KUFSTEIN, AUSTRIA — Two hours up, twenty minutes back down.
We got our first taste when fellow-Bogenhausen pals Tim and Lana invited us with their crew to the rodeln slopes in Kufstein, Austria. A quiet, 1 1/2-hour train ride got us just over the Austrian border and deposited us in this sleepy mountain town. Tim and Lana lived here for years, so they led our motley crew of 10 chilly souls and one over-anxious dog up the icy roads to the foot of the mountain trail.
Now, winter hiking back at home is hardly a beloved sport, but here, the mild, windless weather and picturesque views make it a treat. So mild, in fact, that some stripped down to tshirts as a light snow fell through the trees and we made our way up the winding mountain trail. The going was a bit steep and heavy with a foot of snow growing as we made our way up, but Addie made double time, running from the front of the group to the last and then back up, making sure we were all trucking along.
Then the first Rodel came. Out of nowhere, three puffy balls of wool and wood came flying around an outside turn at breakneck speeds, giving us just enough time to dart out of the way and watch them shoot down the mountain, powder flying. Only then did we realize that this wasn’t just the way up, but the route for our way down as well.
Two hours later and the snow is piled up a couple meters deep on the trail edges, but salvation was in sight: the Berghaus — a tiny ski-lodge alm sitting on the top of the mountain. With big mouthfuls of Alpine air, we make it one by one and savor the the view for a second or two, then duck into the warmth.
Inside, we shed our wet layers and sit down to Bavarian sausages and goulashes and rounds of biers — glorified pub food that never tasted so good.
As the late afternoon gloom starts to roll in, the owner of the Alm brings us a round of Schnapps — bravery juice — and then goes to prepare our sleds. Time for the big payoff. Slowly we slump on our half-dried layers and work our way back out into the noticeably colder air. With a belly full of lunch and Schnapps, it’s much easier to appreciate the breathtaking views of the mountains beyond.
We each grab our sleds from the red-bearded Alm owner and try to follow along with the instructions in his thick Austrian accent. Suited up, we take one last standing glimpse and then shove off — 5km of white snow before us.
It takes roughly a quarter of the mountain to get the hang of steering these things — basic wooden sleds with two rails and a seat. It’s mostly all in the legs and even a full stop is barely enough to slow you around the hairpin turns, thick wood and rocks looking up from 30 meters below.
Addie is having a ball — after a laboriously slow hike up, she’s following us at full speed on the way down. The backdrop is surreal — the last of the daylight shining through the pines, waltz music floating up from the little town below and flashes of the Medieval castle along every turn. Fun doesn’t begin to describe it.
Fifteen minutes later, we come flying into the last flat and crawl to a stop and catch our breath. Quite simply, we have to do this again.