(If you want to skip all this and just see the photos… click here)
Let me start off by recommending against taking the night train to anywhere. I took the night train from Utrecht to Munich, it lasted thirteen hours and stopped every hour so that more Germans could lumber into the six-person, insanely hot and dry cabin, and wake me up. If you need to make a trip that long, just fly.
The only advantage that the train had was that once we got into Austria and were heading south to Zell am See it was one of the most beautiful train rides I’d ever taken. I called Katy on a whim when changing trains in some town called Worgl and she just happened to be on the same train, so thanks to the marvel of cell phones, we spent a nice two hours catching up as the mountains rolled by. Everything was covered in a blanket of white, the mountains towered endlessly into the sky, and I was getting very psyched to do my first European snowboarding.
Katy, Ken and I are renting a room in a nice hotel called Hotel Antonius. It’s expensive, but it includes breakfast and dinner, and the place has a steam bath, two saunas, and an indoor swimming pool. The first two days Katy stayed illegally until she was sure that she was committed for the whole week and we added her to the list of legal occupants.
This Austrian adventure was masterminded by a friend of mine from my poker group named Darien Weiner. Darien and nine friends rented a chalet just a quarter mile from our hotel. Unfortunately, that quarter mile is completely uphill. It was a friendly and diverse group of people including four Dutch, two Canadians, two Brits, and one of Darien’s friends from LA (who won the award for furthest traveled, beating Ken who came from New Jersey).
Ken got into the act and through his persuasions we got Katy from Munich to come for the week, and Manuel and his girlfriend Kiki to come for a few days. Manu and Kiki are like super-snowboarders and have the gear to prove it. Helmets, pants with extra ass-padding, protective vests with kevlar inserts (or some such). They love to go fast and jump high and heckle the ski instructors who skied in formation during the “Ski Demo” on Monday night.
We didn’t know it but, “Monday night ROCKS in Kaprun!” At least, that’s what the announcer at the ski demo, who kept blurting out gems like, “And zen vee have de mountain bikah do ze jump. Or maybe he doezn’t.” It was hard to hear him over Ken, Manu, and Kiki shouting encouragement to the skiers like “LAME!” and “GAY!”.
The first three days we had absolutely beautiful weather. No other way to describe it. We tested out the upper mountains of Kaprun (which is actually a glacier accessible only via two gondola rides), and the entire width of Zell am See (which encompasses four faces of two adjoining mountains).
I have to recommend Zell am See (trail map) over Kaprun (trail map). It’s only a ten minute (free) bus ride between the two, and the mountain at Zell am See is laid out better, providing longer and more challenging runs, fewer bottlenecks, nowhere near as many J-bars as Kaprun, and none of the crazy junctions between trails (with skiers going downhill at speed) and J-bar lifts. I had never seen anything like it. It was like Frogger, slow moving skiers being pulled up hill by wires, and you had to ski between them avoiding collision or decapitation from the wires.
Overall we had a great time. We snowboarded all day (some days longer than others), Katy picked up the basics very quickly (proving once again that the difference between a snowboard beginner and a snowboard instructor is one week), and we played poker almost every night.
We had a huge group of twelve players and we would start with two tables of six every night. The fact that over half of them had just learned the game didn’t stop me from being the first one out two nights in a row, earning me the nickname “First Out”. Hey, I have a high-risk style of playing, and Ken (who put me out both times, dick) made his hand every time. For these lapses in judgement I not only had to watch people who were still consulting cheat sheets with the rules stay in while I was out, but I became the Beer Bitch, forced to keep a continuous supply of alcohol flowing to all those other players still smart enough to be in the game.
It was actually a very even distribution of winnings. On five different nights of poker we had five different winners, three of them beginners. Ken, Katy and I all won once. Katy’s win was the most spectacular since she seemed to suddenly learn how to raise after four nights of being able to say nothing other than ‘check’ and became a huge bully at the table. Go Katy.
Some memorable moments from the trip:
- The dinner we had at the hotel with the venison steak and demi-glace sauce. My mouth still waters just thinking about it.
- Hitting a tree on the third day. That was a bit scary since I was going extremely fast. Thankfully I got the board out in front of me and there were some small branches to take most of the hit. Had a sore neck for days after though.
- Finding out that Darien is actually an international man of mystery, holding three different passports (US, Israeli, and French). I think his story about being an accountant is just a cover for his real job as super spy for the Mossad.
- Katy’s sleeping shorts with “Wet n’ Wild” printed across the ass. Sweet.
- Finding out that some else snores more than I do (thanks Ken)
- Losing every game I played to Katy on our day off. I lost consecutively at Sudoku (no surprise since it involves numbers), ping pong (what can I say, the girl has skills) and fooseball (that I’m still bitter about since the table was slanted and she had gravity on her side). Ruined my whole damn vacation. OK, I’m kidding. (I’m not really.)
- Getting mobbed by the fifteen year old boys when we walked into the Baum bar to go dancing one night. What a good idea. No one in the place but us, twelve teenage boys who were desperate to dance with someone without a penis, and an Austrian DJ who played “Greased Lightning” and some other gay crap from the seventies.
- Magriet was so desperate to go out and dance that night, she walked us into the first place we saw in Kaprun that said “dance” on the sign. She forgot to notice that it said “TABLE dance bar” on the sign and walked all twelve of us into a strip bar. Now I knew the Dutch were liberal… It took us almost a full five minutes to walk back out, during which time I asked Ken, “You know, the smallest bill in Euros is a fiver. Where do you think they put all the one Euro coins?”
- The fantastic venison steak dinner we had at the hotel. Still thinking about that.
On the whole, I would have to say that the mountains in the Rockies, in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming, were a bit bigger and much better laid out. But there’s just something fun about going outside your own country, and so far Austria wins the award for best food, hands down. I’d say it probably ties with Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for “Least Exciting Night Life” though. I’m hoping I’ll get to go on at least one more ski trip in Europe before we leave.