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When father and son...

When father and son...

...share the same lift chair in the Bregenzerwald, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll recognise one another. Our author discovered as much during a lively conversation.

I’m day dreaming about Bregenzerwald while sitting in the Waldviertel in far northeastern Austria. You have no idea how often and how unexpectedly that westernmost forest comes up whenever I’m out east. Just recently I was in parliament for a cultural-political debate (I’ll spare you the mundane details) and whilst chatting in the hallway, I met a successful Vienna businessman, who is originally from Bregenz. Before I knew it, he began telling me of his recent ski trip in Damüls. It was great he tells me, there was plenty of snow left even for the beginning of April. I tell him I’m not surprised because, after all, Damüls is THE place for snow and it’s an area I know quite well. The man, who is well over 70, agrees with my assessment and admits that he even went down the black slope on this most recent of visits. I also love to go to Damüls and at this point in the conversation, it occurred to me that the last time I skied this very slope, the black Sunnegg, I noticed that the slope was not as I had remembered it from my younger years when I was more physically fit and employing somewhat longer skis and an entirely different technique. Instead of featuring a mogul at the bottom, the slope was now smooth and steep. Steep is perhaps an understatement. At a gradient of 74%, as I learned from the Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine, the slope is only marginally less steep than the famed Mausefalle in Kitzbühel (which has 85%).

The point is, the Sunnegg slope is plenty steep but now it is also smooth with good grip – No icy bits, just fine, textured snow that you can really sink your carving skis into. These days, even skiers prone to overestimate their skills can make use of the slopes’ width to carve with control. My friend from parliament reminded me of another Sunnegg story on a very wintry day. An older gentleman who must have been in his 80s (Bregenzerwald residents still go down black slopes in their 80s!) met a man 30 years his junior at the mountain station of the Sunnegg lift. Riding the chairlift together, they didn’t exchange a single word with one another. Once up top, the younger man hung back for a moment to see how the older man would handle the obvious steepness of the slope. The old man proved to be unexpectedly stout and adept and the younger man followed close at his heels. At the bottom, the younger man offered congratulations and suggested that the two go for a beer. Once at the bar, it soon became clear that the men were actually father and son and as chance would have it, they hadn’t recognised one another on the slope. Either it was too cold and they were wrapped too warmly with helmet and goggles, or perhaps the men simply weren’t close. Perhaps the story is made up or an embellishment? Who can say.

But what’s also strange is sitting in the hills of the Waldviertel and thinking about far away black slopes. But things can always get stranger. Opening my email, I see that I’ve received correspondence from my old classmates. Together we’re approaching quite a milestone, a high-number anniversary that some might find quite embarrassing: our 50th graduation reunion. Naturally, we’ll celebrate in the Bregenzerwald, where so many of us spent every waking moment when not in school. Before such anniversary events there is often a cultural programme. In this instance, they’ve suggest a visit to Krumbach’s famed bus stops, where many more tourists buses and cars from around the world have been stopping than otherwise would have if not for this project. This novel culture and landscape campaign is a model example of a successful social and artistic endeavour, the ingredients of which were an original ideal, a smart curator, an aesthetically high bar, and a mayor and community that were open and able to recognise the potential of this particular concept. To be blunt, the Waldviertel could use some of this spirit. The people here are hardened and have little space for the arguments of aesthetics. Here people are happy to even HAVE a bus stop at all that consists of more than a sign and receives more than two bus visits per day. Explaining all the depressing consequences of rural exodus is difficult.

This depression is in stark contrast to the breathtaking expanses, almost devoid of people, below a seemingly endless sky, which in its own way is exactly the opposite of the Alpine foothills and mountainous landscapes of the Bregenzerwald. The natural beauty of this area complemented by the resident artists who seem to live in a parallel world in comparison to the rest of the population here, whose mentality has been blunted and dulled over the centuries. Everyone looks to the nearby capital city, to early retirement or the next opportunity and this includes everyone from real dukes, politicians in high places, and even high-ranking representatives of the Chamber of Agriculture. I hear that open-minded spirits actually take informational tours in the Bregenzerwald? I have to ask myself, how could one bring a bit of Bregenzerwald to the Waldviertel? Maybe just a smidgeon? It can’t just be the dearth of black slopes in the area. It seems only fair that one should at least illuminate the benefits of special bus stops in Krumbach.

Author: Armin Thurnher