Waiting in clouds to see the next thing life brings
The idea to spend a whole winter season in Austria has always been on my mind. One day I found a way to make it happen. I got a job in Bad Hofgastein, an alpine village located nearby Saltzburg. Snowboarding, skiing, high mountains, an idyllic town, tourists, lots of snow, Schnapps and Austrian beer, all these suggest it is going to be a great time. I pack all my winter sports equipment, start my car and head south to start this winter adventure. As it turns out quickly, being a snowboard instructor in Austria is a job, which doesn’t have many other rivals to complete in terms of quality of life and mixing business with undisputed pleasure.
To share my first impressions just after a few days, the fact I found this amazing place I would simply call a complete coincidence. I live in a small but modern apartment in the attic. The big house is occupied by an Austrian family. My host is a friendly guy whose hobbies are smoking and seasoning salmon. All my points of interest, including job, ski lifts, city center and nightlife are within two kilometer walk. The big asset of my location is that whenever I look out of the window I see the top of Graukogel (2492m).
I considered commuting by car, but having to choose between a thirty minute long walk along the river flowing through a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains, I almost always choose the latter option.
The winter season lives up slowly. The first weeks are largely used just to ride for pleasure. There is not too much work, on the other hand fresh snow and slopes are plentiful. Gradually I get to know the area well. Both by riding snowboard off-piste, as well as skiing really fast on well prepared slopes, sometimes reaching triple-digit speeds.
A view from my window on Graukogel (2492m)
A day in Austria does not end with lifts being closed. Almost everyday after work we have a Stiegl, often with a laid back boss. As Austrians say, "Es muss ein Stiegl sein" (which means something like “One Stiegl is a must”).
I don’t track days of the week anymore. I note the time only by observing groups of tourists changing every week, which goes from Sunday to Saturday and feels like one single stretch of time. Of course, each of these segments tends to be different. There are exceptionally cold days, cloudy, sunny or rainy. This affects directly snow conditions, starting from the perfect fresh powder, then a few days old snow, which later becomes more compact, hard and eventually resembles more ice than snow to finally become a solid ice. Sometimes it gets unfrozen, wet, even becomes muddy slush, but when the temperature drops and the snow falls again, all the smiles are back. It is also fresh alpine air which makes me happy every day I’m here.
A typical day goes like this: I wake up, do some morning exercises, take the long walk, spend six hours on snow, have a beer, meet some friends or tourists. Quite often there are parties and occasionally some other much more or a bit less crazy things are going on in the valley. Be it the invasion of Irish party people, RedBull Playstreets, Big Air competitions, tourists from Mexico, Australia, Serbia, Sweden, Norway or Israel.
There is always something going on and even if it is not, still there always would be something going on.
All good things come to an end
Surely this also applies to fresh powder. You can beat about the bush, but the truth is that the melted snow and the sight of green grasslands in the end of the season usually means the end of the season.
On the way back I thought to make things more complicated. I skip the highway going straight through Germany and decide to spend some time to drive through Austrian local roads and visit several friends in different parts of the country.
Panorama of Velden am Wörthersee
I stop in Carinthia (Kärnten) in a picturesque town of Velden am Wörthersee. The early spring weather is just perfect for a long hike in the mountains and around Forstsee lake. This southern part of Austria is an interesting combination of real mountains and a touch of Mediterranean climate. There are unlimited possibilities of outdoor activities, therefore it is worth visiting throughout the year.
On my way I continue to pass mountains, valleys, bridges, ski jumps, little alpine villages, lumber yards and sawmills, people dressed in traditional Austrian constumes, enthusiastic cyclists, mountain passes and cultivated fields. Sometimes the steepness of a paved road reaches 16%, climbing up I experience snow falling, but further down in the valley the sun comes out and it becomes warm again. Green grass is easy to discern, so are people awaiting the arrival of regular spring. The mountain ranges gradually become upland and finally lowland landscape. All road transport is directed to highways, so all I face is almost zero local traffic. Over the next few days I visit Linz and continue further through Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) east to stay in Vienna and Korneuburg in Lower Austria (Niederösterreich).
I am almost at the border with Czech Republic. My sentiment to the Austrian beer and probably one or even two spare crates thereof are just enough so I don’t stock up in Czech and travel directly to Poland. I stop for a few more days in Opole, Wroclaw, Poznan and finally reach Szczecin.
On one side, if you take earnings of a ski instructor in Austria, this is definitely not the best paid job ever. However, given the lifestyle and its quality, the job pays and is more like a three-month holiday. Moreover, during these three months it is the snow-capped mountains and unlimited space around which become my both office and workplace. Definitely awesome and worth-to-try adventure.