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Something for the weekend? - James Cove, Maria Alm
Monday December 10, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

The snow out in the Alps at the moment is simply too tempting to resist. But where is a good place to go for a quick break on a budget? PlanetSKI has just been to Maria Alm in the Austrian Alps. Perhaps not the most obvious choice for early December.

The sound of an alarm clock springing into life at 4.45am is not a pleasant one, but the sound of a ski boot clicking tightly into a ski binding a few hours later most certainly is.

Sadly you can't have one without the other if home is in the UK and you only have Saturday and Sunday to ski.

The second sound is even better when there is 30cm of fresh snow ahead. All thoughts of early starts and tired limbs quickly vanished as the first turns are made.

You would need to have been living as a trappist monk in recent weeks not to realise there are some pretty good conditions out in the Alps at the moment as the ski season gets underway.  Some say it is the best ever.

It hasn't been quite so good in this part of Austria, steady rather than spectacular, but that has now changed with piles of snow in the village at 800m.

Most people who can get away are probably heading to the high altitude resorts; Tignes, Les Arcs, Val d'Isere, Verbier, Val Thorens, Courmayeur and the like. But a quick look at the snowfall and the forecast revealed that there is plenty of snow in the lower Austrian Alps too.

It is easy to get to and certainly cheaper.

Arrival in Maria AlmeArrival in Maria Alme













The small independent company, Ski Fix, has apartments and hotels in the little-known resort of Maria Alm in Salzburgerland. Little known to the British that is. I had wanted to visit the resort and the huge Ski Amade area for a while, so the decision was a simple one.

When I also heard tales of flights being diverted from Geneva, roads impassable and resorts closed due to high winds and the danger of avalanche over in the north western Alps last weekend I knew my decision was correct.

Maria Alm is about an hour from Salzburg airport and Ski Fix pick up their guests at no extra charge. 

Ski Fix is run by three people in their late 20s with dreams and a passion; Kate Cannon, Thom Henderson and Eddy Williams.  

"We chose Maria Alm as it oozes Austrian alpine charm and it has some amazing skiing. We simply fell in love with the place and thought that if we have done so then our guests would fall in love with it too," said Kate.

As we drove into the village shortly after 11am last Saturday it was hard to disagree. It was everything I had expected and more. A quick visit to the hire shop (no queues and great equipment) and I was on the lift and looking at snow-covered trees by mid-day.

Tracks of pleasureTracks of pleasure













"We get a lot of people who come for the weekend or for short breaks as it is so easy to get to and we offer flexible accommodation that is not just Saturday to Saturday," said Thom.

"Many of those who come on a short break then come back for a week's holiday later when they see what the area offers."

The key for me though, on my quick weekend fix, is the skiing. 

It is not terribly challenging and if you are after expert and steep terrain then look elsewhere except on powder days. The black runs are not blacks by the standards of Espace Killy, but what the area lacks in challenges it more than makes up for in size and variety.

Maria Alm is in Hochkonig that is part of the mighty Ski Amade. Hochkonig consists of Mariai Alm, Hintermoos, Muhlbach, Hinterthal and Dienten. It has 150km of slopes and 33 lifts.

It also has something that cannot be defined by colour or statistics; Austrian alpine charm.

It is one of the prettiest ski areas I have visited in a while.

There is a passing resemblance to North America as much of the slopes are on runs cut through the trees and you ski up and down lifts into the mountains rather than take a series of lifts going up and build up a great vertical descent.

Large ski areaLarge ski area













The scenery is stunning too.

Maria AlmMaria Alm










As I tour the slopes it strikes me as one of the best places for intermediate skiers and snowboarders who want to be flattered.

With soft powder snow underfoot this weekend the conditions are perfect for flattery.

And this being Austria there is of course the après ski.

A similar resort elsewhere in the Alps might be on the quiet side, but this is Austria.  After skiing there is there is beer and dancing on tables in abundance. Umbrella bars dot the base lifts of the mountains, while the restaurants are authentic and homely. 

Nothing like the bland affairs offered in North America.

"The mountain restaurants are one of the major attractions in my view with great food, reasonable prices and a wonderful atmosphere," says Eddy. He is also a fan of the apres ski.

Call me old-fashioned and soft, but it is a joy to support some people with a dream, rather than the huge tour operators where one's hard earned cash vanishes into a corporate pot.

With Ski Fix the money goes to the people who are helping you get the most out of a holiday and in my book that is worth something.

Kate, Eddy and TomKate, Eddy and Thom













As we finished skiing on Sunday it was a gluwein at the Christmas market in town as snow gently fell, once again, from the sky.  Another 60cm is forecast for this week and early season conditions are now spectacular.

Xmas spirit Xmas spirit













By the end of the weekend my legs felt like they has done a week rather than a couple of days. 

Next weekend I will be in Tignes with the hardcore, but a bit of me will still be in Maria Alm.

Picture postcard scenePicture postcard scene













For more information about Ski Fix and the accommodation it offers and the prices then see its web site. For details of Maria Alm and for further information on the Ski Amade area then check it out here.

For the spirit of the mountains

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