Since I have lived here, I almost always have done my writing while sitting at a nice, solid and simple Ikea wooden desk, which allows me to gaze out my balcony window and over the thirteenth district’s old European rooftops. But today I am writing from the couch. Why? Because my arms are so sore from snowboarding that I can’t lift them high enough to reach the computer keys on the desk. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Györgyi and I had everything planned for our long weekend at Kreischberg resort in Murau, Austria. We had our cute snowboarding outfits bought, our helmets, pads, braces, goggles, snowboards, boots and bindings rented, and we had satisfactorily read the prep book and watched the videos on idiot’s guide for learning how to snowboard. For those of you who have never snowboarded…You. Cannot. Imagine. how difficult the first day is. Nor the amount and kinds of muscles you can strain and pull allll at the same time.
We left Budapest early on Thursday morning with Zsolt, Györgyi’s boss, and his fiancé Szilvi. The trip was really great actually. After we passed west of Vienna, the landscape started changing dramatically. Suddenly there were MOUNTAINS and old castles on remarkably sharp ridges. And tunnel after tunnel after tunnel as we drove through the mountains.
When we finally made it to the hotel, we found that our room looked right over the lower slopes. It seemed high and steep from our view, but we learned that what we could see from our balcony was only about 10 percent of the height. The rest was hidden by the ridge where the gondolas disappear. In fact, even though we didn’t go to the very top of the mountains that can be snowboarded and skied down (just the part for beginners) it still took us over 10 minutes to ride up the mountain on the gondola.
The hotel, Relax Resort, is Hungarian owned, and it seemed like the majority of the people there were Hungarians, like in our group. The Austrian presence was felt, though most strongly when the waiters brought us exactly measured glasses of wine (1/4 or 1/8 liters) and then mistakenly tried to serve some of the guys in our group a single short shot of Jägermeister instead of the more generous, let’s say, Hungarian pour. The food at breakfast and dinner was all buffet style and for the most part quite delicious. There was a mixture of Austrian and Hungarian classics, and a wide variety to give plenty of energy for the long day of snowboarding, or as we knew it on the first day, falling down the mountain.
Now, we didn’t go snowboarding unaided. We had a really amazing guide, Andrew, who is a snowboard enthusiast and adventure store owner who at times, while you were lying on your back face covered in snow and ice, leaned over you and waxed poetic about his snowboard-as-life philosophy that was quite touching and actually quite motivating.
The four women I was in a group with were all beginners like me, and Andrew would hold our hands about 25 meters down the mountain and then run back up and get the next person, waiting on their stomach or backs after falling.
He did this all day long. I really don’t know how. And while it only takes him about six minutes to get down the whole lower part of the mountain, it took us over three hours to get just HALF WAY. Luckily, at the half way point, there is a cute little mountain lodge where you can buy drinks and food and simply rest on a picnic bench, take off your jacket, and relax in the sun before taking the gondola back up for another run.
It was much as you would expect the first day to go. We learned how to stop on our toes and on our heals, which is more about feel than anything else. After you’ve fallen about a hundred times, I suppose your body just doesn’t want to get hurt anymore and you learn how to stop yourself. And we eventually did.
The next day the storms of the first day had subsided and the skies opened in a magnificent burst of sunshine. Though we could barely walk, lift our arms, lift our legs, or move our necks from side to side, we got back up the mountain and finally learned how to do the S turns. Once I finally figured it out, Andrew, who was finally able to be on his own snowboard, met me toward the end of the first slope, and held my hands all the way as we zigzagged down to the lodge. He spoke English well enough for me to understand his instructions, though I especially adored his gleeful shouting go, go, go, go, go, and he pointed me down the mountain in a kind of tandem dance. Suddenly all of my fear about falling and correcting and perfecting left me. I’ve always considered myself to be kind of a beach girl. I love to swim. I love the ocean. I love water sports. But after this weekend, I definitely have a new-found passion for snowboarding and I really hope that I will be able to go again soon. Once I can lift my arms over my head again, of course.
Regardless of how well or quickly people caught on, or if they did at all, the experience was absolutely beautiful. As I stopped every fifty meters or so and sat down on the snow to look out at the panorama, I was astonished by the beauty, exhilarated by the view. Snow-capped mountains. Ancient pines. The modest, almost sleepy town hugging the snow-dusted valley.
The skiers and snowboarders on the mountain in their swaying forms, those just resting in the lodge, others collecting sun on the chairs, and even the guests they brought with them to enjoy the winter rays at the top of the mountain:
It all made me realize how fortune I am to be here and having these experiences right now. Not only was I dazzled by the resort and the region, but I feel overwhelming gratitude to Györgyi for inviting me, for the incredible generosity of her company, and for the kindness of her colleagues.
It was truly one of my most favorite winter adventures.