Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday in Soelden

Carol Writes: It is Monday in Soelden, and we now remember why we should have headed farther down the Oetztal (valley of the Oetz River) to HochGurgl and OberGurgl yesterday. How is it that we could forget the Sunday crowds here in Soelden and how much better the skiing is to the south? Not to mention the lunch possibilities, which have improved since our last visit to this valley, original home to Oetzi, the early Stone Age mummified man who was discovered in 1991.

Oetzi was literally stumbled on during the late summer glacial melt by a pair of hikers who strayed from the recommended route. Thinking that they’d found a more contemporary loss, they hot-footed it back to Soelden to bring officials to examine the remains. The body was preserved remarkably well and what protruded from the melting glacial surface appearing to be much more modern than the 5,000 year-old corpse they’d found. The ensuing hubbub about Oetzi’s actual location when discovered was complicated by the fact that some time passed between the time the hiking couple had alerted authorities and the date that the location was specificially identified by border officials.

In addition, it appeared that the Italian border was the top of a vertical face, inaccessible from Italy, even by helicopter, as landing would involve Austrian territory. The ensuing argument between Austria and Italy was solved when Italy paid an undisclosed sum to Austria for the rights to the body following scientific examination (which happened in Austria) with the result that Oetzi now resides (as well as a 5K year-old can be said to reside) in Bolzano. Rather than relate a lot of maybe-correct information about that scientific examination (and have
to correct it later) here is a website that should answer any questions you may have. This is right up there with Kennewick Man for palentological controversy!

But back to Skimasters. We woke to 41ºF temps and fog clinging to the hilltops, but all could at least imagine seeing thinning spots, especially to the south. Claudeen was back from the Land of the Ill and arranged for taxis to take us down the valley to HochGurgl and OberGurgl. Translation from the German is pretty straightforward: Hoch means High and Ober means Over, or Higher. The Gurgl is the river in the valley floor, which feeds into the Oetz River. Why take a taxi? Well, you need a skipass to ride the bus (which most of us did on the return) and you could not buy that pass in Soelden. Your reporter watched a German family who arrived at the lifts in OberGurgl with their Soelden pass and were turned back without apology. Auf Wiedersehen!

But Claudeen knows all, and we got our passes and hit the hill without a moment’s wait in line. This was much appreciated after yesterday’s 45 minute line-up, but we discovered a bit of local
knowledge: the slopes are glare ice early in the day, and our skiers enjoyed our exclusive moments on the high runs with varying amounts of pleasure. And varying levels of success.

There is a spectacular vista at the top of the Gurgl range that could only be accessed by a rickety single chair from mid-mountain, with a small antique hut that served hot wine and jaeger tea and little else. Oh, boy! What a difference a few years make! The panorama from the new Hohe Mut Alm (this is probably dialect, but I’ll venture a translation of “High Mother Mountain”. Really) is still as amazing, but the hut has been replaced by a Disneyland version of a mountain restaurant, and of course, a number of us found it. Independently, and within 20 minutes
of the first arrival.

Independent observation noticed orders for: Tea with Rum, Jaeger Tea, Tattinger champagne, Hefewiessen, Pilsner beer, white and red wine in very nice glasses. Food included several orders of piping hot crisp pommes frites, wiener schnitzel, spinat knodel (trust me, this is great…a dumpling composed of bread crumbs tossed with chopped spinach and grated parmesan cheese (formed into a tennis-ball size) then simmered in chicken broth and served in a bowl with browned butter which floats on the chicken broth run-off from the dumpling. There were 3 of them in a serving. This is a thrifty-hausfrau dish, but on the Hohe Mut, it is heaven!

But there’s MORE! There were at least 3 servings of house-made sausage with sauerkraut and browned potatoes, followed by Kaiserschmarrn. Sorry: this requires another translation/recipe: make browned egg crepes and cut them in small pieces. Melt butter in a pan, add sugar and start to brown. Add pancake pieces and sprinkle with more sugar, toss again. Arrange on the serving plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with crème anglais…vanilla sauce…and whipped
cream on the side. Oh, and apple sauce and a currant sauce, which is something like cranberry sauce’s more piquant sister. There was also apple strudel, not only on the Hohe Mut, but after descending to ObderGurgl later in the day. And here’s the real confession. The preceding served just NINE of us!

At dinner this evening, the rest of the group shared similar experiences in different locations. But let’s face it: boilerplate is hard on everyone and not much fun. Slush is more fun but also a challenge to our skill, and we were all happy to be sitting in the dining room together. The Spoon was awarded to Asa by Terry, for arriving late to lunch (following a profoundly wrong turn) to discover that the huge platter of ribs ordered as the group lunch had been reduced to bones. Undeterred, Asa found a beer and gnawed off the leftover bits and powered on. Hurrah for Asa!

Tomorrow, we return to the slopes of Soelden, in full confidence that the mobs of Sunday are gone. Tchuus bis Morgen! (Kiss until tomorrow morning!)

42º at 7am Tuesday, with sunny skies giving rise to speculation that higher slopes here in Soelden may be less icy than yesterday’s glaciers. A 10:30 walk down the river to one gondola, 90 minutes after skiers departed, shows NO lineup where the Sunday mob had gathered, so that’s
tomorrow’s plan, at least for this reporter. A bit later, mid-day at the ParkHotel, one can see skiers trudge past in all directions. Have they finished for the day or are they on their way to one of the gondolas ascending to the high slopes? Wind has picked up a bit along the valley floor, flaunting rainbow flags (it’s Gay Week in Soelden, we were told) but t-shirts are as common as parkas on passersby. Lunch at the Central Hotel for a couple of today’s Lay-abouts is on the
program, as is this week’s party, with a theme of “H”. That’s all. Just “H”. Tomorrow’s report will list interpretations of “H”, Hopefully.

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