Travel Austria: Arrival in St. Oswald and Skiing on Monte Elmo in the Italian Dolomites
After 3.5 wonderful days in Budapest, my time in Europe continued with another exciting experience: skiing in the Alps, something I haven’t done for more than 30 years! On February 20, 2012 I arrived together with 7 of my friends in the tiny mountain village of Sillian in Austria’s East Tyrol after a four hour drive through snowy Alpine landscapes. The surrounding area is dominated by the rugged Lienz Dolomite Mountains that are dotted with numerous ski resorts throughout the entire region.
For the next five days we were going to stay at the Oswalderhof, a large privately owned bed and breakfast inn owned by the Ausserlechner family. Our residence was located halfway up the mountain overlooking the village of Sillian and the Puster Valley. Half board was very reasonable, at 42 Euros a day for two meals and accommodation this was shaping up to be a very affordable skiing adventure.
After settling in, my friends took me sightseeing for a couple of hours in the late afternoon into a quaint mountain village called “Kalkstein” which is located inside the Villgraten Valley. The village is located at a high altitude of 1640 metres and has remained removed from mass tourism developments. We even ran into some acquaintainces of my friends who were just returning from backcountry skiing in this remote Alpine mountain region. They were staying with a local farmer for 18 Euros a night, breakfast included. There are still some amazing deals to be had when vacationing in Austria.
As the sun set I took a walk around the village of St. Oswald which is composed of only a few houses. The small village church, which was consecrated in 1360 AD, and the surrounding cemetery were nicely illuminated and made for a very picturesque subject for photography. All eight of us sat down for a nice dinner in our own dining room and enjoyed a hearty mushroom soup, followed by roast pork with roast potatoes, followed by a nice dessert. I already knew at that point that it was going to be a good week, certainly as far as gastronomic pleasures were concerned.
The next morning, February 21, 2012, was a brilliant day. The sun was radiating and our entire group got ready to go skiing after a hearty Austrian breakfast of cold cuts, cheese, eggs, and freshly baked rolls. Our destination for today was on the other side of the Austrian-Italian border: we drove about 15 minutes, crossed over into Italy and had reached our ski resort for the day: Monte Elmo, or in German, the Helm Mountain.
Monte Elmo is a great family friendly ski area with more than 20 km of runs with different degrees of difficulty. Full day ski tickets were very reasonable at less than 40 Euros per person. It took a bit of waiting for us at the gondola to get up to the top because it was Mardi Gras, and many people had taken the day off to go skiing.
The 360 degree view from the top was absolutely phenomenal: we were surrounded by a breathtaking Alpine panorama all around, and to the south we looked at the jagged Sesto Dolomites. It did not take me too long to get used to skiing again, but of course my skills were nothing compared to my Austrian friends, all of whom are experienced ski racers and some are even ski instructors. The ski runs were beautifully prepared and the snow condition was excellent.
This ski resort actually covers several different areas: we first skied the main area on Monte Elmo, then after a long run down, we grabbed a ski shuttle bus that went through the village of Moos and went up another mountain called the Rotwand or Croda Rossa (in Italian). Lifts continue to the Kreuzbergpass (Pass Monte Croce) and the Val Comelico ski area. My friends showed me a couple of downhill runs that were steeper than anything I had ever skied on anywhere in North America, but given the nicely prepared snow conditions, even I was able to make it down these steep inclines.
In the early afternoon we settled in for lunch at the “Latschenhütte”, literally translated “mountain pine chalet”, where lots of skiers were sitting outside to soak up the brilliant afternoon sun. We took a large table inside and ordered a variety of hearty pasta dishes and salads that would sustain us for the rest of the afternoon. The waitresses were dressed up as Native American squaws in the European Mardi Gras tradition.
We continued skiing until about 3:30 and made our way back to St. Oswald for our evening meal. A hearty dumpling soup, a slice of smoked ham, mashed potatoes and sour kraut were followed by a “Faschingskrapfen” for dessert, a typical Alpine doughnut filled with apricot jam that is traditionally served during the carnival season. With delicious meals like this, there was no way I was going to lose any weight on this ski trip!