In March, I went on a one-week school ski trip in the Austrian Alps. This was my first time in Austria and my fourth time skiing. School trips like these are fairly common in Europe. Some schools decide to take their students to Italy while others prefer the slopes in Austria, but regardless of where you go, it is an exceptionally fun time and the highlight of many students’ high school experience.
I was thoroughly excited to have been invited to come along. In a normal year, teachers would accompany two classes, but since last year’s ski trip had been cancelled, we had students from across four classes—1A, 2A, 3B, and 4B. This meant that there were almost 80 students being accompanied by five teachers. However, we also had others who tagged along— students from other years, alumni of the school, and friends of some of the teachers. This is surely a difference between American and Czech school trips. I cannot imagine being invited back by my high school to come on a school trip with current students and teachers, but here, there is a real sense of community and connection that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.
We traveled to the region near Salzburg, Austria with two full buses of students. The journey took about four hours, a reminder of just how easy international travel can be in Europe. It takes the same amount of time to travel from Houston to Dallas as it does from Sobeslav to Salzburg. We spent nearly every day trying a new ski resort in the Ski Amade resort complex, allowing us to see breathtaking views and a variety of slopes.
Here is where I offer my disclaimer. I have been on just a few ski trips. I remember vividly a ski trip to Colorado and another to Utah and receiving ski lessons at the young age of nine years old. However, coming from Texas, there are not many opportunities to go skiing unless you are going on a trip to another state. Last year, I went skiing for a day with some friends in New Mexico and with my brother in Colorado. This was the first time I had been skiing in nearly ten years and while I had tremendous fun, I recognized that I needed more practice.
Fast forward to now. The culture of skiing in the Czech Republic is ingrained in everyone from a young age. It seems like they learn to ski at the same time as they learn to walk. Suffice it to say, I felt behind the learning curve, but I knew I did not want to pass up this opportunity to connect with students and teachers and also view the majestic beauty of the Austrian Alps. One of the common themes of my Fulbright experience has been to not let myself be deterred from experiences simply because they are new. Though it can be difficult at times, I have learned to accept that while I may not be the best at everything I try, I will improve each day and I will have an absolute blast while learning!
This proved to be true on the ski trip as well. Each teacher had their own group of students that they would supervise on the slopes every day. These groups were determined by skill level. I was with the beginner group and each day, we would make our way down the blue slopes and I would practice that which Fanda, David, and Marta taught me. My previous skiing knowledge was limited to “pizza” to stop and “french fries” to go, and imagine my surprise when I learned skiing was marginally more complicated than that. I was showed the basics of parallel skiing and maintaining control when moving down a steeper slope, and as the hours passed under the bright sun and blinding snow, I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of speeding down a slope, surrounded by mountains on all sides.
For the week, our large group was staying at one of the many cottages that dotted the mountainside. Each morning, we would come together for breakfast in the dining room and then depart for the slope of the day. We skied at Zauchensee, Radstadt-Altenmarkt, Flachau, and St. Johann ski resorts over the course of the week. Each had its own unique appeal and every day, we joined the throng of skiers looking to enjoy the slopes before spring arrived. We piled onto the bus and made our way to the resorts, arriving and immediately gathering the various requisite equipment. Boots and skis and poles and helmets and googles and gloves and even a spinal plate, the experience felt like donning armor before heading off to battle. After a few hours of skiing, I joined either Fanda’s beginner group or David’s more advanced group for lunch somewhere on the slope. Following some more skiing in the afternoon, we would return back to the cottage for a shower and some lovely dinner. My evenings were filled by table tennis games, watching students play their own version of billiards, playing Czech card games with the teachers, and even watching the Czech soccer team playing a World Cup Qualifier.
I must, once again, show my appreciation for the grace and kindness I received on this trip. No matter my questions or my confusion, I had many people willing to help and show me the proper ski technique. It was a lovely experience and it made me more eager to go to ski resorts when I return to the United States!