I Got Lost in the Austrian Alps
My legs were aching, my face was numb, and as the sun started its gradual descent, my worst nightmares were becoming a reality.
Despite it being a mild winter in the Austrian Alps, it was still -3 degrees and it had been nearly six hours since I had laid eyes on any sign of civilisation, let alone another human being. The snow pants I had scored cheap from Aldi (who we all know for their quality) were split down both sides and my mind was running wild with different ways that I would perish in the snow. Frostbite? Hunger? Fuck, are there bears in Austria?
In the three days prior to my misadventure, I had been learning to snowboard, and my skills had progressed dramatically… I could stand up. Naturally, my friends and I decided the next step was to try a red run (Europe’s code for intermediate), and when that didn’t work out, I found myself on a toboggan route that was 2.5m at its widest point. Apparently this was also not ideal for a beginner who hadn’t yet quite perfected her turns. There was no powder, which meant the trail was harder than the hostel mattress, I continually found myself on and every time I ate shit I was sure it would lead to a broken bone.
After one-too-many close calls with the edge of the mountain, I was covered in bruises and decided it was time to admit defeat by unstrapping my bindings and stomping the rest of the way down. When I came across a sign that said ‘Halfway Lift Point – 3km’ with an arrow pointing to the woods, I let out an internal cheer at the thought I had found my escape route. As it turned out, following this sign is what lead me to being stranded thigh-deep in snow, goggles missing and tears rolling down my cheeks that were quickly turning to icicles.
It actually started off okay. There was a marked route for cross-country skiers and even footprints from someone who had also taken the way of the woods. Eventually though, I was four hours in and using a snowboard as a lever to get my own legs out of snow so I could keep moving. After exerting myself too much for being on holidays, I had a stroke of genius and decided to lay down on the snowboard and ride it like a boog down the thick snow. Not so genius. Instead of being 20 metres closer to the base like I had envisioned, my whole body was covered by 20cm of snow thanks to the mini avalanche I had created. My only option was to get up, keep calm, and carry on (shout out to whoever made this quote so well known at the time).
After what felt like a lifetime, I came across another, less evil sign and was able to work out where I was. I realised that I had trekked half the circumference of the mountain and was standing directly above the opposite village to where I had come from. I’m not sure how I ended up there, but the fact I made it four minutes before the gondola was making it’s final voyage down for the day meant I was going to survive, and as a bonus it led straight to the ski rental place I had to return my gear to. The feeling was elating and I shed more tears – this time of the joyous kind – and I think I became like the car accident that you drive past on the highway, because the Austrians that packed the gondola couldn’t look away from me.
When I got to the village and into the rental store, I was redfaced and glassy-eyed thanks to all the crying I’d been doing, and the expressions of the staff told me I was looking pretty haggard. I relayed my story to Klaus, the friendly chap who was working at the time, and to calm me down, he did what any good Austrian would do and fed me two shots of peach schnapps before calling a cab to take me home. I had no idea what my address was, but knew the general direction, so offered my best hand gestures to the driver, who must have been an expert in sign language, because I ended up at the bottom of my street.
While this had been happening, my friends had been up the mountain in search of me. Then gone home thinking I had headed back there solo. It’s not unusual for me to go missing, but after realising I wasn’t there either, they asked the lady who owned our chalet for a ride back to the resort, just to have my absence confirmed again. As they were discussing in the lounge room who would call my mum to tell her I couldn’t be found, I paraded through the front door without shoes, without my goggles and with the insulation of my pants creeping out the sides like an overstuffed purse. I was more of an eyesore than usual but I don’t think any of my pals had ever been so happy to see me.
After all, now Mumsy didn’t have to be called.