To get to the centre of the Universe, one must cross into Austria, learn how to pronounce ‘Kirchdorf’ correctly, so as to not annoy the ticket seller, and head into the mountains of Tirol. The train winds out of Innsbruck and through the countryside filled with small villages perched on dramatic mountainsides. I was warmly welcomed at the little ski school where I was excited to spend another winter on skis, where new friendships would be made and hot chocolate with Baileys became my (a little too regular) treat.
First things first, I needed an Austrian qualification, taught in German, to be able to teach. Full of nerves and anticipation, Maaike, Michaela and I headed to Kitzbühel for day 1 of the 10 course which would put us through our ski instructor paces. It was to be the longest 10 days of my life. We were among 250 candidates, so we were in different groups from each other. I was with 8 others, all native speakers, and for 10 days we skied all day, followed by lectures, only to get on the train home to study the whole night in an attempt to memorise the exact make up of skis, how many guest beds are in Tirol and the order in which to introduce Snow Plough. We were put through our paces to each teach a lesson in German, following an exact matrix of activities, pass a theory test on the content of our lectures, and on the final day ski three demo runs. It was euphoric when it was all over and we could enjoy the first Apres Ski of the season, and immediately be immersed into a week of work. With great timing, the store situated below our apartment was newly opened as a bakery. Things were looking good.
The ski school is based on the small hill in Kirchdorf in Tirol, surrounded by many larger ski areas, and the set up for children is amazing. The kids club lasted from Sunday – Thursday, culminating each week in a race and prize giving. When the groups are more advanced, we would take the groups to the surrounding ski areas of Steinplatte or St Johann. The beginners were named Eggi Schneggis, progressing into Funny Bunnys, Wanda Pandas, Bino Dinos and so on. Sunday morning was the big reveal of which group you would be assigned and which imaginative games would follow. By the second or third day it was like skiing around with a little family of quirky personalities.
In the lead up to Christmas, I enjoyed experiencing the Austrian traditions, such as the amazing spectacle of the Devil’s run. Each town had its own chance to ward off the bad spirits as parades of Devils ran through the town centre dressed in outfits and masks, scaring the gathered crowds as heavy music and fire closed in. We celebrated Christmas, the new ski school family, on the 24th December with a big roast dinner, and then swapped secret Santa gifts in a big celebration a few days later.
For New Years Eve, we performed a ski show for the gathered holiday makers. The instructors and some of the children skied with fire, or in formation to impress the modest crowd. From the show, we marched with flames into the town where a witch was burned, and an address from the town major welcomed in the new decade. A quick costume change and it was time to hike up the mountain where all the instructors were to be having dinner at the top bar and set off fireworks over a fantastic view, which was unfortunately clouded with fog.
Come the new year, ski shows were a weekly occurrence. Every Monday, to the theme of ski cinema, the instructors performed 45 minutes worth of acts representing Titanic, Bohemian Rhapsody and the Hunger Games. My all star role, apart from leading the kids in a flag parade, was to turn our mascot Wanda Panda into a Kung Fu star as I skied down, dressed as a panda in a headband. Partaking in the show is paid in Glühwein from the on mountain bar.
We spent the season pleading with the snow gods to be generous in their offering, as a mild winter meant acknowledging a few brown patches on the ski hill. Our children orientated ski school had such beautiful touches, such as a little snow train pulled by a snow mobile to drive the children up to lunch, which they spent playing in a soft play area. Learning to drive the snowmobile whilst dragging the little wagon, was a fun moment of training. Any expedition on the snowmobile was accompanied by the ski schools dog, Joey, running alongside barking. In the weeks spent with the most enthusiastic of kids, would we be dragged in to play in the ball pit or catapulted down slides, taunted by the children if we wimped out. I managed to split a pair of Salopettes hurtling down the slide as dared by the kids. As the week progressed, the little group bonded and would laugh and joke together, keeping me and each other amused with jokes. It was rewarding to see so much progress and by Thursday morning when we set up for the race, complete with a flag adorned finish line, was their always a feeling of pride and excitement. The children raced between slalom gates and cheered each other on to the finish line, then speculated over who had won until the price giving that afternoon.
After getting the kids all prepped to race, we had a few opportunities to go to the start line ourselves, something that was always nerve wracking! With bibs on, we got to race against other local communities, a challenging prospect in a nation that was born on skis, but always a fun experience. A fun part of the day was being part of the set up crew. It was an early morning wake up to go up the hill with Mark, Tom and Edi, to drill in the gates and set the bibs to number the slalom route that would later be skied. The work was rewarded with an impressive breakfast spread.
In January, the Hahnenkahm took place in Kitzbühel. Its reputation precedes it as the worlds most dangerous ski race, as the male athletes ski ‘The Streif’ for the title. On Friday, the day drinking started at the same time as the race and the good mood continued beyond the Super G, into the celebrity filled town where bars bustled with atmosphere. On Saturday at the downhill race the competition heated up, leading to an Austrian victory and big celebrations.
With such amazing ski areas nearby, days off were perfect for exploring the vast reaches of the Kitzbühel area, Ski Welt and Fieberbrunn. It was a perfect way to explore the area, always with a mixed crew of ski and snowboarders. Our local Aprés ski was at a different location in the village every Sunday. Some involved card games and chats, some called for dress up, but the most rowdy always involved some Karaoke and the Austrian specialty of Schnapps.
At home, our apartment housed sometimes 8, sometimes 16. Each day would start with a breakfast bustle in the kitchen where I would usually be introduced to a new aspect of rock music by Ollie. Evenings revolved around the ping pong table, or an Austrian favourite, Nagel. An amazing part of life in Kirchdorf was the hours spent at Ski Bean Cafe, or in our living room, sharing and laughing.
Stay tuned for what they did next…