The old axiom that it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive has been borne out with depressing frequency – but what about travelling nostalgically?
It was some 45 years since I had last spent a ski holiday in Mulhlbach am Hochkonig. Would going back prove a good or a bad idea?
Helmut Plenk was in his 30s then, head of the ski school with the profile and maturity to turn the heads of younger women in my beginner ski class. Bambi on ice would have been a good way to describe my technique. But in my defence, ski boots were still made of leather, laces had only just given way to clip fasteners and skis, held on with cable bindings, were so long it was like turning an oil tanker. So I never forgot the glow of pride when Helmut, having watched me slalom on the village baby murmured to my instructor appreciatively: “Ein grosser Fortschritt” – great progress.
He’s in his 80s now, patriarch at the Bergheimat, the hotel he developed from its early beginnings. His daughter Sieglinde and her husband run it now. Helmut still presides, sorting out ski rental from the property’s own store. No more those unwieldy Kneissls, measured when stood on end from ground to the tip of my upstretched fingers. Now it’s carving skis that come up to my chin. Helmut picked me a pair of Atomic carving skis. “You must be a good skier now”, he says. “Well”, I reply, “Your ski school taught me”.
Muhlbach is in Austria’s Salzburg province. The Bergheimat is some way above the village. Unless my memory is fooling me we went up there with fellow travellers on an Inghams package for a fondue – and then careered back down the road on toboggans. The Bergheimat remains rustic in its use of wood, but it has all the accoutrements of smart four star hotel, including a basement pool and spa.
Then there was one single seat chairlift in the village and half a draglift (it stopped short because the lift operator couldn’t reach an agreement with the farmer who owned to top field). There were a couple of short drags at the Jagerteehaus – known to the Brits as the Yackertyhouse – where the eponymous concoction of rum, schnapps and tea was a serious risk to those intent on skiing home a cross the Alpine meadows. And there were two or three T-bars at the Arthurhaus, a short way above the hotel beneath the great mountain rampart, which includes the Hochkonig.
Now the slopes here are part of a huge area marketed, with a nod to Mozart, as Ski Amade. Large parts of it, though not all, are connected by lift. Most of its slopes lie beneath the tree line and are suitable for competent intermediate skiers. I have never encountered a ski area with as many places to eat by the pistes. Even on a busy Sunday it was easy to find a free table.
We warmed up for our visit with a few days in another section of Ski Amade, making our base at the delightful four star Hotel Alpenhof, just above the resort of the same name. The hotel ran a shuttle to the main lift base but we could ski back in the afternoon, with a short walk through the farmyard which provides the hotel with its veal. Like the Bergheimat, the Alpenhof had an impressive spa and served copious buffet breakfasts and five course dinners. We skied the wide open slopes of Alpendorf and neighbouring Wagrain – and crossed to those of Flachau via a cable car slung hung across an intervening valley.
Today it is possible to ski all the way from Muhlbach to the Aberg above Maria Alm – and back which, with lunch at the turning point, takes most of the day. It’s lovely skiing, particularly down to Hintermoos (though in spring one run on the return journey is so close to south facing that its snow covers quickly turns to wet sugar).
Was it a mistake to go back? True, I felt a slight yearning for the days when tourist were so few that half the village seems to come drinking with us in the evenings. But would I prefer those days of lifts that clouted me on the calves, flabby footwear and cumbersome skis when over detachable, high speed chairs, custom fitted boots and carvers that turn with a raising of an eyebrow?
No to all the above. Muhlbach was once a copper mining centre. Sages claimed it would never make a ski resort – but it has proved them wrong. I feel privileged to have witnessed the transformation.
Further information at:
Ski rental Alpendorf at www.snoworld.at