A winter ‘taster’ break proves that it’s never too late to learn to ski or brush up old downhill skills.
I am standing with a ski on my right foot, gingerly sliding it back and forwards, with my left foot planted firmly next to it. In the distance the sun is rising in the cloudless blue sky over Innsbruck, capital of the Austrian Tyrol, and the snow-covered slopes – well in my case a reassuringly flat area – start to glisten.
Our small shuffling group of one-skied rookie winter sportsmen and women wearing an assortment of begged, borrowed and bargain store salopettes, jackets and gloves probably cut a rather incongruous sight on the nursery slopes of the Patscherkofel Mountain, particularly as this exact location was used as the finish area for the men’s downhill race in the 1964 and 1967 Winter Olympics where competitors finished at speeds of up to 80mph.
At that moment we were certainly going nowhere, but seasoned instructor Stefan knew exactly how unnerving it can be for learners to put on two skis straight away – as I can testify from a previous (failed) attempt at learning to ski – and start to slide around uncontrollably. The first hour of getting stable on the snow also enabled us to get to grips with the initially tricky concept of getting skis on, and off, with relative ease.
We were on a four-night trip in Igls, located just 15 minutes outside Innsbruck and one of the destinations featured by Inghams in its programme of ‘taster’ ski holidays to easily accessible resorts in Austria and Switzerland. They’re ideal for anyone skiing for the first time who can’t or don’t want to commit to a full week, along with anyone tentatively returning to the sport after a long gap.
I arrived the previous day harbouring memories of a distant winter holiday where, after fairly basic tuition, the gung ho teacher headed down a run with his group of hapless beginners falling by the wayside in his wake. The next ‘lesson’ was similar and after that I gave up. Any initial fears about a repeat performance in Igls were quickly dispelled within minutes of meeting Stefan, whose unfailing patience and calmness has been honed over 30 years as an instructor.
Nothing was rushed, from getting kitted out with boots, poles and, nowadays, helmets – so much more scientific than when I last went when it just amounted to giving your shoe size and a quick glance at your height – to getting ready in the modern changing room; a process that sped up considerably as the days went by.
By lunchtime on the first morning we had mastered a crablike sideways walk to get us to the top of a gentle gradient before gently skiing to the bottom, some of us guided by Stefan who took a comforting hold of our poles and skied down in front of us, albeit facing backwards, in order to slow our descent. We started to get to grips with the wedge-shaped snowplough, which is a foolproof way of coming to a halt once you remember what to do, and we laughed when we heard that for children it is rather enticingly called the pizza.
Two hours whizzed past, quite literally, and before we knew it we were tucking into a warming meal of dumplings at the welcoming restaurant at the foot of the slopes and drinking ‘ski water’, a refreshing thirst-quencher made with raspberries.
As none of us were quite sure how the skiing would go, we’d already decided to do something different in the afternoons, and there’s no shortage of other activities which can be booked at the resort or through Inghams. One day we had a go at curling – much harder than it looks – and another afternoon took the cable car to the summit of Patscherkofel to try snowshoeing. Setting off with something akin to lightweight tennis rackets strapped to our feet it turned out to be a truly fairy-tale experience. We crunched through a snow-covered forest where the only marks on the virgin snow were animal tracks. It was evocative of the wintry settings of CS Lewis’s Narnia as we marvelled at the air around us which looked as if it was filled with swirling glitter. Our guide told us it was ‘diamond dust’, a natural marvel caused when it is too cold for individual snow crystals to form snowflakes.
Next morning we were eager to get back to the nursery slopes, having by now progressed to using the ‘magic carpet’ conveyer belt to transport us a little further up the run. After the group lesson Stefan would let us go off and practice at our own levels, somehow managing to keep an eye on us all like a protective mother hen. One day I started going rather too fast for my own liking and had a complete mental block about what to do. Out of nowhere a calmingly loud reminder of ‘big snowplough’ got me back on track, followed by the booming pronouncement ‘excellent’. By day three I found myself grasping the concept of turning and, mostly, regulating my own speed and on the final morning a few of us felt brave enough to follow Stefan up to the next level and shadow him down. The feeling was one of pure exhilaration.
Other highlights included visiting the panoramic restaurant at the top of the Bergisel ski jumping tower. We could only imagine how it must feel to stand at the top of the dizzying slope before heading down. However, the next day back at Patscherkofel Ski Park we did experience what it’s like to be an Olympic bobsleigh contestant. Visitors can embark on bone-rattling trips reaching up to 70mph as the bobsleigh hurtles through 14 bends.
Each evening there was never a shortage of things to chat about over dinner and drinks in the cosy Sporthotel, which has spa to ease any aching muscles. One night we didn’t initially recognise a guest sitting by the bar minus his trademark helmet, goggles and blue ski suit. But the minute he started speaking we instantly knew the voice of our off duty ski instructor and raised a large collective toast to Stefan who not only taught us the ‘big snowplough’ but that it’s never too late to learn to ski.
Inghams offers a four-night ski holiday from £639, including flights, transfers and half-board accommodation at the Sporthotel Igls. Lift passes, equipment hire and tuition can be pre-booked through Inghams. For further details and departure dates call 01483 791 114 or visit www.inghams.co.uk. For more information on Igls visit www.innsbruck.info/en and for information on the region visit www.tyrol.com.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams.