February for us is usually a blissful month of long days, hot sun, after work swims at the beach, weekends spent sipping iced beverages and paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, swimming, sunbathing or various other activities involving the outdoors and the water.
This year, were introduced to snow shoveling, below freezing temperatures, darkness falling before 5:30pm and Netflix. Lots of Netflix.
We haven’t been completely deterred from being outside however, and feel very fortunate to be living in an area where we are within a couple hours drive of multiple ski fields. Making the most of winter, we’ve enjoyed taking up skiing as a new sport and have spent February working our way up to the real slopes. At the beginning of the month, we took a bus from nearby Reutlingen to a small ski field in the Schwaebisch Albs just 24km away. Having only skiied about twice before (the last time being a traumatic experience on far-from-beginner-slopes in Austria 4 years ago), this small field was the perfect re-introduction. We may have been some of the oldest people there, but at least we weren’t the only ones struggling to master the T-bar lift! The gentle slope allowed me to get the feel of skiing, although it was highly embarrassing when I thought I was doing quite well only to hear “beep beep”… I turned around and found a 3 year old trying to get past me. He proceeded to zoom off into the distance… no parents, no poles, no fear!
The next weekend we stepped it up a level and took a bus to the Feldberg ski area in the Black Forest. Although it is only about 1.5 hours by car, I was very impressed with the ease at which we managed the journey with public transport. The bus took us directly to Titisee, from where we got the ski bus up to the Grafenmatt ski field. It is still a real novelty for us to ski amongst pine trees, since the only ski field we’ve ever known is on the bare face of a volcano. After an hour of practice, we decided we should each have a private lesson, in order to improve our skills since we knew that at the end of the month we would be braving the slopes in Austria again. James’ lesson proceeded as follows:
Ski down blue run. Too easy. Ski down red run. Too easy. Instructor: I don’t actually think I can teach you anything. Hmm. Ski down black world cup run! Lesson over.
Mine was a little more constructive. My instructor immediately realised that my biggest problem is confidence, so we did some exercises involving skiing without poles, and switching them from hand to hand. I managed to comfortably ski down a short red run a few times. After lunch unfortunately the snow had become icy in some parts and very uneven with hills and holes in others which increased the technical difficulty. We decided to try out a new red run, however I learnt that not all red runs are the same level! This was bumpy, icy and steep and many people were struggling to ski down with control. I managed the first 2/3rds but ended up taking off my skis and walking down the last part. We learned afterwards that it was exactly the same terrain and gradient as the neighbouring black run, and only classified as red because it was wide. I didn’t feel quite so bad after hearing that!
Due to the worsening weather and snow conditions we headed back to Titisee a little early. This town is beautiful in summer and almost more so in winter. It was like a scene from a postcard, with shoulder deep snow drifts piled up on the side of the road, trees glistening with white and perfectly formed icicles hanging from the roofs. Since we had some extra time, we embarked on our first European sauna experience. Read: no clothes allowed. It was definitely a strange feeling for the first 5 minutes to be so exposed, but since the other patrons were also naked and nobody was paying attention to anyone else it felt normal in no time. The heat of the saunas and the spa was just perfect after our freezing hours on the ski field.
Our month finished off with the penultimate ski trip to Austria. This was a trip organised by the local sports shop, and it’s hard to believe how easy it all was! We paid 50 euros in advance for the bus and the lift pass, and left Tubingen at 5:30am, drove across the border and arrived directly at the ski field at 9am.
We had already received our lift passes on the bus and having hired our gear in Tubingen, all we had to do was put on our ski boots and get on the Gondola. The bus departed exactly on time in the afternoon, had beers and water waiting on board and we were home by 7pm. Just taking a day trip to another country is still mind boggling for us.
The Montafon Golm ski field is great for intermediate skiiers, with its wide open pistes, good range of runs and it was not crowded at all. A group of 6 of us were on the trip together, and we had the best day out. It snowed lightly all morning, and was overcast in the afternoon but the snow condition was great and it was a very mild temperature. Within the first 5 minutes James attempted a stop at high speed and managed to bowl our friend Alex over, and I didn’t have the skill to turn quickly to get out of the way of another skiier so careened straight down the slope, promptly tumbling over of course. With our first falls out of the way, we took the chair lift to the highest point and it was straight onto a red run. The previous two ski excursions had served me well, as my confidence and skill were at a level where I could at least do most of the runs the others did, albeit a lot slower! The others sped ahead, I took my time, the boys ventured slightly off piste (complete with tree-collisions and faceplants) and we all met up to ride the lift to the top together. At the top of the lift we would use the map to plot our way down and we must have done at least 10 or 12 runs during the day. It was fun to be able to pick and choose routes, James enjoyed having another guy to zoom around with and with my confidence slowly on the rise I certainly challenged myself.
After nearly 3 hours of skiing we took a lunch break, after which we were all somewhat tired, and the snow was becoming bumpy so the afternoon session was at a somewhat more sedate pace. With the snow being so uneven I was inadvertently forced to do a few jumps, and I have to admit I eyed up the ski jump with keen interest… maybe next time!
A neat feature of Montafon Golm is that from the top of the lift to the carpark, you can ski for 9.2km nonstop. We had planned this as our last run of the day, but unfortunately my shaking muscles and weary body meant I only made it the first 7. Still, it was overall a successful, laughter filled day out with friends and we ticked off another country for February.
The weather is becoming more mild, flowers are starting to bud and Spring is on its way. The ski fields are likely to be open for another couple of months however, and since James in particular has the skiing bug I don’t think we’ve seen the last of snow this season!