Lately, I have had an undeniable, painful, yearning for Austria. I have been to Austria more times than I can count but I have never written about it or shared photos. This has puzzled me, yes, but I have come to realize that it is a strange sense of mixed familiarity and nostalgia that keeps me from writing about the places that are dearest to me. Likewise, I hardly ever take photos of the beautiful mountains of Colorado where I spent my twenties, or the charming 400-year-old historical city of Santa Fe where I spent my childhood. Austria has somehow weaseled its way into this category of untouchables. I can’t speak the language, I have a love-hate relationship with the cuisine, and the stiff, rule-abiding mentality is 100 percent opposite of how I grew up, but somehow, unarguably, Austria is HOME as much as any home I’ve known.
This winter, faced with record breaking warm temperatures in the Rocky Mountains vs a December to remember in the Alps, my nostalgia for Austria has reached heightened levels. So here it is, this is my attempt to recognize all the friendship, growth, love, and adventure that encompasses the Austria that has taken deep roots in my history.
Really, it all started in 2012 when Isaac and I bought a ski pass to Monarch Mountain, Colorado that included a few free days of skiing in Germany. That got the wheels turning and we quickly decided we better not let those few free days of skiing go to waste. So, we booked plane tickets to Frankfurt with return tickets from Zurich…three months later. Suddenly we had a whole winter in Europe, no real plan to speak of, not a lot of money, and we knew no one. Before we left, Isaac emailed someone he found on the internet, using google translate, to ask about backcountry skiing beta in Tyrol, Austria. He replied right away in perfect English (turns out he is an American married to an Austrian) and after a few email strings, Tracy invited us to come stay with him and his family and go backcountry skiing together (we were splitboarders at the time). It was on, winter in the Alps!
We fumbled our way through Germany, and as it turned out, most of the ski areas where we had passes turned out to be closed. However, finding that fact out was an adventure unto itself and a story for another blog. We made our way through the fingers of the Black Forest that dip into Austria, and before we knew it we had landed in Innsbruck. We were quickly enamored by the gold and green city in the heart of the Alps. Following Tracy’s instructions, we rode the little red train out of Innsbruck to Natters. We arrived sweaty and soaked from dragging the snowboard bags up the mile-long hill to his house. He ran out to greet us, jubilantly waving us in with a throw-up-soaked napkin, explaining that his little daughter had just had an accident. We exchanged the necessary get-to-know-yous while he cleaned up the mess. After that we went skiing, and from then on, we were family. Our days were filled with sleep, eat, drop the kids off at school, ski/snowboard huge lines, ride the train to the grocery store, make dinner, repeat. It was during this time that we did not put on a pair of shoes other than snowboard boots for 16 days.
One morning when Tracy was tied up doing dad stuff, we decided to ride the bus to a nearby ski resort, Lizum. At the top of the lift, Isaac noticed a pair of snowboarders in the distance hiking to the furthest edge of the mountain top. He hollered at me to hurry so we could catch them. We loped up to them awkwardly one-foot snowboard hopping through powder until Isaac could ask, “sprechen sie englisch?”
-“ya, a little” the man replied.
“does this line go?”
-“ya, do you want to follow us?”
and just like that, we had stumbled upon some of the best friends we have ever had to this day. For the rest of the afternoon, we lapped blower pow run after blower pow run with our new friends, Benji and Pia, both native Austrians. At the end of the day, sharing beers in the warming hut, Benji asked if we would like to spend the weekend in Innsbruck and we could check out some breweries together and see some other resorts. As promised, Benji showed up on Friday afternoon to pick us up from Tracy and Castin’s house. From then on, we spent weekdays backcountry splitboarding with Tracy and weekends resort riding and night rodeling with Benji, Pia and their raucous group of friends.
Austria quickly become a home base. The best way to describe it would be the German word Gemütlichkeit, which really has no English translation, but describes the state of mind of being cozy, comfortable, relaxed and content with a sense of belonging and community…when it’s cold outside. Like a cozy, wintery contentedness. We explored seven other countries that trip, but always returned to Innsbruck where Benji, Pia, Tracy and Castin were there to welcome us home. Since then, we returned for another three-month ski trip; Benji and Pia came to our wedding in the US; we formed ‘Team America’ based out of Tracy’s house with two other friends from the US; we took a trip to Barcelona with Benji, Pia and Galli; and Benji and Pia visited us in the US a second time.
Many momentous occasions took place for us in Austria. It was in Austria where we celebrated our engagement, it was in Austria where I ditched the splitboard and pledged to ski in the backcountry, our first hutte trip was in Austria, the biggest and baddest lines I have ever skied or snowboarded have been in Austria, and it was in Austria where Isaac and I pushed our physical limits, to be rewarded with winter views that few other people have seen. To this end, I don’t think the photos or words on this page do justice to what has become such a huge part of my life, but I am happy to share this not-really-a-travel-blog because I know there are some special people out there who will appreciate that I finally got my sh**t together to put some photos up after six years!
~The photos here were all taken by me with a really crappy camera (this was all pre-smart phone and I didn’t even own a DSRL at the time!). If you want to see some truly great photos of Austria, see Tracy’s photography and Benji’s Instagram.~
Thank you to Benji, Pia, Galli, Ferdi, Handsome Steve, and the rest of the Innsbruck gang, Tracy, Castin, Josie, Jacob, Peter, Daner, and the rest of Team America for making memories with us.