Tips from the Nest: Having Fun in the Snow in Europe
If you look you'll notice most of our European Christmas tours start in the gateway cities such as Vienna and Munich, but then as Christmas approaches we escape to the snow covered mountains to usually spend about 5 nights. We not only have time to enjoy Christmas as it should be, and explore the local medieval towns and villages, but we also usually have a couple of days to 'play in the snow'. Obviously downhill skiing comes to mind, but there are so many other wonderful activities you can do from the incredibly laid back and lazy to extreme sports. It really is up to you. So let's start at the easy end and then become more adventurous.
Take the cable car to the top of the mountains
The alpine villages are usually riddled with lifts that whisk you up the mountains. You really don't need to consider open chair lifts as you will virtually always have access to cable cars and perhaps funicular trains. Most common are small bubble cable cars for 6 or 8 people or large gondolas that take 60 or more. Easy to get on and off (they slow down at the station to a crawl) they arrive up top, sometimes after a simple change, and there you will find cafes and restaurants humming with skiers and non-skiers a like. To me there is no greater pleasure than to get a hot chocolate and a steaming apple strudel and engorge yourself on the terrace taking in mountain views that go on forever. Remember in Europe, in winter, a glorious sunny day means it's actually quite warm, hence you may see people sunning themselves in t-shirts on deck chairs. Always make sure you take your 'sunnies' and some sunblock for your exposed face. Snow reflects the sun and burns you easily. In summary, the opportunity to have a quintessential mountain experience is really easy. And remember, with Albatross you have enough time to do exactly that!
Go for a walk along the snow covered valleys
The next easiest activity is just go for a winter walk along the valleys. Europeans are great hikers and there are often many walking paths through snowy woods, with places to stop, benches to sit on, and often a cute wooden gasthof café en route. Don't dismiss cross country skiing. This is 'on the flat skiing', more like 'slide walking', and you follow designated exercise paths that follow alongside the walking tracks. It is actually quite simple to do and a lot of fun. You don't have to put those big heavy ski boots on. Instead light comfy shoes that you can hire as a set along with the skis in a local ski hire shop for round $30 a day. You really you won't use it for a day as it is incredibly energetic and whilst it feels quite easy to do you'll probably stop after couple of hours. A tip - wear lighter clothing as you will overheat even in cold weather.
Toboggan down the mountain
Tobogganing is such great fun but don't do it if you have brittle bones or are a timid sort. You see, you will crash, you will pick up bruises and you will ache the next day. One of the worst aches though is the stomach muscles as you will laugh and laugh and laugh. There are few rules to go by other than don't pick up too much speed if you can't see the toboggan path winding ahead. It really is for anyone and you may only make one or two runs in a day. Toboggans can usually be hired at the ski shop at the bottom of the lifts. You'll need some ID and about $25. You then catch the lift up to a station about half way up the mountain and then follow a dedicated toboggan run that usually winds its way gently back down to the bottom on wide, safe private snow covered roads. Did you notice I slipped the word 'usually' in here? It is so much fun, and if in doubt, try it!
Build a snowman when the snow is damp
Other activities can include ice curling, and in some locations you can also go tandem paragliding... an extraordinary experience, but remember to wrap up well. Snow can often be very dry and because there is little moisture you don't feel as cold. If the snow has some dampness in it, it can be just right for building a huge snowman, or make small snow balls to throw at your loved ones!
Buy a mountain lift pass to suit your needs
To ride on mountain lifts you'll need a pass. If you are going up to visit a restaurant and take in the views, or going paragliding you'll only need a single ride to the top. If you buy the pass later and go up the mountains in the afternoon tickets can be cheaper. If you are tobogganing you might pay as you go for each ride but you usually only go once or twice to the first, lower station, which is often a cheaper ticket.
It’s important to stay warm and dry
It is very difficult to hire ski clothing in Europe so if you are intending to ski then you should take your ski clothes with you. But for most of the other activities you really don't need any special clothes. Maybe just some lightweight waterproof/water repellent 'over-pants' which you should buy at home before you leave. They are quite cheap and wrap up into a very small bundle, so no problem with luggage. Just remember the higher you go and the faster you go the more you need to wrap up for warmth, and it all starts with warm socks, gloves and something to keep the head warm.
Check your insurance policy will cover snow activities
In you plan to play in the snow in Europe please remember to check your insurance policy. Often, if you are not competing or racing, your standard insurance will cover you for all these activities however occasionally you pay extra to cover for skiing.