Chris Johnston is an FX Trader with a passion for travelling. Having previously written a four-part trader travelogue on his journey through Vietnam, Chris is back with a tale from skiing in Solden, Austria.
It's nice walking through a crowded airport - past all the people laid out on chairs, families searching for the right number of seats, people huddled round the charging station - to make your way straight to the airport lounge.
It's not necessarily the complimentary champagne or hot food that makes the lounge the ideal place to wait for your flight. You walk in and it feels immediately less hectic, less rushed, more relaxed. You're able to locate a nice spot by the window, order some drinks, grab some food and crack open the laptop without the hassle of trying to find a spot with a power outlet. And this was exactly what I did.
I was traveling to Sölden in Austria for a week’s skiing. It was late in the season (mid-March), and it's around this point where you should still have decent snow but also hope for some sunny weather.
Although 2017 had seen pretty poor snow throughout the alpine resorts, Sölden is listed amongst the highest slopes within Austria. With multiple peaks standing above 3,000m above sea level, there should be the snow around. And even if not, this resort is a "guaranteed snow" resort due to its hundreds of snow cannons located down the mountains if the climate doesn't produce it naturally.
Having touched down at the small Austrian airport of Innsbruck, we were greeted by a number of Crystal Ski reps to guide us to our transfer coach. When booking a skiing holiday in the past I have tended to arrange everything myself; flights, transfers, hotel, ski hire etc. separately. However my girlfriend and I thought it would make a nice change to have everything organised for us, and to be honest now that I've experienced it I don't think I'll be doing the organising it again myself any time soon.
Although packaged holidays could potentially limit you with location and hotels, our experience with Crystal Ski was one of smooth sailing and fortunately for us location and hotel weren't an issue.
We stayed at a 4* hotel located in the south of Sölden town, conveniently located a couple minutes walk from one of the two ski lifts up into the mountains (the Gaislachkogl lift, which was still unsuccessfully pronounced at the end of the week), which you could also ski right down to at the end of the day.
The hotel itself was very nice, with the reception and bar area all wooden-cladded, making it feel like an Austrian mountain cabin. The facilities were just as good, the hotel boasted its own spa which turned out to be quite extensive, in size and the type of spa treatments offered.
This made coming back after seven hours skiing something you almost looked forward to, having a swim before relaxing in the sauna made it an easy way to wind down after a hard day on the slopes. The food was also another highlight. Every evening we were treated to a five-course menu with every dish delivered as if they were auditioning for the Netflix show Chef's Table. It was beautifully presented, creative and tasted great.
A swift ascent
The first morning of any ski holiday usually consists of getting up early, trudging down to the ski hire shop, waiting in line for the right gear and fittings, followed by another wait in line at the ski lift to get your ski pass for the week. Fortunately for us this wasn't part of the experience. Having had breakfast at the hotel, they put a call through to the hire shop who sent a mini van to come and collect us, dropped us off outside the shop, guided us to the pick up point, and within minutes we were walking back out again, skis and poles slung over our shoulders.
Another bonus was that the shop was right by the brand new Giggijoch lift which shot us up to around 2,200m in 10 minutes. From the time we left the hotel and were sweeping down the first run of the day was about half an hour, and considering a third of that was traveling in the lift, that's not bad timing for what is usually a lengthy affair on the first morning.
Having over 145km of pisted ski runs to choose from, a week didn't seem quite enough. Especially as there were other activities to choose from. For those looking to mix it up from the standard straight run slope, the mountain also provides various other fun features.
Smile, you're on camera!
A reasonably sized ski park for all abilities, several timed speed runs and, for those wanting to settle a bet, there is a dual slalom course which is timed and filmed, giving no excuses to the loser. By scanning your ski pass at the start of these runs, it records the action which can be accessed online to view later (and downloaded for free), or you can view yourself in action five minutes after the event on one of the many TVs dotted across the mountain's bars and restaurants.
As well as the timed runs, there were also three cameras located at the best viewing spots at the top of the mountains. These were called the BIG3, conveniently named as they were placed on top of three mountains all higher than 3,000m above sea level, something unique to Sölden within the range of Austrian resorts. On top of Gaislachkogl (3,058 m), Tiefenbachkogl (3,250 m) and Schwarze Schneide (3,340 m), you could swipe your ski pass, smile in the stated direction (or at least smile underneath your goggles and buff) and a camera from afar would take a photo of you with an impressive background.
It's not for those afraid of heights though, as at the Tiefenbachkogl photo point you had to walk out onto a narrow platform leading out over a sheer drop to get that memorable shot. But afterwards, you've guessed it, you could access it online, ready to download. These little extras added a good variety and interest to the slopes, something I haven't really come across before.
Skiing through a long tunnel in itself would be a strange experience, but doing so at around 3,000m to gain access to the Tiefenbach Glacier was something else. Emerging form the dark tunnel, temporarily blinded by the bright sunshine, the view that hits is stunning. Made even better by the fact that I knew I was about to ski on snow that made me feel like I was gliding effortlessly. The best conditions, of course, could be found first thing in the morning, before the sun had time to soften the snow and before all those snowboarders tore it up...
You can take the trader out of the city, but...
Despite the early morning starts to catch the good snow and empty slopes, full on days of attacking the mountain along with all the eating and drinking in between, I did find time to open the laptop and get some trading done. Although the wifi in the hotel was average, fortunately I didn't need to use it for lengthy periods. I trade a simple breakout system which requires around 15 minutes of my time every morning around 6/6:30am.
As Austria is one hour ahead of the UK, I was getting up at 7am, making a note of the price movements of the previous day on the currencies I track and then placing my orders, which I can then forget about whilst I go off skiing for the day. By doing this I was able to be at the lift for the 8am open. I would be carving my way down the first run by quarter past, fresh pistes and nobody about. My kind of routine!
A ski holiday isn't really a ski holiday without some good mountain eating and drinking, and in Solden you are spoilt for choice when it comes to venues. One which needs to be booked in advance and is more of a sophisticated establishment rather than a ski mountain boozer was the IceQ restaurant, a glass building built at the very top of Gaislachkogl (3,058 m).
This, as well as many other areas around Solden, feature in the James Bond movie Spectre, and there are many references to the film across the resort. However, to have a slightly cheaper and less ‘high class’ lunch on the slopes ,you could ski into one of the many Austrian wooden huts dotted across the mountains.
These served all the carb-heavy options one would expect on a mountain, but it was the local dish of Tiroler Gröstl that won us over most days. A traditional dish from the Tiroler region (which Sölden is located within) is a delicious hot pan of potato, bacon and onion with an egg on top. A perfect and satisfying meal that saw us through the rest of the day. Although we did find this little shack half way down one of the runs which did amazing huge burgers cooked on a BBQ to the side of the run.
There are a fair few places to stop at the end of the day just before the lifts close for a swift pint or two...three.... but the most popular one is called Philipp. Not only was it a lively bar but it was also conveniently located, just above the main high street of Sölden. With its own cable car from the bar down to the street, it's one for those who maybe had one or two too many over lunch and preferred to skip skiing the rest of the way down the mountain. Once back in the main town, everyone just piles into the Fire & Ice bar across the road, continuing the bar crawl, ski boots and all.
There is the opportunity, once a week on Wednesday, to have a go at night skiing or watch a ski show put on by the ski instructors. Having done night skiing in the past, we opted for the ski show instead and we weren't disappointed in our choice. At roughly 2,000m up the mountain at the Gaislachkogl Middle Station in the open cold air, a DJ hypes up the crowd and acts throw around fire sticks before the main show.
Holding a refreshing beer or hot Gluvine, you look up the mountain and see the teams of precision skiers expertly make their way down the steep run in the pitch black with various LED's flashing on their bodies, all in perfect unison. The best of which were skiers who came down the slope with the so-called 'pyro backpack', essentially fireworks shooting up into the air from their backpacks as they ski down - which is as insane as it sounds!
Although we didn’t manage to ski the entirety of the resort's 145km of slopes, getting around was a breeze. With a combination of quiet slopes due to the later time in the season and the upgraded fast modern lift systems, you could ski down to a lift, keeping your momentum, scan your pass, sliding through the barriers with no queue at all, shuffle onto the chair lifts to be back down at that point again within 10/15 minutes after blitzing down the run.
Needless to say we were doing our favourite runs more than a few times and by the end of the week (even with the spa at the hotel) we were truly knackered. Having only one day of poor-ish weather, going towards the end of the season in March turned out to be a great choice. We had the best of the weather, great snow conditions and the slopes to ourselves.
This was my first time skiing in Austria and I will definitely look to come back and explore more of this part of the Alps. There were signs of the summer activities with wooden ramps and well-used paths amongst the woods for downhill biking. So maybe I won’t wait until the next season to come back and visit...
For more information about skiing in Sölden, head to soelden.com