12 days of Christmas: day 12

I obviously had to choose a wintery scene from last year’s Christmas spent in Seefeld, Austria. This picture shows cross-county skiers swooping down from the golf course and across the Attersee, on the other side from Wildmoos Alm. Sun, snow and a set of skis what more could you want?

Sadly, on this occasion, we were on foot having (wisely) decided not to overdo it as my beloved was still recovering from surgery to mend his broken leg. We had walked the 3km up to one of the many mountainside restaurants for a hearty lunch in the sunshine after a morning’s cross-country skiing on the relative flat in Seefeld.

This year we’re spending a few days over Christmas in Italy – a first for us. Our favourite hotel in Alassio contacted us with details of a special over Xmas which we were more than happy to accept. The Thalassotherapy will help with my beloved’s recuperation and, providing the weather’s fine, we can walk along the sandy shoreline.

Season’s Greetings

Decorated by my beloved

I’m going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging until the New Year. Consequently, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you, and your nearest and dearest, every happiness, good health and much success for 2019 and beyond………………………

 

Things I’ve done: race day

Having successfully completed the Engadin Marathon trial-run, Friday and Saturday were spent preparing our skis with the right waxes, stretching our aching limbs to aid recovery and indulging in a spot of carbo-loading. After my beloved’s faux humour, everyone was very solicitous towards me, carry my skis, making sure there was room for me at the table, giving me a helping hand so I didn’t slip on the icy paths and so on. Frankly, it made a nice change from being ignored/taken for granted by my beloved.

2018 Engadin Marathon Map

The Engadin marathon starts at 08:30 for the elite racers however there’s a tendancy for everyone to turn up far too early for the start. We were there at 06:30 to brave the elements and the very, very long queues for the facilities. I see from the event’s website, they now provide heated tents for people to wait in, but (sadly) not back in 1990. As newbies, my beloved and I were at the back of pretty much everyone and, like the London marathon, it took a while just to get over the start line though no one was wearing fancy dress.

While waiting for the start, I realised I had drunk too much hot tea staving off the morning chill which meant I needed yet another comfort break. I took an executive decision. I wouldn’t ski back to the facilities at the start but would have a pit stop at the first set of facilities, because there were bound to be portaloos en route? Wrong! I note from the profile map above that there are now facilities along the course but (sadly) there weren’t any back in 1990. However, there were tons of spectators with their video cameras. A fear of featuring on someone’s home video kept me glued to the track rather than seeking out a tree or some bushes for a much-needed pit stop.

I consoled myself with the thought that I’d stop for a comfort break in one of the many villages on the route but I soon discovered it was well nigh impossible to leave the track. With an already overfull bladder, I moderated my intake at the feed stations where the biggest hazards were rolling paper cups, soggy snow from dropped liquids and volunteers encouraging you to drink Rivella – revolting!

As one of the race’s tail-end Charlies, I had plenty of time to take in the raucous support from the spectators lining the spectacularly scenic route which helped take my mind off my more pressing need. Finally, about three-quarters of the way into the race, I reached one of the villages (La Punt) where there was a small restaurant right next to the tracks. I threw down my skis and legged it to the toilets. There was a long queue for the ladies but no one waiting for the gents. Who cared? Not me, I rushed in. What a relief!

Needless to stay without that pressing matter my skiing much improved and I sped toward the finish. As I approached the line, I listened to the announcer. I was just ahead of the oldest person in the race, an 86 year old woman, a local. I positively raced across the line to beat her by a full minute – result!

This was my maiden attempt and I went on to improve my time subsequently, particularly once I learnt the skating technique. My best ever time for 42km is just over three hours while the winner – usually a professional ski racer – takes 76-78 minutes! I’ve never taken part in any other ski marathons  largely because so many are even longer and I fear I might need an overnight stop.

 

Things I’ve done: gotten lost

It’s time for me to hold my hand up. While the amusing things my beloved has done, said and lost would fill several volumes, I’m not entirely incident-free. There, I’ve admitted it.

In an earlier post, I mentioned we’d taken part in our first cross-country ski marathon in the Engadin in 1990 and to prepare for the event had signed up for a week’s pre-race training with the cross-country ski school in Pontresina.

We had done this on the recommendation of one of my beloved’s Swiss work colleagues who took part in the event every year. He also advised that we’d need a few days to acclimatise to the altitude. We were glad we’d followed his advice. Not only did we have a very sympathetic ski coach but also we were with a nice group of people, all of whom were virgin marathoners.

It seems apt to mention all this as 2018 will be the marathon’s 50th anniversary and I can see from its website that while the route is unchanged, much has improved over the intervening years since my maiden attempt in 1990.

The first few days of the cross-country skiing programme laid the foundation for our Thursday trial-run on the course, during which our ski coach attempted to improve our technique and impart words of wisdom. My beloved and I were the only Brits and quite obviously the least experienced skiers. However, our years slogging around Seefeld’s many undulating tracks stood us in good stead. We may have been slower on the flat but we could hold our own on the ascents and were markedly superior, and much faster, on the descents. Though that may partly have been due to our superior body-weights!

When we were out skiing with the group, I typically brought up the rear. This is largely because I hate having people skiing on my tail but mainly because I like to go at my own pace. The exception was on the descents where I wanted to be out in front of my fellow pupils who either weren’t as fast or as agile as me. I’m a bit of a demon descender.

The day of the trial run dawned fair and we were up early at the start on the frozen lake in Maloja. The ski coach had advised us to take our time, familiarise ourselves with the course and we’d all see one another at the finish. A few of the group decided they would only ski as far as Pontresina (mid-way) and the coach suggested I might like to do the same. I know he had concerns that I wouldn’t be able to complete the course but I assured him I would see him at the finish. Once I set my mind on something, there’s no stopping me.

Start of Engadin Marathon on frozen lake in Maloja

I set off on my own, intent on enjoying the day out. The start is icy and it’s advisable just to put your skis in the tracks and propel yourself along using your sticks. Of course, I saw no point in going hell for leather, I would save that for the race on Sunday.

2018 Engadin Marathon Map

As you can see from the profile above, the course is largely flat but there’s a steepish climb before St Moritz where the snow tends to get churned up so it’s trickier than it might otherwise be to ascend, followed by a wonderful swift descent into St Moritz before a climb up into the forest.

St Moritz

The descent from the forest back into Pontresina starts with a twisting narrow, track through the trees, where the tree trunks are covered in mattresses – not sure whether this is to protect the trees, or the skiers? It’s a popular spot for spectators during the race as there are usually plenty of fallers here. The snow is generally quite soft so it’s rare anyone ever injures themselves but fallers tend to set off a domino affect behind them.

I stopped in Pontresina for a drink and a quick bite to eat before setting off for the finish in S-chanf. In the penultimate town I took a wrong turn and had to double back on myself before finally reaching the deserted finish line. Where the hell was everybody? I reasoned they’d probably gotten cold waiting for me and had taken the minibus back to Pontresina.

I skied to the railway station, bought my ticket and, because I had a bit of a wait, rang the ski school to let them know I was on my way back. Remember this was way before mobile phones. The woman who answered the phone was almost hyperventilating. She told me that they’d been concerned I’d gotten lost and were on the verge of contacting the police! Holy Moly!

Pontresina

It wasn’t until the next day I heard the full story of my feared disappearance. Apparently, everyone else had decided to stop at the ski school in Suoz, the self-same one I’d skied past twice because I’d taken a wrong turn. I wouldn’t mind but in a bright red, all-in-one ski outfit I was easy to spot. What’s more, the group had sat outside, in the sunshine, slaking their thirsts while waiting for me.

When I was a no-show, my beloved had joked: “Don’t worry she’ll eventually turn up and, if she doesn’t, she’s well insured!” His attempt at humour – never his strong suit – fell flat with the Swiss-German coach and group who clearly decided my beloved was akin to a wife-beater.

The ski coach organised the group into search parties and was asking anyone and everyone whether they’d seen an English woman in an all red outfit in difficulties. Finally, they decided to get the bus back to Pontresina where the ski coach was going to report me as “missing” to the police! Luckily, that didn’t happen otherwise I’d be even more notorious than “The English woman who got lost.”

Now, of course, I wasn’t lost merely misguided and misinformed. However, the upside was that for the rest of the vacation, and indeed subsequent vacations in Pontresina, everyone was very solicitous. However, my story doesn’t end here. Oh no, there’s still race day to come.

Postcard from Seefeld: back where we first started

I first learnt to ski when I visited my French pen-friend who lived in Grenoble. The whole family were excellent skiers and, after they taught me how to do a snow plough, I just tagged along. Never having skied before, I didn’t have any kit. Fortunately, the girl next door was the same size as me and kindly lent me some. I was conscious that unlike them I wasn’t swooshing down the pistes but nor was I making a fool of myself. I took to skiing like a duck to water probably because I was a reasonably proficient ice and roller skater.

Fast forward 15 years or so and I found myself heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a work colleague, a keen skier, for a week-end’s alpine skiing while we were auditing our Frankfurt office. I generally shied away from spending week-ends away with colleagues, the working day and evening for three weeks being more than enough. But as there were just the two of us on this audit, I kind of felt obliged. Unfortunately my colleague was a danger to himself and everyone else on the piste so I wasn’t keen to be seen with him. However, on the way to the resort, inspiration struck and I elected to go cross-country skiing. It was love at first sight and on my return home, told my beloved we had to give it a go.

Our first cross-country skiing holiday was in Seefeld, Austria, in 1986, chosen because of its reputation as a cross-country skiing resort. We spent two weeks in an apartment not far from the cross-country ski tracks following a course of instruction. I rapidly progressed, my proficiency as a snow plougher par excellence standing me in good stead, plus I’m pretty fearless. My beloved’s lack of hip flexibility – yes, even before his recent leg break – rather hindered his progress, but we were soon up and running using the classic technique. It would be some time before we progressed to skating.

We enjoyed a number of winter holidays in Seefeld, including one with my parents, refining our technique and skills. In 1990, my beloved decided we were ready to take part in the Engadine Marathon, a well-known winter sporting event in Switzerland. We spent the week before the main event taking part in some intensive training, which included a trial-run mid-week where I got lost – a tale for another time. On the Sunday we both successfully completed the marathon which was the first of our six participations, though the only one where we used the classic technique. That’s right, the following year we rapidly progressed to skating which, once you’ve mastered the technique, is an altogether easier and swifter proposition.

Aside from trips to the Engadine and to visit friends in Zell am See, we’ve spent many more happy holidays cross-country skiing in Seefeld and the surrounding area most notably a couple of years ago when we stayed in a hotel chosen by my beloved – big mistake! This time we chose to return to an apartment where we’d previously spent a week during a rather wet summer back in 2009, a rather more agreeable proposition in the town itself.

Over the years, we’ve skied all of the area’s cross-country ski trails many times, walked and ridden our bikes all over the area. We know it like the backs of our hands and while the resort has grown, it’s not lost its essential charms – at least not for us. It’s almost three years since we were last here and we’ve enjoyed spotting what’s changed and seeing how it has evolved.

The resort now boasts many estate agents. Back in the mid-80s properties for sale were advertised in a small display outside of the only newsagent, now the town sports many, including a very large branch of Engel & Voelkers, a decidedly upmarket estate agent. It also sports my other ritzy resort bell weather, a shop selling Il Gufo – a wickedly expensive brand of children’s wear.

This year’s Christmas vacation will be very different from last year’s but I’m not expecting it to be any less enjoyable!

12 days of Christmas: Day 12

It’s only appropriate that this picture was taken during our current winter vacation in Seefeld, Austria. This sums up everything I adore about cross-country skiing: blue sky, new snow, crisp empty tracks, at one with nature – bliss!

It just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with plenty of happiness, good health and every success for 2018.

Postcards from Seefeld I

My beloved and I spent last week in one of our old stomping grounds, Seefeld in Austria, where we both first learned to cross-country ski. We’ve been visiting the resort regularly for many years, summer and winter, though not so much since we moved to France. Our last visits were back in 2009, when we went cross-country skiing in February and cycling in June.
Seefeld
Seefeld
The resort has changed very little over the years and it’s like slipping your feet into a well-worn and favourite pair of slippers. I should at this point add, I never wear slippers. Along with cardigans and reading glasses, I think they shreak “middle-aged.”
That track has got my name on it
That track has got my name on it
We’ve skied all the resorts 250km of cross-country tracks, several times, just not on the same day! The tracks are graded just like alpine slopes from easy (green) all the way up to most difficult (black). My beloved always makes a beeline for the black  ones whereas I like to get my snow legs back first and will religiously practise a number of exercises before hitting the trails.
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church
Cross-country skiing, particularly skating, is all about technique. Get that right and you can glide along using the minimum of effort. If I’m obsessed with technique, my beloved is all about power. Combine our talents and you’d have a formidable athlete!
It's even nice walking in the snow
It’s even nice walking in the snow
Aside from the cross-country trails and downhill slopes, there’s  around 250km of walks. There’s nothing I like better than working up a head of steam crunching through the woods on virgin snow. It’s so peaceful. Well, apart from the noise I’m making.
This has our names (and forks) on it!
This has our names (and forks) on it!
Then, having burned off copious calories walking and skiing, it’s time to refuel with an Austrian speciality: Apfelstrudel, Germknodel, Kaiserschmarr’n. I’ve tried them all in the name of scientific research.
Bliss!
Bliss!
Last week we were blessed with that nirvana combination of clear blue skies, plenty of new snow and tons of warm sunshine. Ahead of the half- term vacations and Carnival,  the resort was busy but not overly so. No fighting with the Germans to bag the best and sunniest seats!