My first impression of the Spaniard, as he descends the stairs of the grand entry area at the Doppelmayr cable car company in Wolfurt, is of an athletic, energetic and friendly personality. Juan José Lapuerta approaches with the confident gait of a sportsman and quickly closes the distance before I have the chance to call out a greeting. Reaching out to shake my hand, he says in perfect German: “Ich bin Juanjo.” For seven years already, he and his young family (Juanjo, his wife Elsa and their two children Carmen and Pedro) have called Andelsbuch home. “My passions are skiing, mountains and cable cars, which I guess explains a lot.” Having first learned to ski in the Sierra Nevada mountains at the age of nine, he now resides in Bregenzerwald, where he enjoys living close to mountains and nature. He especially enjoys the close proximity to his favourite ski resorts: “I know all the big ones like the back of my hand. Each one is special for a different reason.”
A Spaniard in Andelsbuch
What connects the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which tower above the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Andalusia, with the mountains of Bregenzerwald? Skiing of course! Just ask Juan José Lapuerta.
The 5 am bus to the Sierra Nevada mountains
The snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada tower majestically over the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Those who associate Andalusia with hot temperatures, cool beaches and Flamenco dancing often forget southern Spain’s mighty snow-covered mountains. Juanjo grew up in a small town north of Granada. The neighbourhood is home to the Sierra de Cazorla nature conservation area where his father Juan Pedro worked as an administrator. It was here that Juanjo became a member of the ski club at a young age: “We took the bus into the Sierra Nevada mountain range at five o’clock in the morning on winter weekends. As a teenager, I was at home on the moguls and as a student I became a ski instructor. Today, I love the steep slopes and breathtaking back country powder slopes of the Bregenzerwald. Just like when I was young, hardly a weekend goes by without skiing.” Juanjo is an enthusiastic practitioner of telemark skiing, a technique popular during skiing’s earliest days. He has always admired the form’s elegant style: “Long turns, short turns, carving, steep slopes, powder snow, moguls: I like everything!” The 40-year-old owes his excellent German skills to his father: When Juanjo was 14 years old, he thought it made sense for his son to speak another foreign language in addition to English (and two musical instruments). “In the beginning, we learned German together. But when the grammar became too complicated, he gave up,” reminisces Juanjo.
First cable car construction course in Granada
Juanjo Lapuerta’s enthusiasm for the technology that has now become his profession was also forged early in his childhood: “Even as a young boy, I was fascinated by how cable cars work.” While studying civil engineering in Granada, Juanjo ended up taking a special course in cable car construction. He visited Austria for the first time in 2002 as an Erasmus student at the Graz University of Technology: “Austria is blessed with many mountains and plenty of snow. Plus the people speak German! I remember thinking: I speak German too! That was of course until I asked someone at the Graz airport for directions to the city. I didn’t understand a word!” Juanjo had undoubtedly met a true Styrian. Undaunted by the dialect and motivated by his training in cable car technology and his passion for the mountains, after his studies he applied for a job at the Doppelmayr cable car company in Spain. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t get the job. So for seven years, road construction and installing solar systems paid the bills. “During Christmas 2011, the Spanish economic crisis had just begun. My wife and I had lunch with a former ski instructor colleague, who is today the head of Doppelmayr’s Spanish division. I asked her if they couldn’t use someone like me. Not in Spain, she said, but in Vorarlberg they are looking for a technician who speaks fluent German and Spanish. I remember my wife shot her girlfriend an icy look, but it was already too late.”
Three months later, the Lapuerta family moved to Vorarlberg: “Austria! Mountains! Cable cars! Skiing! & a new dialect!” Juanjo couldn’t have been happier. His wife Elsa, on the other hand, had been an established physiotherapist back in Spain. In addition to formerly working with the Spanish women’s national ski team, she had built up a successful physiotherapy practice in Granada after years of hard work. “‘Elsa, I’ll find you a job’, I promised. I owed her that.” In no time, Elsa was hired as a physiotherapist in Andelsbuch. “One sunny morning in June, we drove from Dornbirn via the Bödele ski resort. From up high, we looked over the Bregenzerwald and agreed: ‘Qué bonito!'”
Sacred ski slopes
Today, from the family doorstep in Andelsbuch, Juanjo needs just a quarter of an hour to hit the slopes. His eyes light up when discussing his favourite downhill runs: “I usually ski a circuit from Mellau to Damüls in the morning. The downhill run that leads directly to the Damüls church is my favourite: it’s almost like praying and skiing at the same time.” Mellau, on the other hand, is like skiing in his own backyard: “I come to Mellau almost every weekend. I enjoy the routine of my favourite slopes again and again. Plus, the lifts are a little shorter here, which means you spend less time on the lift and there is more time for actual skiing. If, on the other hand, I want to revel in powder snow, Warth-Schröcken is my first choice. Not to mention the phenomenal views from the peak of the Diedamskopf!”
Because little Pedro is still just a baby, Juanjo usually skis by himself on weekend mornings. He then returns to Andelsbuch for lunch. The afternoon belongs to his four-year-old daughter Carmen, who has already become an enthusiastic skier in her own right. “Together, we ski on the Niedere in Andelsbuch, but also in Mellau.” At the kids’ lift in Andelsbuch, Juanjo waits patiently below: “‘I’ll go by myself and you wait here,’ my daughter Carmen ordered me recently,” says Juanjo with laughter. At home in Andelsbuch, the family speaks Spanish. Whenever there are visitors, however, the whole family switches to German. Carmen and Pedro are growing up to be true Bregenzerwald natives. For Juanjo, this means having his German corrected by his daughter. “Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” says Juanjo with a healthy dose of self-irony. Juanjo loves his adopted home so much that he seems momentarily taken aback when asked if he misses Spain. Homesick perhaps? “Sometimes,” Juanjo says, momentarily lost in thought. “I miss my family, my friends, the weather and the sun. But above all: Andalusian tomatoes!”
Author: Babette Karner
Issue: Winter 2019-20 Travel Magazine