I drove to Berlin this morning – an early start and six hours on the Autobahn. I had a meeting there and continued on to Essen where I have a meeting tomorrow. Another 5 hours on the road. I’d like to say it was a fascinating day which inspired me to write a wonderful column on Germany’s capital – but that was not to be. I went from a grey Autobahn into a grey building and that was about it. So I’ll write about last Sunday in Austria instead.
If you’ve been paying attention, you will remember I was staying with my friend Alan in the Bavarian Village of Pfronten. On Saturday we had a memorable day on the Breitenberg, the mountain which directly overlooks Pfronten. The weather forecast for Sunday was sunny in the morning in Pfronten but with a possibility of fog in the afternoon due to a very strong inversion (when it’s colder low down than it is up high). This is a fairly common at this time of year in Bavaria. It’s can look really spectacular when you are up on the mountain in the sunshine looking down on a carpet of fog which stretches north into the flatlands. But it’s not good weather for paragliding – because you can’t see where you’re going or where the landing field is.
The good news was that the forecast also said the „Inneralpin“ weather would be bright and sunny all the way down to the valley floor. So that meant all we had to do was drive 10km into the mountains to the Austrian valley of Tannheim to find another place to ski and fly. We whizzed over the border – which is on such a small road that it was sometimes unmanned even before the Schengen agreement came into place. Even though the scenery barely changes you would always know that you had entered Austria along this back road. If it was winter you would notice because they don’t salt the road. They spread a very small amount of grit to give a little grip, but otherwise they leave the snow on the road. They’ll clear the deep stuff but leave a hard packed layer on the road. I suppose they think „this is Austria, if you can’t handle snow then you shouldn’t be driving here.“ It also looks nice and stops that horrible grey sludge building up everyhwere. The second reason you know you’re in Austria is that, in summer, there are often cows on the road. The road absorbs heat during the day so especially in the evening they like to lay down on the warm tarmac. There are no fences on the road – here the cows are more important than the cars. When I was an impatient young man and was racing into Austria to try and make the last lift up after work, these cows drove me crazy but I became a fairly skilled bovine-slalom driver over the years.
But on Sunday we had a clear run through. The snow had melted in the valley and the cows were not yet out in the fields. And sure enough, even though we were only one valley into the Alps, no sign of fog. We parked, put on our ski gear and headed for the lift and a particularly satisfying view from the top. Satisfying because we could see the fog covering the Bavarian flatlands. There’s nothing quite like knowing you made the right decision.
We skied until just before 11:00. In the good old days I was fanatical about getting the first lift up and skiing all day until they threw us off the mountain. But we are a little more relaxed these days and after less that two hours we were more interested in a cup of coffee than another run. The snow was excellent and once again the slopes were quiet. After a cup of coffee we skied back to the car and picked up our paragliders.
Because the fog had flushed all the Germans into Austria, the take-off area was absolutely packed. There is space for 4-5 pilots to lay out their wings on launch and I would guess that about 30 were waiting at any one time. There were also lots of tourists up there too just having a look. We paragliders are used to being somewhere quiet on a hillside with a couple of mates, so the “crowds” were strange – and a little nervewracking. But today the gods smiled on us and we both launched smoothly and climbed in smooth spring thermals up above the summit. A perfect day – but more interesting being there than writing about it, which is why I posted a picture taken while we were having our morning coffee.
Alan and I are still stunned that one of our weekends away actually worked out exactly as we’d planned. Usually something goes wrong and we end up sweating on the wrong mountain at the wrong time. We even got home without encountering a traffic jam. Let’s hope it’s a good omen for 2016.