I’m just back from a week in Austria after a long time away and wondering why I left it so long! Nowhere else in the world offers quite the same experience – on or off the slopes. Maybe it’s because skiing is Austria’s national sport, maybe it’s because après ski is their unofficial national sport (!) or it could be the luxury of heated chairlifts, modern gondolas and nifty gadgets…
A good few years back I spent some time working in a small Austrian resort in the Ski Circus – where the linking lifts to Saalbach were mainly slow T-Bars operated by the farmers who owned the land. Many a time I had to make a call to the local taxi driver to get me home after finding that farmer Joe had packed up early!! But even then there were signs of innovation – it was one of the first areas to introduce the hands free keycard system for lift tickets, and most mountain restaurants provided hairdryers and glove and boot warmers. Something that’s yet to catch on in the rest of the world – why?!!
Fast forward 10 years: The mountain is just as good as I remember it, but what a transformation in the lift system! Escalators take you up to the gondola station, where LCD screens relay weather information and the latest news… and in place of the rickety old T-Bars there are high speed 4, 6 and 8 pax chairlifts, most with bubble covers for adverse weather and many with heated seats! SWEET!
As we made our way across the mountain in the direction of Saalbach it was clear that a lot of money has been spent. Snow canons cover all the main slopes and every chair is of the modern high speed variety. It used to take 2 hours to ski from Leogang to Saalbach, this time it took us 45 minutes! When you get to Saalbach it’s a short walk through the village to get to the Schattberg Gondola – this is now aided by an elevator at one end and an escalator at the other. The Schattberg gondola even has free wifi! Beaver Creek eat your heart out!
The technology doesn’t stop there: the resort has teamed up with a website www.skiline.cc – a sort of social networking site for skiers. You enter the number from your skipass onto the website and it tells you where you’ve been, the vertical elevation you have achieved and the number of kilometers skied. There are even a couple of runs where you can make your own ski movie: When you pass through a turnstile at the top of the ‘ski movie’ run your lift ticket triggers an HD camera to follow you down and film your descent. You can then log into your free Skiline account and download your movie to Facebook or email it to friends! I can report that this technology is not limited to the Ski Circus and you can track your skiing in most Austrian and some Swiss resorts too. We’ve come a long way since wooden skis and rope tows!