How can a week go so fast? In fact how can two months go so fast? It feels like I have only been away from sunny New Zealand a week or two and my trip is already coming to a close! Its my last week in Fulpmes and I am determined to make the most of the snow that I will miss dearly for the next 4-5 months until New Zealand ski fields open. Monday through to Wednesday were not the best days weather wise in the valley, however with the low cloud came a few light dustings of snow. This welcomed snow was just enough to continue the great tree skiing at Schlick-2000, however visibility on-trail was affected and the snow wasn't heavy enough to fill in the tracked out off piste areas that are sans trees and more open. Despite this I wasn't complaining, like a kitten to milk I was lapping up my final days of getting to ski between trees in Austria, whilst the crowds and powder junkies sat at home.
Wednesday afternoon and Thursday saw the weather become more humid with temperatures of 10 degrees in the day bringing very unwanted rain. The talk of the Stubai Valley was the locals despairing as their precious snow melted away putting both their businesses and play at risk. With my determination to ski everyday of my last week and having the advantage of my Freizeit Card I convinced the crew from the chalet that we should we take an outing to nearby resort Axamer Lizum. Axamer Lizum was the host resort of the Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976. With a high altitude of 1540 to 2340 meters as well as snow machines Axamer Lizum guarantees snow cover from November through to April. The resort offers a large 40km of groomed trails and a snow park as well as having many accessible off piste areas for those free riders at heart.
Its late morning, after having to prepare the chalet in the morning for the new guests we finally pull up at Axamer Lizum in Doug's oversized bright blue Ford courier van. Not attracting attention would be impossible even if we tried. Especially with Joel the Aussey rocking a white ‘Durex' racing jacket and perfectly dome shaped child's ski racing helmet, which he claimed to be wearing only so he could put a go-pro on top (I secretly think he liked it). I could not contain my laughter and regularly burst into fits of giggles as I saw him on the slopes throughout the afternoon, maybe he was upset he missed our retro day last week an thought he would do his own? A quick walk up to the base area and we board the tram to the top of the Lizum side of the resort. Hang on, a tram? This is my first experience travelling thousands of meters up the side of a mountain in a tram, it's a foreign feeling but I can imagine it would be a much nicer way of travelling to great heights in a snowstorm than on a chair lift.
The view at the top of the Lizum tram is yet again another amazing one; I will never get sick of these Austrian mountain top views! After a few mandatory photo's we are clipped and strapped into our bindings and off down the slopes. The snow on the northeast facing slopes had been sun affected leaving a thin layer of crust on top of the softer snow underneath making it tricky to ski, but after a few runs we had sorted out where the ideal places to spend our afternoon were. Our favorite run of the day was traversing far out to skiers right of the Pleisen chairlift to an area of untracked snow that was still in decent condition despite the warmer weather, not to mention no one else out there to spoil the serenity of our precious find. Another stunning moment out there was when the clouds parted and gave us a perfect panorama of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains, not a bad view to ski above!
Come the end of the afternoon we are tiring after our many pitiful but hilarious attempts to reenact moves from our favorite ski and board films. Who called last run? Oh dear someone did, this is going to be bad. Doug's down after attempting to be an Olympic mogul skier on his snowboard, Joel's taken a hip jump to the bottom of the landing, and I, well I possibly just had the biggest crash off my 2012/13 season. Coming over small ridge I could see the snow covering at the top of the wide chute wasn't so ideal, failing to pick my way through the salt and pepper accurately I lost a ski and found myself in a world of whiteness and flips coming to a stop 30 meters below my ski, great! A quick body check, everything feels intact, awesome no broken bones that's a first for me, just a bit of a headache probably a slight concussion. To my luck Joel appears above me, narrowly missing falling off the small cliff perched at the top of the slope and hears me yelling for him to get me ski. Unluckily for him by the time he stops he has a 5-meter hike up to get it, thanks Joel. Who the hell called last run? With bodies still intact and a thumping headache we finally make it back to the bottom of the resort and head straight to the après ski bar. Here we find Doug already with gluhwein in hand and a bunch of Russian tourists getting way too into ‘Gangman Style' booming over the speakers. A few glasses of gluhwein down we decide its time to head into Axams to have a soak at freizeitzentrum Axams, a pool and spa complex also included on our Freizeit Card. Muscles soaked, tummies full, it's a good end to a fun day out, now to return to Fulpmes and make sure that the guests are behaving themselves in our un-manned chalet.
My last day in Fulpmes starts with the dreaded packing of my room, why do I have so much stuff? The snow at Schlick-2000 is in poor condition now having had yet another day of warm weather and some rain. I do a few quick laps on piste, have a drink with my favorite bar tender, and head back down to meet my paragliding instructor. What better way to say goodbye to a place than to run off the mountain above it and fly down over it? I have never been paragliding before so my inner adrenaline junkie is jumping up and down shaking pom poms with excitement. We jump off at the top of Elfer ski resort above the village of Neustift, taking in views up and down the Stubai Valley as we circle our way to the white ground below. Looking back at my go-pro footage all you can here is me yelling at my pilot to ‘do something crazy', again my inside adrenalin junkie doing her thing. To my delight he obeyed and I was taken on a journey of many spirals, dips, and dives sending the blood straight to my feet and air to my head, it was wicked! A night out at Neustift's famous Dorf Pub that has become my local joint during my stay here tops off my last day nicely. The next day was not so nice; a deadly hangover (those Lithuanians lied when they said their Lithuanian alcohol was used as medicine and doesn't give you a hangover!) combined with having to leave my friends, Fulpmes, and Austria. I make my last journey on the ‘ST' bus to Innsbruck and regretfully board my train to Munich where I will spend my last night in Europe with Lockie Scott one of my oldest New Zealand ski buddies.
I recover just in time from my last night in Fulpmes so as not to disappoint my hosts in Munich wanting to show me a good time and some Munich night life must do's. I can now tick the "been there done that" box of successfully riding the Munich underground train system S-Bahn, drinking a stein (1 L glass) at Hofbraeuhaus (the most famous traditional beer house in Munich), eaten a happy meal in Munich Macca's, and danced the night away in the very alternative ‘Atomic Coffee' night club. Before my flight left I managed to fit in a tiny 2 hours at ISPO, a four day trade show event that boasts more than 2,400 exhibitors presenting the latest trends from the Outdoor, Ski, Action and Performance Sports segments to the 81,000 visitors from 109 countries. As you can imagine 2 hours in this place barely got in me the door and through 2 massive ski expo halls let alone a look at everything. The scale of this event, products and new technology, time and effort that goes into this event by each exhibitor is amazing! Its time to leave, but my trip wouldn't be complete without first losing my iPhone in my last hour in Europe at ISPO and spending 40 minutes in a German polizei station at the airport filling out foreign forms, oh the joys! With that small setback sorted I make it to my plane, and hold back the tears knowing it will be a minimum of one year till I can make it back to this amazing place.
I am sitting at the kitchen table of my parent's farmhouse in the hills of Taihape, New Zealand; looking out onto brown dry hills dotted with sheep, clear blue skies and the shimmer of 30-degree heat. As I sit here it feels almost like a dream, was I really in Austria four days ago? The total two months of my trip through Europe including a month living in Fulpmes Austria has gone way too fast! I have had some of the best skiing in my life. Had the opportunity to live and work in the radest chalet ever with a bunch of awesome people! A lot of gluhwein and other alcoholic beverages have been consumed. I have eaten waaaay to many carbs, chocolate and cheese stacking on a few kg's (for body warmth of course). I survived a Contiki and Hahnenkamm race weekend, sledged, paraglided, swam naked at European spas, spent a lot of time in the hot tub & sauna, played many board & card games, admired many beautiful views of mountains, skied skied skied skied skied skied, made so many memories and met so many amazing people! Yesterday I opened a savings account called ‘Europe' and am already counting down the days till my return. For now its back to the real world of hard work for me starting a job as a Registered Nurse at Waikato Hospital tomorrow, and counting down the days until the mighty Mt Ruapehu bears its magnificent skiable white cloak.
Thank you to everyone who made my time in Europe so enjoyable, especially the group of Fulpmes locals who made me feel so welcome! Big thanks to my sponsors; Snowco & SnowTV, Incline NZ, aGoat, and my Mum and Dad for all their support.
Wishing my fellow freeriders all the best for the rest of their time skiing and competing in Europe and America, we will be backing you from the sunny side of the world! Keep safe and I will catch you all in a few months on the slopes here in the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa.