The final run

March 3, 2007

With Dave and Aggles re-boarded, the four of us jumped onto the bus down the valley back to Bad Hofgastein. A quick trip up the Schloßalmbahn and the necessary cable-car saw us quite adequately to the top of Schloßalm. One long run—the same as Dec and I descended the previous day—and our holiday would be done.

The summit was quite different to the glorious weather of the previous day. It was snowing heavily, and the light was very flat. We quickly got down to our first regrouping point—the first restaurant. Dave took back to the board like a duck to water, and Flo like a duck to an oil slick. At the restaurant, we had a quick drink, where Dec realised that he had spent the whole week doing his boots up wrongly.

A long, trouble-free toe-side traverse followed, at which point we stopped for a bit of filming. After a few days of flawless sliding-backward-down-an-Alp-while-singing-Danny-Boy-and-saluting, Dec did of course cock up the take completely. A steep but mostly unchallenging hundred metres or so gave us the ability to get a bit of speed up for a long flat section over a bridge, after which a few km of tree-lined avenues would give us the chance to sod around a bit. A thoroughly enjoyable rest break featuring a half-arsed snowball fight encompassed the incompetent-yet-contented theme which had been running so happily through the week.

The last few km saw a bunch of slow turns, the kind of which I’d been enjoying all week. We stopped toward the bottom for lunch, and another snowball fight, followed by the last few hundred metres of boarding, and then—at the top of the Schloßalmbahn—I unbound for the final time the board which had been the catalyst of my experiences for the previous week. Part of me was sad to see it go, and other parts—my calves—were overjoyed to see the back of the bastard.

After a taxi ride back to Bad Gastein, checking the boards and boots back in, the boarding part of the trip was done. A night of hideous entertainment was all that now stood between us and the bus back to Salzburg.  More on Power Unit tomorrow.


Litany of Injuries

March 2, 2007

In the past week I (Dec) have done myself the following injuries:

Lower lip badly blistered from a combination of sun and tiredness

Jarred my left shoulder such that it felt loose for a day.

Blistered my left wrist through having my guards on too tight.

Scrapped skin off both wrists

Wrenched right hip

Broke the top of my ass which now has a lovely bruise

Wrenched my right knee

Cut my right ankle due to putting wrong part of trousers into boot

Stubbed the living crap out of the small toe on my left foot (by hitting it off the bed)


Chasing Lifts

March 2, 2007

The chastening of the previous day ensured that the preparations for Day 6 were a bit more thorough. If there are ibuprofen sniffer dogs at Gatwick, I may well find myself in trouble.

With Dave and Aggles still on the dark side, Dec and I boarded up, and headed for the gondola up Stubnerkogel. When we arrived at the middlestation, we soon found out that the top gondola was shut, as a consequence of >100 km/h winds at the summit. With the only run from the middle to the bottom shut, we headed back down the mountain in the gondola, with clean boards. Not the best start…

A short bus ride down the valley to Bad Hofgastein was in order, to sample the delights of their funicular and cable car. Abbreviation-wise, I can’t see the words “Bad Hof” in the same sentence. It just doesn’t ring true…

The proximity of the funicular to the snowy forest brought some unexpected sights, such as two sets of convergent animal tracks in the powder, a patch of red snow at their intersection, then only one set of tracks leading away. You don’t see that is Essex. Except if it’s snowing in Basildon on a thursday night, of course…

The gondola was a huge one; a completely different experience to the 6-man efforts up Stubnerkogel. If Dec and I were ever going to fight on the roof, today was the day. I unpacked the ice axes in readiness, but the conductor chappie refused to let us climb out of the window. Bloody EU safety laws.

The sight from the top was stunning. A blue run meandered gently away to our left, and the whole mountain seemed to be crawling with people enjoying the beautiful weather and snow. It was at this point that things started to go wrong. It soon became obvious to both of us that my yesterday was Dec’s today. He just didn’t seem to get into things. After a few hundred metres, there was a restaurant where we stopped for a late breakfast of a colossal plate of breaded mushrooms and sautéd potatoes, followed by a gigantic strudel. Full, we headed back onto the slope to burn off some energy before we died of carbohydrate poisoning.

With wide, gentle pistes, I practised some of the controlled turns I had dreamed of the previous day. Having achieved the Mother Of All Faceplants (I believe Dec will fill you in on that later), I got up to realise that Dec was in a bit of trouble. In an innocuous low-speed arsefurrowing, Dec seemed to tweak The Shoulder. This could be sticky…

After soldiering on for a bit, Dec realised that he couldn’t really trust his shoulder. It’s completely understandable – with some of my recent spine-based escapades on the rugby pitch, I knew exactly what he meant. Too far down the mountain to get back to the top and with a cry of “Currahee”, Dec slung his board under one arm, and started walking down. I kept on the board, and much as the slopes were beautiful, it’s impossible to enjoy yourself when you know that a friend is in trouble. I mostly slid down at walking pace, or went for 50 odd metres and waited, to make sure that alles was still in Ordnung.

When we arrived at the top of the funicular, a recuperative Fanta was in order, followed by a train ride down the hill, and a bus ride back up it. Back at the Schloss, the sleep in the afternoon was a well-earned one for both of us.

A quiet evening out was – for me – marred a bit by thoughts of home, but a few drinks and a couple of games of poker helped ease me into bed for the final day’s boarding.

The two Pricks With Sticks are joining us again for the day, and we have a relaxing one planned. It has, however, just started snowing again. I must be the unluckiest person in the world – I came here for some boarding in some nice weather, but instead, all I get is this incessant snow. Bah!


Where’s all the snow?

March 1, 2007

Day one. Thank heaven for big mercies. It appears that on a snowboard Mushy has the agility of cat. Well that was my thought until a rather too close encounter saw me eating snow. One of those moments where you see your whole life open up in front of you. It started snowing today, what a shame.

Day two. Having started to get the hang of this snowbarding lark confidence was high and we hit the chair lift with renewed vigour… then the piste, very hard. I sense a theme for the rest of the day. Good thing it is still snowing cos i’m beginning to hurt.

Day 3. For some reason Ant and I have been put up a group. God knows why. For all the skill we’ve shown over the last two days Archie must have told Aaron, snowboard instructor extraordinaire, to take Big Man and Ginger. Bricking it on the gondola on the way to slopes beyond our ability was absolutely unfounded. Quite simply the best snowboarding so far.

Day 4. It took 30 minutes on skis to realise quite how bad a snowboarder I am. I’m not a good skier. Fanstastic snow, we’re the most unlucky people in the world.

Day 5. Last day of skiing. More snow last night. Life’s a bitch. Fantastically sunny day today. Will hit the boards again tomorrow. Reservations made at Salzburg A&E. Food has to be better there than the hotel.


The Pointlessness of Fondue

March 1, 2007

At the end of day two, we were invited by our rep (Scottish and as competent as their rugby team) for a spot of ‘traditional Austrian food’, schnapps and tobogganing. After a half-hour scaling of half the mountain we arrived at a dubiously rickety one man chair lift to hoick us up to our restaurant du jour. At this point it was snowing rather heavily – good news for the next day’s activities but less so for the idea of hurtling down on a kid’s toy.

Upon arrival at the top we had a nice warm Austrian Chalet awaiting us, with cold beer and that most preposterous of meals – the cheese fondue. Along with the joy of dipping stale bread in tepid cheese, one gets to eat meat dipped, out of sight, for an indeterminate amount of time. This is not the set-up for michelin-starred goodness. This is the set-up for crap meat cooked craply and dipped in crap cheese.


Quotes of the week

March 1, 2007

You’re a horrible boyfriend.
Dec lays it out to Bingo.

What I need is a montage.
Dec couldn’t be arsed actually learning to board.

I’m terribly sorry, I’m a gentleman.
Ant, sliding slowly downhill, apologises after grabbing two handfuls of Austrian instructor funbag.

The next time I see a 5-year old I’m going to glass the fucker.
The talented wee bairns on the slopes upset an inept Dec.

I smell like a donkey sanctuary.
Après-ski, Ant gets a whiff of his socks.

A – I’m going to be the big spoon.
D – Then I’m going to be the teaspoon.
A – Cool. Fine by me.
D – Can Teddy be the egg spoon?

Ant and Dec discussing the night’s sleeping arrangements.

I don’t care who you’re talking to – hang up. It’s bang-bang time.
Ant emerges from the shower clad only in a towel and insists that Dec curtail his conversation with The Girlfriend.

I’m so glad SHOUTY’s not here.
Declan sees the bright side in the midst of a long-winded conversation about semantics.

Dec: There hasn’t been enough homosexuality on this trip.
A: Suck this and say that again.

Ant brings Dec up on a point of order.

I’m still obsessed with Ant’s wanking spanner.
A qoute by Bingo. Genuinely, I have no idea of any context in which this is acceptable.

L – Who sings this song?
A – Aaron Neville.
Dave – Gary Neville?

Dave refuses to hide his knowledge of soul music under the bushel of silence.

So is she all about the Lego and the bacon, then?
Dec questions a complete stranger about his Danish wife.

I’m having a problem with the snow.
Dave puts his finger on the problem with snowboarding.

L – Oh Christ, we’re bad. What’s snowboard speak for “Less than rad”?
A – DEG?

Ant earns mad respect from his boarding homies by breaking out jokes about scientific calculators.

I think I’m ready to go now.
Dec’s “Captain Oates moment” before sliding backward down an Alp.

But then I forgot I had a maglev installed in my arse.
Lawrence tries to explain away another of his sliding-down-the-hill-leaving-an-arsefurrow moments.

Dec – I was contemplating a serious blog post about family, friends, and syphilis.
A – I’ve got all three of those.
L – Piss off – you’ve got no mates.
Dec – And your family did all die of syphilis.

Stark reality is gently unveiled to Mushy in the kind, caring way that his colleagues know best.

Dec – Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez vous Fraincais? Do you speak English?
Girl – Nederlands.

Dec tries to engage the 6 year old girl with whom he’s sharing a chair lift in conversation. Dec failed.

He’s young, dumb and full of cum.
Ant appraises the new boarding instructor.

I’ll pop a lid in your ass.
Dec gets street on the slopes.

I think it’s because you’re old and you suck.
A precocious 16 year old Dutch girl appraises Ant’s snowboarding malaises.

Ist Kapitalismus nicht wunderbar?
(Is capitalism not wonderful?)

Dec, while walking through a crowded outdoor bar brandishing an empty bottle of Champagne.

You never vote for us in Eurovision.
Enraged, a visibly shaking Dave pulls out the campest insult of the holiday, directed toward a random Maltese bloke.

Perl strikes me as a particularly effete language.
Ant plumbs the depths of his boundless knowledge of IT, to serve up some more wisdom to the admiring masses.

I know that one of them is clubs, and the other spades.
Amarillo Dec shows his poker face during a game of Cards.

And was the holy lamb of [thud]
Ant sings hymns down the side of an Alp while faceplanting the holy living shit out of himself.

A – You’re the most middle-class looking person I’ve ever seen.
Dec – If I were any more middle class, I’d be outside gunning down migrants.

Dec puts forward his candidacy for UKIP.


And on the 5th day, god created husky German masseuses.

March 1, 2007

Bah. Bit of a shitter. With a day of free boarding ahead of us, Dec and I headed up the mountain in the morning, in high spirits. One run took us down a blue run, mostly for the purposes of finding out what route the blue run actually took. We were pretty bad, and took ages. On the second run, it suddenly felt as if my calves had been set on fire. Perhaps the previous day’s concentration on Champagne rather than cold showers had been a bad plan.

Whatever the case, I was absolutely shot. My legs just didn’t work. Turns didn’t happen. Straight runs didn’t end up straight, or indeed vertical. Traverses ended up as a heelslide down the mountain. It was all deeply unfulfilling boarding. It was nice doing something so very out of the ordinary, with such outstanding scenery, with a good friend, but I fel that my legs had kind of ruined the day. Seeing Dec slide backward over the crest of a ridge, singing Danny Boy at the top of his voice, and giving a salute just before he popped out of sight was one of the more surreal moments of the day. We quit after a couple of runs, and headed down the mountain in the gondola.

A relaxing afternoon saw a great massage by a short, burly, German woman, whose few lines in English included “Clothes on table please,” and “This tickles, ja?” Perhaps someone should have taught her “This feels like I’m driling through your scapula with my thumb, yes?” or “Despite their recent failings, it would appear from a preliminary inspection that your calves are chisled from teak.” Oh well, small complaints from an otherwise very relaxing afternoon.

A long nap in the afternoon, and a relatively quiet night has hopefully set things up nicely for a good day today. This holiday is in equal measures relaxing and exhausting, enjoyable and infuriating, faceplant and arsefurrow. I think I’ll cope with it, though…


White World

February 28, 2007

Wednesday morning dawned snowy and overcast in the Austrian Alps and that’s just how we like it. More snow overnight promised a day of fluffy goodness ahead. Yesterday was the last day of lessons so today we were our own men. Dave and Flo decided to swap their boards for skis and become pricks on sticks for the day. Ant and I, remaining true to the cause, checked out our boards and headed for the cable car.

Rising up the mountain, the valley opened up before us as the fog cleared and the sun shone through. The view was amazing, the trees frosted over, the surrounding slopes dotted with small homesteads. The cable car moved silently, swaying gently through the air effortlessly lifting us higher. Early morning snow was still falling from branches as we cleared the treeline, heading upwards past Middle Station. After a journey of about 6 minutes we reached the top of Stubnerkogel (2250m).

Stepping from the cable car and into our bindings, it was time for a few minutes of reflection. To the south of us lay the way to Italy and the Adriatic, north to the great plains of Germany, east flows the Danube and to the west the Alps run without interruption to France. Feeling refreshed and inspired, it was time to eat snow.

Traversing (flat sections between slopes) on a snowboard is not the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had. Navigating a track little wider than a laneway with a drop off one side and a wall of snow the other side as more stable skiers whizz past is challenging. On more than one occasion I picked up my board and trudged along the flat.

If the flat traverses were unyielding hell, the steep pistes were powdery heaven. It was so easy to get a nice edge and the forgiving snow even allowed me to perform the odd turn. As the boys will testify, I do like my toe-edge and will quite happily glide down entire mounatins that way despite the burning in my calves. I was gliding sideways down the mountain picking up more and more speed and loving every moment. Comapred to the icey slopes of yesterday, falling was almost a pleasure. Wandering a bit off piste, I was quickly in deep drifts several feet deep. The shading from my goggles cast an orange glow on the otherwise endless whiteness around me. Were it not for the occasional other human, I could have been on another planet.

We did a few runs from the summit down to Middle Station, revelling in the deep snow, cursing the tiredness in our legs. On the last steep slope I treated Ant to the comic sight of me edging perfectly over a steep drop, snapping a salute and singing Danny Boy as I shot past some bemused skiers. Life was good.

Back down in the valley, we changed out of our gear in time to enjoy fully body massages at the local thermal spa. Then across the road for a late lunch where I had fantastic rack of lamb and a cold beer. This afternoon has been one of downtime and relaxation. Ant is snoring loudly on his bed as I type. A morning of enjoyable physical exercise followed by a hearty lunch does that to a man.


A game of two halves

February 28, 2007

Our usual instructor today got called off onto skiing duties, so the four of us had to be assimilated into other groups. Dave and I went up one group, and Bingo and Osty stayed with a similarly skilled group. The new group was mostly made up of kids; even the instructor was only 18. The first thing we did was jump into a gondola and head to the top of the mountain. No main problem, but the gondola rises about 1 km in altitude. I was now somewhat scared.

When we got to the top, the difference between our heavily-bashed icy nursery slope and the powdery wonder created by 2 solid days of snow became suddenly apparent. All of a sudden, I could turn in both directions, and board really well on both edges. It was going to be A Good Day.

The morning session was pretty much how I expected snowboarding to be – really deep powder, long luxuriant turns, and soft landings. On one occasion, while heading in the direction the board points, the nose got stuck in a drift, thus catapulting me over the top of it. If I had attempted my particular choice of landing – a graceless shoulder-plant on the nursery slope, I would probably stabbed myself in the ear with my collarbone. Instead, I just dug into the powder a bit, got up, dusted myself down, and carried on. Life was good. I also wiped out a 6 year old boy in our group, but that’s not important.

After a lunch trading insults with a 16 year old Dutch girl, we were off for the afternoon. Brimming with confidence from the best morning of the trip, I promptly got my arse handed to me by a T-bar lift. It’s less effort to walk up the sodding hill. The afternoon was more tailored to the advanced boarders, with a lot of steep, narrow red runs. I just went down most of them on my heel edge, as any mised turn would result in the mother of all faceplants at the bottom of a cliff. It was a bit much for a few other group members – I discovered that 14 year-old Dutch girls can still grumble while slipping backward down a mountain at 20 mph – my first ever Doppler moan. Another moment of stark realisation on a T-bar, and we were ready for the final descent of the day. As I was doing up my bindings, the instructor and group all pissed off, leaving me alone at the top of the mountain. A bad tempered-descent followed. When I finally found the group again, the instructor suggested we try something new. My shouted interjection was along the lines of “How about trying not fucking off and leaving me at the top of a mountain, you twat?” By this time, I was pretty shagged, so just edged my way down the rest of the hill, and that was it for the day.

Champagne Tuesday followed – more about that later – but for now, another day of great snow and blue runs follows. Our lessons are over, and now we’ve just got a bit of time to fool around, and work on some languid turns. There’s been another 6-8 inches of snow overnight at base-camp level, so I’m looking forward to seeing what has happened 1 km further uphill. I have every fear that today could end up being rather fun.

On a separate note, Bingo has chickened out and turned ski on us, and Dec thinks he’s broken his arse, in spite of it being padded by both a Norwegian striker* and 26 years of overindulgence. I’ve never wanted to kick anyone right up the arse as much as I do now. I’m down to my last reserves of willpower, which I fear may be eroded tonight at the first whiff of booze.

Peace out, my homies.

*An Aasgaard


Sitrep – Day 3

February 27, 2007

Was today a good day? I’m not convinced. On the up side, we did a pile of runs – albeit down the same slope – but on the down side, I’m still not terribly confident on my toe side.
In a situation strangely microcosmic of my life, I find it hard not to have control of a situation. I’d rather take my time down a run, and do it technically well – my turns aren’t too bad now on either side – than go balls out at it and finish first. There were times today when I actually felt like a snowboarder.
On fairly tame slopes, I can actually turn pretty well, and manage the traverse on my toe side, but then I get terrified of going too fast, and travel uphill until I’ve bled off enough speed to make another good turn. There’ll be no roosters here, Pete…
Now Dec’s got his feet set right on the board, he’s improved by far the most today. As an almighty caveat, that’s only because he was pretty average yesterday, but I’m genuinely glad that he has finally found his balance. The heel side awaits, my friend…
Dave and Aggles are both doing well. Flo was pretty pissed off this morning. With a 6 inch snowfall overnight, he seemed genuinely upset to have to strap a plank onto his feet, and practice the art of the faceplant while lots of skiers were having powder-based fun. But as the day wore on, and we all increased in confidence, the mood of the group lifted.
Half way down the slope, on the final run of the day, we had a bit of a sit-down as a four. With no pressure, we had one of those where-else-would-you-like-to-be moments. We were high in the Alps, amongst friends, learning new skills and experiencing new situations together. The scenery was beautiful, my arse was freezing, and the sun was shining. We shared a few laughs, but mostly had one of those times that people would buy if you could just bottle it.
I may not be progressing as much as I’d like as a snowboarder, but I am having a magnificent time with my friends. Champagne Tuesday sees our final day of lessons. It’s been snowing now for the last 4 hours – I look forward to what it will bring.