Österreich – Zell am See

A lot of trainees arrived in Stuttgart around the same time I did. Most of us chipped in and arranged a 3-day ski weekend in Austria near Salzburg, only about a 4.5 hour drive from where we’re living.

This was my first experience driving on the Autobahn. Those of you back home will be relieved to hear I did not speed excessively – it was raining and I didn’t want to test the traction on my tires too much. Our drive was relatively uneventful; we discussed the mountain, our experiences skiing and snowboarding, our experiences at work, and a few other topics.

A few people were playing it safe by bringing along their passports, but we ended up not needing them – we crossed a river and the only way you would know we crossed an international border was the small police van on the left side of the road. We pulled off at the nearest gas station we could find because in Austria you need to buy a sticker (effectively a toll) to drive on the highways.

We got in to our AirBnb shortly after 11. The place was huge and didn’t feel crowded with the 9 people we had on the first night. We stayed up till about 2AM with a few drinks and some games, and generally just had fun while catching up a bit.

We woke up (I wasn’t too groggy, but others were) around 8AM. We got ready and made for the rental shop. I rented pretty decent gear (helmet, boots, and a board) for just 70EUR for the 3 days. I am impressed with how cheap it is and the quality of the rentals. One guy cut his finger on the edge of his rented snowboard; you can be sure our equipment has been recently edged and waxed.

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Practicing our selfie game at the rental shop

We drove to the resort (we are staying super close, but it took a little time due to steep, snowy roads) and were able to get 3 day passes for just 144EUR without issue. The rain we had gone through on our trip here was snow at this altitude, so there was a ton of fresh powder, great for riding. It was especially good because we have a few newbies so the fresh snow is a little easier to turn on and softer if they fall.

There were a lot of clouds and some light snow our first day riding. We took a few warm-up runs on the bunny hill while the first-timer got his legs under him. The lift here is a strange “T” looking thing, almost like an anchor. You ride your skis/board up the hill as if it were a tow rope, but there are anchor-like hooks which support your back to pull you up. It it better than a tow rope but worse than any non-riding lift I have taken, though the novelty of it all was entertaining.

After an impressively short time, we took one of the main gondolas up to the top. I had never ridden such a long lift and there were very steep portions of the ride – I was excited. Trees and small rocky ledges dotted the otherwise whitewashed slopes which formed a basin framing a beautiful lake. I didn’t take a ton of pictures the first day because of the cloudy weather.

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A brief glimpse of the lake on the first day
We had fun carving trails and slopes. Most of the slopes have formed bumps from people cutting back and forth down them. We started off with a warm-up run of all Blue slopes (In Austria, slopes are rated Blue < Red

Some new skiers were with us, so we stuck to mostly easy runs for the first day. Occasionally a few of the more advanced riders would split off to take a harder run. I am (in my humble opinion) the best snowboarder in our group – I can take on the blacks without too much trouble. My favorite run of the day was late in the afternoon. Four of us rode the main gondola up to the very top of the mountain where we subsequently rode red slopes down a different face to reach the lift. This run included a “funslope” with tunnels and small jumps and boxes to grind on, and was just generally smooth riding. I was continually impressed with the length of the seemingly never-ending runs.

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Taking a quick break mid-run. Yes. I did buy orange snowpants.

Unfortunately the slopes closed at 4:30. While I was eager to do more, my legs were pretty tired from all the riding. We headed back to our cabin and I took advantage of the downstairs sauna before showering and having dinner. We had “pizza”, but calling it that was generous as there was essentially no red sauce on it and none of the ingredients looked fresh. I’m not terribly picky and I was terribly hungry, so I had a fair bit of it regardless. After dinner, most of the people here opted for a nap so I took the opportunity to catch up with Chelsea and help her brainstorm for some application essays. That night we were joined by the rest of the trainees so that we had a full house that evening. There was a lot of partying but I opted to get some sleep before it got too late so that I could hit the slopes the next day.

On Saturday we awoke to find over 6″ of snow had fallen overnight. It was a team effort to get the cars out of the steep driveway, but we made things work without having to chain up our tires. By 10 we were back out on the mountain while the new arrivals were renting their gear. We got a quick run in down the blues so that we could meet up with the big group when they arrived.

I’d like to take a moment to rant slightly about the easy run back to the lift we did a few times: towards the bottom of the mountain, there is a marked trail that takes you on a winding path, and it looks very shallow on the trail map. This trail is a bit of a lie as it includes uphill sections and long stretches of flat snow. We were unable to find an easy run starting and ending at the main lift without avoiding this hike (unless we took a bus back from a different lift). The irony of this is not lost on me – complaining about having to walk through a beautifully snow-dusted forest in the Alps. But we were sweaty and tired in all our gear, I promise!

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Our ski group atop the mountain

We met up with the folks who had arrived on Friday night. This group included several first-time skiers. A few of them stuck to the bunny slope but several were brave enough to make it to the top. They took over 2 hours to get down the mountain (with newbies falling, lots of waiting and getting lost), but we split off from them about 10 minutes into their run. I stuck with two other snowboarders and one skier who were more comfortable on difficult slopes, and we did some more advanced stuff throughout the day. We had lunch on the slopes and were surprised to find the food reasonably priced.

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View from the top, late in the afternoon
After a lot of riding, we made our way back to the cabin around 4:30. There, a few people made a delicious pasta dinner with garlic bread and naturally I ate way too much. The party-crowd napped again so I spent Saturday evening helping Chelsea with her essays and I had a chance to briefly video chat with my parents as well.

Sunday arrived bright and sunny. We opted not to fight with the cars again but rather took the free bus to the lift. First-timers returned their skis and spent the day in Salzburg while a few of us went out for one last day of riding. I took my camera with me this time and was able to capture just a few of the great views we had; we were too busy having fun and taking it all in to stop too much! By this point everyone was tired from a lack of sleep and muscle fatigue, so we called it a day shortly after lunch.

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Clear enough to see the beautiful little town of Zell am See
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Mountains and clear skies
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The lake from atop the slopes

We returned our equipment early in the afternoon, spent some time cleaning up the cabin, and headed home around 3 or 4. We had a long drive back – we faced some of the traffic returning to Germany we had heard about, and I spent an extra 45 minutes dropping off everyone who rode in my car. Exhausted, I arrived back in Stuttgart around 10PM and cleaned up a little before I headed to bed.

We had a strong start to our group travels. Less than a week after most of the Bosch trainees arrived in Germany, 18 of us were off to Austria to go play in the alps. I am so fortunate to be able to take trips with this group, and now that I have a taste for adventure I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next.

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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