Graham Bell with Katy Dartford

Graham Bell with Katy Dartford

How the Ski Sunday presenter turned Katy, ‘Kamikaze’ in Saalbach.

 

“You’re not really carving properly” says Graham Bell as I bomb it down the slope using my preferred method of semi straight lining.  ‘Your turns are quite sharp and unfinished and you need to ‘bend zee knees’ more. Follow me and try to copy what I’m doing.’ he bellows.

I’m skiing with the five time Olympic skier in the Austrian resort of Saalbach-Hinterglemm, nestled in the Glemm Valley amongst the rolling hills of the Pinzgauer grass mountains and the imposing peaks of the Kitzbühler alps in Salzburgerlan.

Offering 200 kilometres of wide, sweeping pistes, the two villages at an altitude of  1,003 metres are linked by a ‘skicircus’ of lifts and runs on both sides of the valley forming the largest ski area in the alps. It’s the perfect place for intermediate skiers to practice “bending zee knees.”

According to Graham, my “problem” is not uncommon with female ski racers such as Tina Maze, who although – like myself – uses a lot of ‘hip angulation’ rather than knees to create angles – she is actually leading overall in the world cup.

Although it’s a losing battle, I try to stay hot on Graham’s heels. But the curves he’s creating are too wide for my liking… then crash- my first fall of the trip, flying backwards with skis spread in the air. I dust myself off and retrieving a pole left about 20 meters uphill- no pain, no gain I suppose.

We carry on cruising some more reds and blues; “concentrate on your lower leg,’ says Graham. ‘Narrow your stance slightly and introduce more knee angulation and forward flexion at the ankles …and ski slower!’ I try to roll my knees and carve turns that leave two cuts in the snow like railway tracks, but my skies just wanted to split.  ‘Be patient and finish your turns,’ says Graham, ‘that way you will be able to control your speed by turning across the hill, rather than skidding and braking on each turn.’

Perhaps it wasn’t Graham’s skiing but rather the last nights jager tea causing me wipe out. Saalbach is, after all, regarded as having the best apres ski and party scene in Austria- if not the whole of the alps. After dinner at the Unterschwarzachhof hotel we use our lift pass for an exhilarating Toboggan ride at the at the floodlit Reiterkogel down to the Pfefferalm- stopping half way for drinks and the local speciality of hazelnut schnapps. And I could have sworn Graham was trying to mow me down with his toboggan over the 3km long ride, putting into practice some of the skills he learnt off Olympic Skeleton champion, Amy Williams.

Despite the aching head, I felt ready to tackle the ‘skicircus’ the next morning. Taking the anticlockwise route round, we started at Hinterglemm, taking the Westgipfelbahn up to Schattberg West, where we made a long descent down to Vorderglemm. Here we took a standing gondola to Wildenkarkogel then skied all way down to Saalbach, walked through town then up on to Bernkogelbahn before skiing down a  red then back up to Reiterkogel. Here I practiced over and over again on a red before heading for lunch at the Wieseralm.

Whilst I made an attempt at being healthy with a grilled scampi salad, Graham opted for the Tiroler Grostl a kind of ‘Tyrolean fry’ with chopped potato, bits of speck, onions, cabbage, and a friend egg on top. Then we all shared a huge pan of the local favourite, Kaiserschmarn or strips of pancake with a dusting of icing sugar and different jams to dribble on top. Graham says that at this time of year he is  putting on his “winter coat” a ‘cycle’ he goes through every year and why he spends most of the summer training for marathons, iron mans, and bike rides across the Alps.

Despite feeling ready for a sleep after all this Austrian fare, we decide to ski over at the Zwolferkogel which should be out of the sun and less slushy in the afternoon. Here we are met with more glorious sunshine and wide pistes to practice the big slow turns. Whilst being a resort that’s great for intermediates pisters, I spy the black word cup run, the Zwolferkogel, and once day fancy bombing down it -Graham Bell-or maybe Franz Klammer style at least.

After an afternoon of more sweeping blues and reds, we headed down for  après-ski at the Schwarzacher  (http://www.der-schwarzacher.at/en/startseite/)  I try to resist but my toes start tapping to the pounding Austrian après tunes; “oooooh when the Eismann say .. whoo oh oh oh oh”… followed by DJ Otzi’s – Hey Baby…”who the f… is Alice” and “what’s that one when they wave their hands around their heads?” I ask Graham. ‘It’s the “heli, heli, heli Kopter, heli, heli, hey….’ he replies. But then he is very familiar with the scene – having raced in Saalbach in the world championships in 1991 then a few years later for the British championships which were held in Saalbach for about three years in a row.

Graham tells me a little more about Saalbach; ‘It’s got great snow making facilities, they’ve also got a brilliant lift system which has developed over the years….  It’s a very modern resort with lots of great hotels and on-piste skiing.’ ‘What about the off-piste?’ I ask, ‘Well, there’s not a massive amount – but there are a few ski touring routes that you can take if you know where you’re going and you’ll probably be one of the only people out doing it because most of the people here are on piste skiers.” This means off piste routes such as the Hintermaisalm in Schattberg West, Walleggalm (Spieleckogel) and into Leogang will be virtually untouched.

The next morning we head off to ski the Skicircus with a detour down to Leogang and this time, I inadvertently get some more tips from Graham in the form of ‘ski style.’ “You carry your skis like a punter,” he teases, referring to how I hold then the wrong way round with my shoulder locked between the bindings. ‘You can tell how someone skis by how they carry them.’ In a bid to not look like such a punter I try to concentrate on carving better – only to wipe out on the first run of the day.

We stop at ‘Stocklalm’ for lunch where we try the local speciality, a plate of  Bladl. I was worried the dish of empty or potato filled samosa-like Bladl’s, accompanied with sauerkraut and cranberry sauce might be a little too much before heading to the nearby Flying Fox XXL  (http://www.flying-fox-xxl.at/en/home/ ) a  1.600 meter long zip wire where you can reach speeds of up to 130 km/h – making it one of the fastest and longest steel cable slides in the world. Whilst looking rather silly and graceless in our harnesses, I felt like I was flying through the mountains as I zipped down the line. I could almost understand the attraction of basejumping – and I managed to keep the Bladl in.

With endorphins pumping and having taken a few tumbles already, I started to feel my boldness rise – having been practicing off-piste for most of the season, it was good to get back to piste basics. So now I’m flying down the mountain, making big curves and bigger and bigger jumps…… wow you’re really “Kamikaze Katy” now- says one of our team as I spring over a mogul just before arresting myself at the chairlift.

As the ski day drew to an end, the snow become thick like porridge or polenta on the south facing sides- Graham’s kind of skiing apparently- having learnt his art in Scotland. Instead of the usual après ski we headed to the Baumzipfelweg (http://www.baumzipfelweg.at/) the highest tree top path in Europe for a walk through the forest. For some reason we are given felt pixie hats to wear as we cross the ‘Golden Gate Bridge of the Alps,’ which Graham enjoyed trying to rock in a bid to make us all queasy. But we soon got even queasier with a few drinks at the Goaßstal, where it appeared that you had to wear a ‘goat’ on your feet for footwear to really look the part. After a gala dinner at the hotel we succumbed to a dance at ‘The London Pub,’ surrounded by men dressed as sailors and some more ‘classic’ Austrian après tunes pumping. Feeling in my element, it meant another late night – for me at least -Graham snuck of early. So it seems – in Saalbach- ‘Kamikaze Katy’ can out-do Graham Bell at something.

FACT BOX

GETTING THERE:

The region can be easily reached by car (without tolls) via the Motorway A8 Munich – Salzburg. Alternatively, one can arrive by train, for example at Zell am See, or by plane landing at Salzburg or Munich. With the Holiday Shuttle guests can arrive in comfort and for a competitive price the whole year round from both Salzburg and Munich airports. www.holidayshuttle.At

 

Arrival by car from Germany

Take motorway Munich – Salzburg (A8) Siegsdorf – Lofer – Saalfelden and carry on in direction of Zell am See. At Maishofen take turn-off Glemmtal. No motorway toll!! (200 km from Munich).

Arrival by car from East Austria:

Take west Motorway Vienna – Salzburg (A1), take turn-off Wals-Lofer, via the “kleine Deutsche-Eck” towards Lofer, go in direction of Zell am See, Maishofen, Saalbach Hinterglemm.  (400 km from Vienna).

By Train:

The nearest train station is Zell am See. With the Postbus to Zell am See hourly to Saalbach Hinterglemm. Taxi stand in front of station Zell am See. (19 km from Zell am See).

By air:

The nearest international airport is Salzburg. All larger air companies fly to and from Salzburg (90 km from Salzburg). Take the Holiday Shuttle 365 days a year and 8x daily from the terminal to Saalbach Hinterglemm and your accommodation (even 9x on Saturdays in the winter season).

Salzburg Airport: One-way € 39.00 pp /      Return € 74.00 pp

Munich Airport: One-way: € 91.00 pp /       Return € 173.00 pp