Prelude: Scenes from an Italian(-Swiss) Restaurant
Jackson and Nick are in Biasca, Switzerland, about to devour a $20 bowl of spaghetti which has as its sauce only olive oil and salt. Christmas pop songs are playing over the radio, and the conversation turns to Christmas.
Jackson: ‘what’s that really famous Christmas song, I think by Christina Aguilera?’
Nick: ‘You mean Mariah Carey? Yeah, I know the song, but I can’t actually remember how it goes’
Ten minutes later, bloated from the oily spaghetti, there is silence between us. Suddenly, at moderate volume in an empty restaurant:
‘All I want for Christmas is you’, Nick blurts out.
‘I mean, that’s the name of the song. I don’t specifically want you for Christmas, Jackson’
‘Well, it’s good that that’s cleared up now’.
The Actual Blog Post
It’s now bright and sunny in the Allgäu, with a thick blanket of snow over everything in sight. Let’s backtrack ten days…
I returned from Hochfilzen back to the warm, sunny Allgäu region of Germany, where I am calling home for the next year. Of course, there was again no snow in the valley, and serious concerns were being raised about whether the World Cup races planned in Oberstdorf for New Year would even happen. Not to be defeated by uncooperative weather, a group of athletes took the cable car up to the Fellhorn ski area at 1700m, and skied on the yet-to-be opened downhill runs. What looked like a relatively easy run with some flat bits turned out to be a brutal uphill, and I had to save energy for the final 200m stretch up to the cable car station. I also found out that the Swiss Cup races were going to be held no matter what, due to the presence of a reserve race course higher up the valley. I was good to go!
Well, good to go except for the pagan festival of overeating that we know as Christmas. Despite my actual family being 16209km away, I managed to find a family with which to celebrate celebrate, namely that of my housemate Martin, so I travelled to a town called Landshut, north of Munich. There we ate cake and drank sparkling wine shortly after breakfast, went out for a buffet lunch to celebrate the birthday of Martin’s mum, then after a brief rest to digest our food we opened presents and stuffed our faces with German Christmas sweets, and then went to bed suffering from sugar overload.
Early the next morning I was off, on a drive taking me through three countries and three languages. I headed to near Davos, Switzerland to pick up Jackson, another Australian skier and my partner in adventure, and then we headed off to Olivone, a town in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, called Ticino. The main thing that identifies them as Italian is that it’s very difficult to do any shopping, because everything is closed most of the time, thus you feel like you’re in Italy. Our first attempt at shopping saw us visit every supermarket in Biasca, to find them all closed and no notice on the door explaining when they would re-open. To be fair it was the 25th of December, so we resolved to return the next day. To top off the Italian experience, we found an outrageously narrow street that even Bernie the Bora was barely able to fit through, and found ourselves driving on the footpath when we couldn’t get out of an empty carpark. Believe me, it’s possible.
We eventually made it to our hotel, and when we announced our arrival, someone from the hotel nodded at us, and then disappeared. So we waited. And waited. 20 minutes later, we were asked for our passports by a man who then disappeared, not resurfacing for another 10 minutes. After much waiting, we were introduced to our room, with its retro styling, 1980s TV and smell of damp that we couldn’t get rid of.
The next morning it was up to the race tracks, normally at a place called Campra, which is basically a restaurant, accommodation block and cross-country stadium. Despite its normally reliable snow, there was very little there, so we went and asked a man who explained to us in Italian where the race course actually was. It’s important to note here that I don’t actually speak or really understand Italian, despite pretending otherwise, so after lots of nodding and trying really hard to work out what he was saying, we headed further up the valley to the racecourse.
The course was actually very difficult to find, as it involved a 10 minute ski down to the bottom of the valley, over a creek, through a forest, and up a little goat track. Given the remoteness there was no way this could be the location for a national level race, but sure enough after rounding the top of a hill we found a large alpine meadow, plus our racecourse! It was the perfect alpine scene, apart from the crackle of high-voltage powerlines. Such are the consequences of industrialisation in the world’s most beautiful places.
Our training session was successful, if a little tough in the thin air of 1900m elevation, and we found a restaurant down in the valley, which had no menu, where we had the best gnocchi you could imagine. Sure, it was accompanied by Swiss prices, but the taste was so good we could imagine we were Rob Brydon and Steeve Coogan, in our very own Trip to Swiss-Italy. The Michael Cain impressions were even given a go.
By far the most memorable thing from what was a fantastic day was our run up near a nearby dam. We parked the car where the road was first blocked by avalanches, then ran through a tunnel in the dam wall, then up towards a James Bond-style bunker at the end of the valley. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
The day before the race went for the most part pretty smoothly. We were finally able to buy food in the supermarket, and were so hungry we sat in the underground carpark in the car, eating tuna out of the can and using the can lids as shovels. Lucky no one saw us and we weren’t wearing anything Australian. We also managed to test our skis to see what wax would work, and we rocked up to the team captain’s meeting as our own coaches, only to discover we weren’t actually registered for the race, thanks to a lost email. Several frantic minutes of pleading with them in German got us entered for the race, and then I listened to the technical delegate talk in Swiss-German, and didn’t understand a word.
The race didn’t happen. This was where the paradise of the previous two days was lost to me, as I woke up in the morning feeling a bit below-par, and by midday I had a raging fever. This meant I had spent hundreds of Euros, driven many hours, and put in a lot of effort, for the privilege of not racing. Such are the challenges of this sport, and I was furious that once again I would have to wait before I do a race I can be proud of.
This is where paradise was found again, namely the Alps with fresh snow. Nothing quite compares to it. We picked up Phil Bellingham near Davos, then made our way back home to Germany, where for about four days it snowed like hell and left us with perfect winter scenes.
New Year’s came around, the clouds cleared, and we saw the whole valley lit up with fireworks and surrounded by snow-blanketed mountains and trees. It was also accompanied by some truly amazing skis, including what Jackson described as the ‘best ski he’d ever done, excluding adventure skis’. I am pretty close to agreeing with him.
Happy New Year!