A snowshoe tour in Austria turns out to be more than just an easy walk through the woods

Just a walk in the woods. That’s what I thought when I signed up for a snowshoe tour — they call it “snow walking” here in Austria.

Solden, Austria

It is our last day in Solden, one of Austria’s leading ski resorts and equally appealing in summer when you can hike from mountain hut to mountain hut. My daughter Melanie—this ski trip to Austria in 2009 was our last mom-daughter trip before she headed off to college—went off with a young guide to ski “off piste” — into areas of the mountain that are considered out of bounds where you must have a guide with you to be safe.

I decided I wanted to see what else this tiny resort village has to offer so I decided to go on a walk in the woods with engaging ski pro Alois Gstrein, who was raised here on a farm and has lived here all his life, now with his wife and baby. His entire family – parents, two brothers, two sisters — all live here.

I was thinking about that Snow Walk the other night when Mel called from college (she goes to Colorado College in Colorado Springs) to report giddily that she’d spent the weekend on a back-country skiing trip that “was harder than anything I’ve done on skis,” and that is saying a lot from my daughter, who competed in freestyle events all through high school.

I thought that walk was one of the toughest things I’d ever tried in the snow. We parked the car and headed up the mountain — and up and up and up –about 5 KM straight up what’s called the Old Mountain Trek through the woods, crossing a few ski runs, until finally, three hours later we came to Sonneck, one of the many “huts” here that serve lunch. I was so glad to sit down and rest my bad knee!

I’ve snow shoed many times—and we’ve got a snowshoe day planned later this month in Aspen to Pine Creek Cook House. It’s fun to take your time and enjoy the scenery, look for animal tracks and get a good work out. You don’t have to pay for a lift ticket either.

But I’d never worked so hard as that day in Austria. The snow in some places was more than a meter deep. We passed a 200 year-old wooden farm house uninhabited in winter. In summer, the animals live below and the farmers above, Gstrein explained, pointing out huts in the distance on the mountain slopes where you can hike in summer and get a meal, spend the night.

What a great way to introduce kids to a new culture, I think. It is so beautiful — so different from U.S. suburbs — with the wooden chalets and huts on the mountain side. The food is different, but kids will like it (especially the fries and Austrian’s version of mac and cheese).

I met up with Melanie and her guide at lunch. Unlike in the U.S., the guides go off to have their own lunch while we relax. “No need to rush,” they insisted.

The snow reminded me of marshmallow fluff. It was so quiet in the woods! I’d love to go back in summer when these mountains are covered with wildflowers instead of snow.

Melanie and Eileen atop the Alps

Others come to combine some fun in the snow with some culture. I meet John Moat, who with his wife Christina Hart and 9 year-old daughter Katie Moat had come from Toronto for just that reason and planned to go on to Prague.. “They get a week of skiing and I get a week of the city,” she joked. She raved about the food at the Hotel Regina, where we all were staying and ate breakfast as well as dinner — more economically than at many U.S. ski condos, not to mention without the work a stay at a U.S. ski condo might involve.

We helped ourselves from the bountiful buffet in the morning and salad bar at dinner that included salads as well as cheeses. We tried everything (must be the all that exercise!) — creamy soups fresh trout, chicken, and of course the deserts — this is Austria after all.

There were families from Italy, from Great Britain, from Austria and Germany speaking a gaggle of languages. That’s why coming here winter or summer is more than about the snow or the hikes. It’s about introducing kids to a different culture and way of life.

Melanie skied off piste all day in untracked snow while I challenged myself in a different way.

At the end of the day, she was very happy with her goggle tan. I was happy just to sit down. In a few weeks, she told us last night, she’s heading off on an even more challenging back country trip.

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