Tuesday, January 26, 2016

60 years old, and still a lousy skier!

Winter wonderland in Tyrolia
I suppose it could be worse: I could be 70 and not remember what skis are! And when we're talking about skis, it's not the "schuss" type that crazy people use to hurl themselves down Alpine slopes called "Streiff" but rather modest two-by-fours that Finns and other gluttons for punishment put under their feet to walk across the tundra, or slowly traipse through the forest, as I do.
Frauenkirche and Rathaus in Munich
Horsebutcher at the Viktualienmarkt
Viktualienmarkt in Munich
Yep, it was that time of year again that Sabine and I went to Kössen in Austria's Kaiserwinkl region to play in the snow. I had arrived in Germany about 10 days earlier after spending an uneventful Christmas and New Year's in Lubbock, testing out the XC skis thanks to Lubbock's epic blizzard conditions. When I arrived in München on January 12, after a detour through Helsinki in the name of added mileage to work on 2016's elite frequent flier qualification, the landscape was green and wettish. Winter hadn't exactly followed me.
One of many beautiful farm buildings in the Kohlbachtal
For the first week I did what one does in Germany: Take care of banking tasks, visit friends, cook Mexican meals, go to the big city. Amazing how time can fly. One day it was even pretty enough to take the Ritchey for a spin, but then it started to snow, and when my brother and his GF arrived from Berlin and Cologne on January 16, it was suddenly winter. January 17 was the day of my encounter with the dreaded six-oh, and we celebrated in style with about a dozen people in Sabine's small apartment. It really was a nice evening, and now I am the proud owner of a remote-control selfie stick. I'm moving up in the world.
Selfie stick in action during my 60th birthday party
A few more days of work for Sabine and then we left last Thursday for Tyrolia, where the sudden onslaught of winter over the weekend had dumped something like a foot-and-a-half of snow. It's less than a 2-hour drive from Freising to Kössen, and after checking into our apartment (Haus Elisabeth) and securing rental skis for me at the local Intersport franchise we went off for 90 minutes to ski the prepared loipe just steps away from our place before darkness settled in.
Kössen has more than 120 kilometers of groomed trails
Kössen is a great place, period. Otherwise we wouldn't come back year after year. We've always found friendly, highly affordable accommodations, the weather has always brought at least one day of glorious sunshine and blue skies, and the snow has never disappointed us, even when just a few miles down the road things looked less than marginal. The Kössen valley, we have decided, is quite a bit prettier than the one that St. Johann is located in, just a few kilometers to the south. We went down there on Saturday to check the trails around Kirchdorf and Erpfendorf, and Kössen is simply better. There are fewer people, the traffic is lighter, and there is no industry. I see no reason not to go back to Kössen if we have just a few days for a quick getaway.
Watching the München Icecross on the tellie
Our landlord at Haus Elisabeth, Ferdi, was quite a hoot. Before our arrival he had e-mailed us that the "champagne was already on ice," and no kidding: When we got there in subfreezing temps, old Ferdi immediately emerged from the house with a bottle of sparkling wine and poured us a few glasses before we ever got a chance to enter the house. We quickly learned that Ferdi had an on-switch that was directly linked to champagne and homemade schnapps (last year he prepared 170 liter of pine-cone liquor (or was it liqueur? It sure was amped!) by buying all available Korn (similar to Everclear) and sugar in town and cutting a special kind of pine cone until his arms hurt for days. We never found out where the off-switch was located, and we simply had to nudge him inside when we were starting to freeze stiff and then, after a few more drinks and stories or vice versa, had to simply leave him and vanish in our apartment. This scenario played out pretty much every time that we came back to the house. When we left in the morning, it was only stories and no alcohol just yet.

Having an apartment means that one can stay home after returning from the trails and can prepare wonderful schmankerl while wearing felt slippers and comfy lounge pants. Wonderful! We had a great kitchen, an amazing view, and even a flatscreen TV set that we put to good use by watching a Bundesliga game as well as part of the Hahnenkamm ski races, which were happening that weekend. Plus, there was the nutty München Icecross, a Red Bull-sponsored affair for lunatics. (The downhill was stopped after the first 30 racers, with several helicopter transports already in the books—high winds and visibility issues played havoc with the world's most prestigious WC race. The Icecross did not show any footage of amputated limbs or digits.) In the stairwell, Ferdi had pointed out to us a picture of the race course and had pointed out the house in which he had grown up, telling us non-stop stories about the racers and the races and the time their house had to be moved to accommodate the race course. Did I mention that he talked a lot?
Snowshoeing up to the Taubenseehütte; Sabine is that dot
Since no new guests were arriving on Sunday, our departure day, we didn't have to leave by the customary check-out time of 9 a.m. but instead could enjoy a last, leisurely breakfast and take our time. We had returned my XC skis the night before to further decrease any time pressures. So it was around noon that we drove up to the Schaffler Alm parking lot from where we started our ascent to the Taubenseehütte, located far above the valley floor and serving cake, hot chocolate, cheese, and beer. It was a pretty tough climb up there, using the snowshoes that we had brought along. (Last year, one of my suppliers had a killer end-of-season deal on snowshoes and I had bought two sets for our annual excursions to Austria.) I am happy to say that my heart behaved beautifully, both when we skied as well as on this tough climb. I think the second ablation really did the trick.
Looking toward Reit im Winkl
Our snowshoe trip presented a beautiful final bookend to our short vacation. We had amazing views of the Kaiserwinkl mountains and the valley, looking over to Reit im Winkl on the east side, toward the Inntal toward the west, and St. Johann hidden on the other side of the Kohlbachtal in the south. We're starting to know the place, and that makes it even more fun to come back year after year. Late in the afternoon we finally made it back to the car and simply drove back to Freising. Wonderful vacation!
Panoramic view of the Zahmer and Wilder Kaiser mountain ranges
And now it is Tuesday morning and I am sitting in the Munich airport. The Iberia counter hasn't opened yet, but Sabine had to drop me off on the way to work, so I've been typing away. Today I am flying only over to Madrid, for an 18-hour stopover: It is Howard's 62nd birthday, and I was able to schedule things just perfectly. Tomorrow morning I will fly onward to London, then to LA, and from there with the red-eye to Dallas and finally Lubbock, where I hope to arrive at 10:18 a.m. on Thursday. Yep, it's a bit convoluted, but there are lots of extra miles, and from London I am lie-flat upgraded to LAX and then in First all the way home.
Not quite at the top of the world, but happy nevertheless
I think I'll stay in town for the weekend!


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