The Alps is the perfect escape from the city during European winter.
When people ask me what the best and worst experiences I had while living in Europe were, my answer is the same. Downhill skiing in the Alps was one of the most incredible, and terrifying experiences of my life. This is how I survived.
In Europe during the winter, you must go skiing in the Alps. Even if, like me, you have never skied before. The Alps span across Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, and Switzerland and are known as one of the best mountain ranges in the world for skiing. There are incredible ski villages throughout these countries with places where you can ski and rent equipment at a reasonable rate. Be sure to do your research before driving straight to the mountain. There are hotels at the bottom of many of the mountains and renting equipment is as simple as it is in the United States.
One snowy morning, I packed my winter gear, got on a bus in Vienna and headed to Radstadt (a quaint Austrian town that has produced some famous skiers.) Having only skied once before, I did a few runs on the bunny hill before asking a stranger what the next level would be like. He pointed to a lift and I jumped on. A few minutes later, I was standing on the top of the mountain looking out at the most spectacular view of tiny snow covered villages. I quickly realized that I was on the top of the mountain and the only way down was skiing. I must have fallen over 20 times and spent a lot of that first run sliding, rather than skiing. However, by the end of that day I went down the same run without a fall and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Here are some tips to gain a similar experience:
1. Don’t simply get on the first ski lift you see. Look at maps and make sure you ask an instructor or others working at the mountain for the right directions.
2. Don’t overestimate your abilities! Many runs in the Alps are more difficult than similar mountains in America. If you aren’t careful, you can be seriously injured.
3. Make sure you stick to the rules of the mountain, which they should signify where you retrieve equipment. Without following the rules, it is not only extremely dangerous but your fellow skiers will not be willing to pick up your poles for you when you’re laying facedown in a pile of snow. If possible, hire an instructor. Make sure you’re wearing a helmet and are comfortable with properly fitted equipment.
4. Learn a few important words and phrases like, ‘help’ or ‘excuse me’ in the country’s language.
Follow the rules, take your time, and stick to a slope that is appropriate for your level. You will have an amazing time. Don’t worry if you fall once or twice (if you’re being careful, it shouldn’t hurt.) Someone at the lodge pointed me in the direction of a small run in the middle of the mountain, away from the pros, that I went down over and over again until I felt ready to go back up to the top of the mountain.
If you’re a little too intimated or unable to hit the slopes, you can still have a great time at the lodge – typically filled with people of all ages from around the world, enjoying local music while eating and drinking. Grab a beer and some warm Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), make new friends, and enjoy the breathtaking views in the sun.