I need to get something off my chest: I love Damüls. There, I’ve said it. For decades, I’ve been skiing in the lovely village of Damüls and I’m pleased to report that it has always lived up to its reputation as a “snow mecca.” The last time I arrived by car, I paid close attention to the weather forecast and had already driven from Bregenz to Bregenzerwald in the morning. The closer I got to the village, the whiter the road got, but I made it to the front of the house. In the evening, my car had all but disappeared. What a “snow mecca,” I thought to myself while relaxing on the chairlift with heated seats up to the Ragazer Blanken station. The panoramic views from the top are simply superlative as one can see all the way to Lake Constance. I’m not alone in taking in the view either: Most people linger a few minutes before skiing back down.
Skiing has changed a lot since I was a youngster. While I have thus far personally profited from most of the changes, others are are not necessarily for the better. Take the slopes for instance: Overnight they are smoothed by brave snow groomer drivers so that moguls have become rare. Nevertheless, there are still backcountry ski runs and whenever it snows, the early risers compete for the pristine snow. There is a lot of getting up early in Damüls because it snows so frequently here. Provided that there are no moguls and you’re using carving skis, skiing on black slopes (of which there are three in Damüls) is something completely different these days. In the past, if average skiers had skied at today’s standard pace, they would hardly have managed to get over three moguls. It used to be that you had to adapt your tempo a bit. If you weren’t at the top of your game, it wasn’t a question of not caring about the moguls with heavy skis over two meters long. I once saw an Olympic champion in Lech who skied straight down a steep mogul slope from top to bottom. This is back when long-strap binding were still being used, which means it was a while ago. I always considered myself to be a good skier, but witnessing that I quickly understood my own limitations.
Later, as a ski instructor in the US, I met a Tyrolean professional working at our ski resort who was rated just below the top of the Austrian A-squad. He was a marvellous skier all the same! I had the privilege of skiing with him when I wasn’t teaching and he wasn’t training. He showed me some amazing things: e.g. don’t go around the moguls or try to turn on the crest of the moguls. Just go into the moguls as if they weren’t there. And you know what? It worked! Of course a certain level of fitness and a healthy measure of courage were required in taking the skis to the absolute breaking point as they tend to bend between the moguls.
There are two sports shops in Damüls, which when you think about it is quite remarkable considering that the population is just 308 inhabitants. And yet every time I visit, they are always remarkably full. I usually rent a pair of skis for my ski week. Each time I do, I have to describe my own skills. The last time I stated that I used to be a good skier. The gnarled man at the rental shop briefly assessed me and gave me a pair of skis that unfortunately didn’t provide enough grip even at my now leisurely pace. The skis already began to shake even when skiing straight! He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I guess I underestimated you a bit” and handed me a pair of the latest carving skis. This was a much better fit, except for the fact that I found myself flat out with a face full of snow. But you know what they say: If you don’t fall at least once a week, you’re not testing the limits of the skis. Though I admit that my injured shoulder is a bit of an unpleasant reminder, even a few weeks later.
Off-piste skiing is, after all, a function of gravity, even though it can sometimes feel like overcoming it. Gliding over a freshly snow-covered slope can give one the illusion of flying with the grace of ballet. Sometimes, the price you pay is a face full of snow. It doesn’t happen very often, but that’s why you wear a helmet and back protector. No matter where you ski here, the Mittagsspitze peak towers above you. In winter, it’s an inaccessible outcropping rock. As you pass by on the relatively new ski trail between Mellau and Damüls, it gives you the cold shoulder. Not that the south side is any warmer, because unlike in summer, not a single square metre of grass is visible. Even if the bubble at the lift protects you from wind and snow, the sight of the mountain top alone is enough to remind you that you are in the mountains and not in a playground. That’s as it should be in the high Alps. Just another reason why I’m in love with Damüls.
Issue: Winter 2020-21 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine
Author: Armin Thurnher