A snow bunny’s guide to Skiing, snowboarding, shopping in Austria

Emily Reagan
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***It was only my third snowboarding trip and after two days of “Skischule,” I felt confident in my abilities. I’d like to fib and say I landed the 360 with style, only to collide with a reviled skier. But really there was no 360 – I just wiped out on my own.

The next two days, I joined the other injured and became an official, cocoa-drinking snow bunny, but as a snow bunny and snowboarder, I experienced the best of both worlds on and off the slopes of St. Veit and St. Johann im Pongau, Austria.

Life on the slopes of St. Johann-Alpendorf was fulfilling, although short. The week before Christmas is the ideal time to be learning in ski school. There are fewer skiers on the mountains, which should mean fewer collisions – unless you’re accident-prone like me. The lift lines were short, and the snow was fresh.

Two ski schools, “Die rot-weiss-rot Skischule” (www.rot-weiss-rot.at) and “Skischule Alpendorf” (www.ski-alpendorf.com), teach all levels of snowboarding and skiing in English. There’re also Kinderskisccule, private lessons and ski safari which take skiers to as many area slopes as possible throughout the week. Equipment rental, binding and ski/board services are everywhere. And the ski restaurants were actually affordable (compared to Switzerland!) and yummy. I rode up the Grafenberg t-bar with a broken elbow and sprained wrist just to get a taste of the much-talked about “Heidelbeerkrapfen” (raspberry donut). I stayed in St. Veit, a village across the river from St. Johann and a free ski bus from there took us to the gondola at Alpendorf.

Luckily I enjoyed three days of snowboarding before my elbow, wrist and body rolled down the mountain in three different directions. I was treated for a fracture at the local hospital in Schwarzach by Austrian doctors, who wear Birkenstock sandals and socks in the middle of winter. Apparently they see quite a few skiers and snowboarders.

So as a newly-inducted snow bunny, I enjoyed the shopping in downtown St. Johann (H&M, Benetton and ski stores with cute clothes!) We booked the tour through a popular tourist company (www.seigitours.com), and it held nightly social events including ice curling, themed parties and a Christmas Eve church service. If I knew I was going to be injured, I would have scheduled massages, manicures and pedicures through the wellness centers in Alpendorf’s hotels. The Hotel Zinnkruegl (www.zinnkruegl.at) and the Sport Hotel Alpina (www.sporthotel-alpina.com) had some enticing beauty packages and beautiful indoor pools and were only 100 meters from the gondola. I waited too late and tried to sign up on Christmas Eve, but one night I ventured to the Hotel Alpina and paid €15 to use its saunas, steam room and freezing-cold pool as a guest. The St. Veit pension, where I stayed, had no extra amentities that a sore American skier would like, especially no hot tub. It probably wasn’t worth the euros but I really enjoyed the heated tile chairs where I read my book and relaxed. Next time I’d like to stay at the Hotel Zinnkruegl so I could ski right up to the hotel and use their members-only heated pool.

***image2***If it wasn’t for my cast, I would have liked to enjoy the thermal bath in nearby Bad Hofgastein (www.alpentherme.com) and its wellness center. It’s only 20 miles south of St. Johann on B167 and has 360-degree panoramic view of the Alps, water slides and heated pools.

In the summer the Alpine area offers golfing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, canyoning, fishing and paragliding. Also in the summer St. Johann’s Liechtensteinklamm, an 800-meter waterfall, is open for €3.30 and €1.80 for children. Hikers walk 800 meters through the gorge on bridges and paths to see the “Wasserfall.” On several summer nights, it’s lit with colorful lights.

As I type this travel article one-handed, it looks like I won’t be snowboarding any time soon. So it’s probably safe to visit the St. Johann area or any other Austrian ski slope – I won’t be there to collide into you.

(Check out the local ski club trips offered to St. Veit/St. Johann on Page 20.)