Waiting for the last run in a place where skiing is a birthright

Back in autumn, when borders were closing and public health pressure mounted, an official in Austria fought the cause for skiers and snowboarders by stating that winter sports in their country was a ‘birthright’. Call it populist rhetoric or a clear-headed response to an increasingly understood issue, the fact is that Austrians have enjoyed relatively trouble-free access to the slopes from December through to the end of the season. Cold, snowy and strange it has been, but the lifts ran till the end in many resorts thanks to the realisation that skiing was exceptional.

Yesterday was the last day of lift-accessed skiing in Axamer Lizum, Innsbruck. The fabulous Damen Abfahrt ski piste is still being prepared for ski tourers for another couple of weeks (their rights possibly enshrined in the womb), but the ski lifts rolled for the last time this winter at 16:00 yesterday. As is customary, there was a smattering of locals who sit it out on the Hoadl peak, until the silence descends, pop open a bottle of beer and then head down the serene terrain to a desolate parking lot. It really is moving stuff!

This annual tradition was all the more poignant this winter, with the world still ravaged by the pandemic and almost no ski tourism taking place throughout the world. Locals-only skiing was a strange experience – more sentiments on this can be read here - https://www.jaggedhorizons.com/latest-corporate-event-news/latest/article/the-essence-of-skiing-laid-bare-in-2021/ Generally though, the season was excellent, and we were incredibly fortunate to have the distraction of the mountains. Early season snow was followed by persistently cold conditions with very many standout days - sadly they weren’t enjoyed by our clients.

I read recently that the world’s entire covid virus could conceivably fit inside a soft drink can. Staring out over the vast expanses of the Stubai Alps, the idea of a 330ml container being able to wreak so much damage seemed utterly implausible. Oceans of virus to overwhelm the systems that billions around the world rely on is entirely comprehensible but this tiny container that is dwarfed by even one range of mountains really demonstrates how fragile our modern existence is.

And the last run – it was as poignant as ever, maybe more so given the good fortune of living in a land where skiing is a birthright. The scale of the mountains, the effortless acceleration and the biting cold on exposed skin, all a reminder that skiing and snowboarding are not substitutable pursuits – there is nothing in the lives of tens of millions of skiers who are geographically dislocated from the Alps that can replace the experience of riding down mountains. For that reason, the lifts will turn once again next autumn and clients will be filled with the unique magic of jaw-dropping horizons, thigh-deep powder or Glühwein with colleagues around a fire basket.

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