A Biathlon Beginner in Austria's Seefeld
By Cathie Arquilla
Prone, Gun in Hands
"Naaaaaha," said six-foot-plus biathlon trainer Peter Schwandl, when asked if he was Swedish. "I am Austrian!" This was said with a thick Austrian accent, a little indignation and a lot of pride.
Peter schools biathlon professionals and armatures alike at the Olympiaregion Seefeld in the Austrian Alps.
Biathlon originates as a military discipline and under Peter's command, we were ready to learn the sport. It's a rarity to be able to try biathlon and what better place to do it than in Olympiaregion Seefeld?!
It offers 279k of cross-country trails (classic or skating), hosts the World Cup Nordic Combination, and has the most current biathlon stadium in Austria.
The Mechanics of the Gun
After showing us the biathlon facilities – essentially an outdoor shooting range, Peter taught us the mechanics of the gun. Once we learned the basics, we were ready to get in position.
Lying flat on my stomach, gun in hands, aiming toward five 4.5 inch diameter circles, down a 50m (160 ft) lane, I shakily lined up the sight of the gun with my target and pulled the trigger.
Surprising myself and I think Peter too, I hit all five targets in five shots! If I had missed one and was actually participating in a biathlon event, I would have had to "run" (which means ski) around a track, before taking aim again.
Peter explained that the unpredictability of the outcome was the appeal of the sport, "Teams may be terrific athletes, but unless they can calm their breathing, take aim quickly and successfully shoot, they will not win."
On my second try, this time with skis on, I wasn't as successful. Getting into position to shoot was hard enough. Getting up felt ridiculous, like a grown baby trying to crawl. I had a new appreciation for a biathlete's ability ski like the devil, successfully shoot and then get back up again!
There is Skiing with that Shooting
It's all well and good to be able to try biathlon shooting, but remember Nordic skiing is part of the sport. Olympiaregion Seefeld is THE place to learn. My skate ski instructor Anette Boe was a bronze medalist in the 1980 Olympics.
With bubbling positivity, Anette was so encouraging, dynamic and cheerfully supportive that I wanted to do well for her, if not for myself!
Admittedly, I was cautious on these skinny skate skies, which felt like wearing pre-boiled linguine noodles. Come to think of it, I am cautious when it comes to trying any new sport, but I would say that I'm athletic and I am a very comfortable downhill skier.
Anette's excellent instruction and my knowing how to skate on downhill skies, helped me get the hang of it and after about an hour I began to feel "the glide" and relax (at least for some of the time).
If not for the shooting, skiing, jumping or skating, visit Olympiaregion Seefeld to visit nature.
The real beauty of the ski-shooting experience, however, was the setting. Olympiaregion Seefeld sits on a high plateau, 1200 feet above sea level, boarding the Karwendel Alpine Park, the largest conservation area in the eastern Alps and it's breathtaking.
I was just going back and forth on a very small stretch of trail; ahead an Alpine mountain ridge met the sky. To my right, was a church and the foothills of idyllic Tyrolean Seefeld.
To my left were two huge ski jumps, where jumpers descended and took flight, landing beyond my viewing. Nordic skiing enthusiast of all ages and abilities were coming in from yonder trails.
I especially liked watching the teenagers and young adults who were decked in Nordic gear, the likes of a sci-fi movie. They looked happy, fit, content and healthy – no cell phones present.
Saying goodbye to Anette, she wished me more outdoor activity in the coming year. Living so close to New York City, my recreational default is usually going to a museum or eating out. Perhaps I should do more outdoor sports in my free time… But as soon as my skis were off, I was eager to check out Seefeld's shopping and food!
For the Love of Speck and Shopping
Spain has its jamon, Italy its prosciutto. In Austria it's speck!
Our table at Tre Culinaria in Seefeld had the most extravagant display of speck, salami, venison, mountain cheeses, mustards, and chutneys, so beautifully appointed on long cutting boards that my group went iPhone photo crazy trying to capture the display.
Add to that the Prosecco with rose petals, delightful Tyrol placemats and napkins and we were in an Austrian food fairytale.
Post espresso macchiato, just past Tre Colinaria's door, is the Dorfplatz or heart of the village, anchored by St. Oswald church and the Klosterbräu Hotel.
A quick caffeine bop around town will almost have you yodeling it's so quaint, but Seefeld is not too staged, it feels rather current and relevant too. One could get a fashion fix or pick out a woodcarving come family heirloom. The December Christmas market is beyond charming.
Have Skied, Will Spa, or Just Spa!
Most people equate après ski with a bar scene or a fancy resort drink. For me, it's all about the spa.
I received a bit of counseling about "how to spa" in Seefeld from Hotel Astoria’s Marketing Manager Sophie Zimmerman.
Enter the spa in robe and slippers, nothing else. First, shower. The showers at the Astoria Spa are open, not in an alcove and without curtains. Like most spas in the Alps, it is a co-ed. Then enter the sauna (pronounced sowna).
At the Astoria, you have several choices: A stubensauna, typically Tyrolean or Finnish, that is very hot, or the not so hot, bio sauna.
After your sauna, Sophie recommends another shower, or perhaps a walk through the cold Kneipp pools, and then a long lie-down on their individual waterbeds in the relaxation room.
This is the step I always miss. I rush through the lie-down or usually don't do it at all. Sophie says to lie down for at least 30 minutes and if you really want to spa right, do the whole cycle again!
A note to Americans: You are naked (except when towel wrapped) but no one will probably care, except you! Sophie said with a shrug, "Really, no one is looking."
Austria Dining, Stube Style
In Seefeld, I learned about stube dining. This is a wood-paneled cozy room often with a tile or stucco fireplace. Wooden chairs, sometimes with heart shapes cut from their backs and curtains of gingham or cross-stitch are typical.
The décor would seem insipid anywhere but Germany, Austria or Switzerland. The Läurchenstäberl restaurant was just such a stube, and it was a superb example of its kind, both for its ambiance and food.
A Hugo cocktail made of Prosecco, mint, elderflower and bubbly water started a delightful meal. With its cottage atmosphere and sophisticated clientele one might label this stube restaurant, "Heidi chic."
Seefeld and The Best of the Alps
Olympiaregion Seefeld has been a member of The Best of the Alps for the past 25 years and to be a part of this association certain criteria (and standards) must be met. The destination must be year round and naturally grown.
In other words, it was village first, a resort later. It must be uniquely diverse, separating it from other Alpine destinations. Olympiaregion Seefeld with it world class Nordic trails and biathlon facilities, as well as its stupendous natural setting, easily fits the bill as a Best of the Alps destination.
Without skis or gun, Seefeld itself is a delightful place to spend any time of the year.
Its Dorfplatz, stube dining, speck eating, spa lounging, shopping, hospitality and Tyrol Austrian charm, are the perfect backdrop to any ski vacation.
But you can't do biathlon at just any ski resort, so when in Olympiaregion Seefeld be sure to take aim, pull the trigger and ski away!
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