… just the dads and the kids. It would have to be a tactical strike: Thursday drive, Friday ski, Saturday ski, Sunday morning ski, and drive back that afternoon. Anyone who knows our family knows that we do not do well on long car rides; however, I figured the opportunity to see another country and ski with friends was too good to pass up. So, hotel rooms were booked, lift passes purchased, and ski equipment reserved in Lech am Arlsberg. The whole Arlsberg Valley hosts several skiing villages. Lech just happens to be the one where the Dutch Royal family stays for their skiing vacations. Knowing that, I knew we would find a very nice village and experience ahead of us.
On the day of our departure, I picked up the kids by bike from their school and made a quick return to the house for lunch. Greg, the other dad on the trip, picked us up around 1:00 to make our way to Austria. The trip from Maastricht to Lech is fairly straightforward. Most of the way is highway driving, German Autobahn at that. Loiter in the left lane at your peril. Greg and I decided that Audi drivers in Germany must have to sign a contract at purchase that requires them to proceed at the fastest pace possible, especially the station wagons. Unfortunately for us, the trip timing put us driving around and through Stuttgart right at rush hour. That traffic combined with all of the construction prolonged the seven-ish hour expected journey into one more closely approaching ten hours. The kids did a great job handling the car time between reading, iPad game playing, movies, and my favorite, round-robin dj-ing. Each person got to pick a song in turn. We got to hear a lot of different music styles, genres, and decades. It was fun to see what everyone was thinking. By the time we made it to Austria it was completely dark. Our first view of the Alps would have to wait until morning.
Our lodging for the trip was Pension Killian. Trip Advisor had good reviews and said it was 50 meters from a lift. The staff was nice enough to just let us go to the room when we arrived after 10:00 that night. In fact, we didn’t even officially check in until I checked out the day we left. They were super relaxed and provided a nice breakfast each day. In the light of the new day, “50 meters from the lift” seemed a bit optimistic. I would guess the lift was more like 150 to 200 meters from the hotel, but more importantly, down a very steep hill. That steep hill would end up being the bane of mine and Greg’s existence at the end of a long day skiing. Trying to carry our own equipment and that of our youngest up the steep steps, on very tired legs, was not the most fun. It’s hard to know ahead of time that we were facing the hill when using a satellite view to determine proximity to the lifts. Lesson learned for next time I guess.
After the boys and I ate breakfast, we quickly made our way down the hill to pick up our lift passes and ski gear. Ski Arlsberg has automated ticket machines. It took all of 60 seconds to scan my QR codes from email and get them for each of us. The gear was just up the street at a company called Skibex. Again, they were super friendly and efficient. It took us no time to get the gear and be on our way to meet our friends at the hotel. We had blue skies to enjoy the whole trip. The temperature was just below freezing overnight but warmed up to the upper 40s Fahrenheit (8-9 Celsius) during the day. This shift throughout the day made the snow pretty good in the morning. By lunchtime, however, it was starting to get really soft and heavy. For us adults, the weight of the snow, the moguls, and simply trying to keep up with the kids tested our fitness. It was so much fun seeing the kids ski together. They enjoyed finding all of the little off-piste jumps, half-pipes, and steep slopes. The mountains in Lech are good for intermediate to skilled skiers. There are a lot of blue and red runs (green and blue in the US system), but in my opinion the easiest runs skied like they were a level higher. This was especially true in the afternoon when the moguls started piling up. We decided to end the day around 3:30 on Friday. We should have known how difficult the full decent would be by the fact that we were the only people on the slopes at that time. Arriving back at the hotel a little later, the main goal of the day was successfully achieved: no injuries.
A couple showers and some downtime for the kiddos preceded a nice dinner at an Austrian place in town. We just had to walk through the village to find a place. The walk took us past some serious après-ski partying going on as well as the hotel where the Dutch royal family stays. The cuisine in town is quite meat heavy, which is good for Caleb. He self-describes as a carnivorous bread-ivore. The menus had lots of schnitzels, sausages, pork and beef cuts. All of the restaurants we tried were accommodating to our group of four children if they couldn’t find anything appetizing on the grownup menu. The dads also got a chance to enjoy some local Austrian wines while we were recovering from the day’s activities. A late night and long day skiing earned us all a good rest that night.
The second day of skiing we took the opportunity to ride one of the gondolas across a valley to a totally separate area. Did I mention how big Lech is? On this mountain we had the chance to ski a black run, called Sonnen-jet. The kids were amazing. The big boys flew down the slope like greased lightning. Mason and Emilia took their time and made great turns to work their way down. I was so proud of them all for tackling such a challenge. The rest of that day we skied around this side of the resort. When the snow started piling up and getting really heavy, we decided it would be better to call it earlier than the day before. It was a good decision given the moguls down to our hotel. Another round of chilling out with iPads in the rooms preceded dinner out in town again. This place was traditional Austrian cuisine as well, but with a much more relaxed pace. Thankfully Greg brought a deck of Uno cards along. The kids played a single game the entire two and a half hour dinner and never had a winner. That was good for the adults because it left us with happy kiddos.
The last day was always going to be a bit tricky. We needed to have breakfast, check out of our rooms, ski, grab lunch, return the rental gear, pack up the car, and then drive back to Maastricht… no small task with two adults and four kids. Did I mention that the time changed that night as well? In a morning with little time for everything planned we lost an hour on top. Even factoring in the lost time, we amazingly made it onto the slopes only forty-five minutes later than our other days. Our target this last morning was to ski some of the most fun slopes that we found the previous days, but we found a time trial/speed trap that caught the kids’ attention most of the morning. They definitely showed some competitive fire trying to go faster and faster each time down the hill. I tried it once, but that was more than enough for me. I guess you start to think about possible injuries instead of faster times when you get older.
Two or three runs down the favorite slopes later, and we were able to coax the kids off the mountain. My boys and I had to go to the shop to return our rental gear. The rest went back to our hotel to change and pack up the car. We made one last stop at a pizza place in town. It turned out to be amazing pizza and was a nice way to close out our quick trip to Lech. Because we arrived late at night, we missed the scenery on the way. We were treated to a beautiful alpine view as we headed down the mountain and back to Maastricht. The ride back home was just as long as the one coming down to Austria. We thought for sure that traffic would not be bad on a Sunday, but it was just solid all the way to Stuttgart. The kids were also a bit more quiet this time. Surprisingly it took until after nine o’clock at night for any of them to fall asleep. I thought for sure the late nights and skiing would have caught up by then. I know I was feeling the trip and poor Greg did all of the driving. In either case, we finally made it back to Maastricht well after normal bedtime. I am very happy we made the spontaneous decision to do the trip. An extra ski trip was awesome but being able to do it with friends made it even more memorable. Hopefully there will be more ski trips in the future with the DiStefanos.