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LET’S GO TO THE CIRCUS

Our chief reporter has just spent a few days in the Skicircus ski area of Austria. Here’s her story, as it happened.

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I’ve only got a couple of days so it’s going to be a task and a half to see all of what this vast ski area has got to offer.

It used to be plain old Saalbach-Hinterglemm.

The two villages in the Glemm valley have shared a ski area since the Second World War.

Then came Leogang, which is in the next valley heading towards Salzburg.

Finally, in the 2015-16 season, Fieberbrunn joined the party.

So the ski area now straddles two Austrian provinces – Salzburgerland and the Tirol.

Skicircus

Skicircus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Skicircus – with around 270km of pistes – is the second largest lift-linked ski area in Austria after Ski Arlberg, which includes St Anton and Lech among other resorts.

ARRIVAL & DAY ONE ON THE MOUNTAIN
I hear there’s some decent off-piste here in the Skicircus and I’m keen to sample it.

But as I arrive at my base in Saalbach on Sunday evening and head out for a stroll at 6pm it’s still 9 degrees Celsius.

Saalbach

Saalbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach

Saalbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach

Saalbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least it’s not 20 degrees which I’m told it was earlier in the day.

I am also told the temperatures are due to drop and snow is coming overnight.

While this part of Austria had some massive dumps back in January and February, there’s not been huge amount to get excited about since.

On Monday morning I wake up to this:

Saalbach, Austria

A few freshies in Saalbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few centimetres, maybe?

I’m still not that excited.

But Saalbach village is at an altitude of 1,000 metres and the skiing goes up to 2,000 metres.

So you never know.

It turns out that my guide for the day is keen to go on the hunt for some powder turns too.

If anyone knows where to go surely ski instructor Erik van den Berg will.

“I’ve only caused one avalanche,” is one of the first things he says to me.

Well, that’s OK then.

It’s soon clear he does know where to go.

Erik van den Berg, ski instructor

Erik van den Berg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We find powder and we don’t have to go anywhere it’s possible for him to cause an avalanche.

Jane Peel in Saalbach Hinterglemm

I’m in the powder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a fabulous morning, in pretty good snow.

Really good snow for mid-March.

 

It turns out Erik doesn’t know this place as well as I thought.

In the video I talk about being on the Spielberg mountain because that’s what Erik tells me.

“Yes, like Steven Spielberg,” he assures me.

If you know the place, you’ll wonder where on earth I’m talking about.

Turns out it’s actually the Spieleckkogel.

“I’m not very good with names,” says Erik when I point to it on a piste map during our lunch stop.

“That’s OK Ernie. Me neither”.

Did I mention lunch?

Well, I know the Austrians love their après ski entertainment but this is lunchtime at the Walleggalm mountain hut….

 

It’s part of the entertainment laid on for White Pearl Mountain Days – a spring festival of “cool sounds, international cuisine, a health and fitness programme, as well as your own sun lounger”.

It’s running for the rest of March at mountain huts and village bars across the  Skicircus.

The music is relentless and so are the two ‘white pearls’, who stop for a nanosecond to pose for a photo.

Saalbach Hinterglemm

Mountain White Pearls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching all that exercise has worn me out.

After lunch I continue to struggle off-piste on my Rossignol Hero piste skis.

But, never fear, Erik/Ernie is on hand with a camera as I – erm –  lie down for a rest.

Down in powder

Having a rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He laughs a lot but, to be fair, I’m giving him a lot to laugh about today.

When he yells up the slope telling me to go between two small but intimately close trees, I think he wants to take a photo of me.

So I go and pose.

But he means I should ski through them.

I am now sideways-on and stuck.

 

“It’s your fault,” I say, trying not to laugh myself.

“Yes, I’m obviously in control of your skis,” he says.

“Well you must be because I most certainly am not!”

He’s enjoying this.

I sense that I’m the clown in this Skicircus.

But then the clouds begin to part, the sun comes out and I’m having a lot of fun.

In Saalbach Hinterglemm

The sun’s out & I’m smiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I can finally see the glorious mountain views.
Saalbach Hinterglemm

Powder & views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach Hinterglemm

Powder & views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach Hinterglemm

Powder & views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach Hinterglemm

Powder & views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erik/Ernie suggests we head up to his favourite off-piste route for a last run of the day.

“The only thing is you’ll up to walk up a bit to get there,” he says.

“It’ll take about 20 minutes.”

Nope.

I fear an hour-long hike and more embarassing photos.

I’ll just ski down that nice gentle blue run which will take me almost to my doorstep.

Blue run 46 to Saalbach

I’m going that way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue run 46 to Saalbach

Blue all the way down (& up)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saalbach

Nearly home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit later my phone pings with a message.

“Don’t want to make you jealous… but that was the best run this season Laughing

By this stage I’ve changed my skis for some nice powder ones, so I’m pretty sure Erik/Ernie will take me on the hardest, fastest, steepest pistes he can find tomorrow.

And I’ll be saying “It’s your fault” quite a lot.

We’ll see what the ringmaster has in store for the clown on day two.

Skicircus

Skicircus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY TWO ON THE MOUNTAIN
So, the good news is I have changed my skis and now have a decent pair for tackling the off piste.
Skiing in Saalbach

New day, new skis

The bad news is that my guide, ski instructor Erik (aka Ernie or the man whose fault it always is), has also changed his skis.
They are not built for powder.
They’re also about 20cm shorter than he is.
Erik van den Berg

Erik and his little skis

I suggest he can maybe get some longer ones when his skiing is up to it.
“They didn’t have any my size,” says the almost-two-metre-tall Dutchman.
We head off in search of powder all the same. 

There’s been only a dusting of snow overnight and it’s turned a little warmer.

Even so, it’s not bad at all and we manage to find some fresh tracks.
Skiing in Saalbach Hinterglemm

Not bad at all

….
My new skis certainly work.
I manage to stay on my feet.
Well, most of the time.
In the powder

Can’t blame the skis this time

I want to see a bit more of the Skicircus.
So after concentrating on Saalbach-Hinterglemm on day one, we’re off to Leogang.
We move back onto the pistes for a while as Erik says there are some fabulous blue runs here.
Erik van den Berg & Jane Peel

Yours truly with Erik

He’s not wrong.
Wide, fast with lots of trees.
We head down….
Leogang, Austria

Skiing down to Leogang

And we head up again so we can take another route down…
Our lunch stop today will be at a hut near the bottom of another fabulous blue run – piste 68 down to Viehhofen.
There’s just the one route down to the village and it’s a free bus ride back towards Saalbach.
And it’s practically deserted.
I highly recommend it.
For the view from the terrace of our pitstop, the Hecherhütte…
Hecherhutte

View from the terrace

And for the Tirolergröstel – a true Austrian mountain dish…
Tirolergröstel

Tirolergröstel

Appetites well and truly sated, we carry on down to the valley.
We’re now below 1,000 metres altitude and the snow is holding up well.

Only when we’re almost at village level – 856 metres – does the landscape shown any signs that we’re in the second half of March.
Viehhofen, Austria

Viehhofen

After some more skiing (uneventful – nothing to report), and back in Saalbach, Erik and I pay a visit to the local ski museum.
It’s in a building that dates from 1698 and it opened in 1995.
Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

I can never resist a bit of ski memorabilia and this museum has got to be one of the best I’ve seen.
There are apparently 300 exhibits.
I can’t say I counted but there’s an awful lot of stuff.
They’ve got some skis here that are definitely long enough for Erik. 
Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum

Saalbach ski museum








It’s nice to end the day with a bit of culture.
So what’s on the agenda for day three?
“Extreme snowshoeing,” Erik tells me.
Who ever knew there was such a thing?

FINAL DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN

Extreme snowshoeing.

It really is a thing.

I should know by now that Erik doesn’t do anything by halves.

We are not going on a nice groomed track.

We are not going on a gently undulating off-piste hike.

We are going extreme snowshoeing.

It involves taking the Kolmaiskopf gondola from Saalbach up to 1,794 metres altitude then climbing through the deeply forested peaks and along a ridge in virgin powder snow.

Extreme snowshoeing

Extreme snowshoeing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are lots of ups and downs.

The ups are not the problem.

Extreme snowshoeing

Going up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the downs I can’t get the knack of.

“Always keep your nose in front of your toes,” Erik tells me.

Extreme snowshoeing

Erik leading the way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am,” I moan.

No. I’m not.

Extreme snowshoeing

Woman down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme snowshoeing

Woman down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme snowshoeing

Woman down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatively, I could simply sit down and do my impression of a human avalanche.

Extreme snowshoeing

Human avalanche

View

Wow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View

Wow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We could be miles from civilisation.

It’s clear no-one except for the odd animal has been here before us since the last snowfall.

It’s worth the effort.

 

At one stage we are forced to retrace our steps.

There’s a two metre drop on both sides of the ridge.

On the way down we take another diversion to avoid the steepest downhill.

Erik sensibly decides it’s the best course of action.

Then – about 3 hours in – we’re on an easy path, hiking past the signs for the summer walking and mountain bike trails that are still almost completely buried.

Signs

Signs just visible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch is at a remote mountain hut.

Mountain hut

Lunch spot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch

Spinach dumplings for lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erik van den Berg

Erik catching some rays over lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And because it’s Erik, we are not going to take a conventional route down the track back to Saalbach.

We are going to toboggan it.

Tobogganing

Tobogganing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I doubt I’ve ever spent quite so much time sliding down a mountain on my bottom – one way or another – as I have today.

 

An exhilarating way to end my trip to the Skicircus.

It’s just as well it’s done.

Frankly, I’m not sure my body could cope with another day in the company of Erik.

INFO
Click here for more information about Ski Circus Saalbach-Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn.

And here for more about skiing in Austria.

For the Spirit of the Mountains – PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news
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