Four days in the Austrian Alps on a ski trip with my colleagues
Thursday to Sunday NLC decided to take a team building ski trip to Zell am See (Austria). Not that we need much team building, as the whole group of people I work with gets along really well. But after years of WFH, these kind of trips really makes a difference.
The trip to get there was complicated to say the least. While my colleagues took a bus that rode 14 hours through the night from Amsterdam to Zell am See, I chose to miss that gruesome bonding experience and instead flight straight into Austria and meet the team there, fresh and ready to go. Nevertheless, KLM had other plans for me and in the last minute my flight was rescheduled for the next day. Not willing to miss that much time, I accepted an itinerary change, so I had to depart at 6am, flight to Munich via Amsterdam, and from there take two trains. Sure, being able to photograph a sunrise below the clouds was nice, but tired as a was, I still had to face another challenge before making it to my destination.
As my flights were changed, I had to buy new train tickets. Yet the first train was stopped half way through the trip due to a “police investigation”, so I missed my connecting train, and the next one took an extra hour to get to Zell am See. Upon my late arrival, there were no taxis or Uber available, so I had to wait in the cold, while “very educated Central Europeans” kept trying to cut in the taxi line with the lamest excuses and showing zero remorse for their uncivilized behavior.
Finally I arrived in the hotel, but my colleagues were not there. Where was everyone? I sent messages via Slack: no answer. Later I was told that Slack was for work, and since this was a leisure trip, we were to use WhatsApp… which was announced in the WhatsApp group, except I don’t have WhatsApp in my phone (for obvious privacy and ethical reasons). I installed temporarily (already uninstalled now) but it was too late, so I missed dinner and went straight to sleep.
The fun was not over, as I was paired with a room mate from the company that I had never met before, so when he came in the room it was a bit awkward, but he ended up being super nice, so finally I went to sleep and rested.
The next morning everything improved considerably. We were staying at Haidvogl Mavida Zell am See. The breakfast was delicious although it was a bit overwhelming seeing almost 50 colleagues at once, all talking about their bus ride, their day at the slopes, etc. After breakfast everybody got into their ski gear, and we walked to the southern end of Schüttdorf to get in the areitXpress gondolas to ride all the way up the top of the mountain and ski or snowboard in Schmitten.
Since my knees won’t allow me to enjoy the high speed descent down a mountain cliff on slippery substances, I took my camera and just had fun taing pictures of the impressive views and infrastructure. Truly breathtaking. By the way, the best picture opportunities are from the chairlifts.
After a while, I took the chairlift to CityExpress cable car, and then down to Zell am See where I took a stroll passing by the tower Vogt (Kastnerturm), the town fountain, and the St. Hippolyt Parish Church. Then I bought my wife a gift, and walked back to the hotel taking the path along the lake.
Our bus took us to dinner at the unremarkable Grüner Baum, and after dinner almost everybody went out drinking, except four of us who decided to call it a day.
The next day the group split into three: those who went back to skiing in Zell am See, those who went to Kaprun for a 100K, and those of us who decided to stay at the amazing spa in the hotel. The crazy thing is that some of those who went on the 100K had slept only two hours, after showing up drunk at 4am! In Spanish we have a saying: “Youth, divine treasure”.
The spa was very good, with a heated outdoor pool, indoor pool with heated waterbeds, sauna, steam bath, ice bath, quiet room, relaxation room, blue room, treatment rooms, etc. But you had to keep opening unmarked doors to find out what was on the other side, and it felt like a treasure hunt. SO I just swam, lounged, had some water with lime and ginger, and read some philosophy until a colleague showed up and we chatted for hours about his ironman endurance training, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Ukraine invasion, the company, and life in general. Little by little some more colleagues started showing up at the spa. The truth is that I really like my colleagues, such a great group of smart, fun and nice people!
That night our bus took us back to the same restaurant, where this time we had a buffet dinner and shared war stories, and then everybody went rodeling (high speed sledding downhill) in Hinterglemm. The idea was that those of us who did not feel like rodeling could have a drink at the bar on the mountaintop… but it was closed. So we rode the gondolas down, looked for a bar that could accommodate such a large group (which wasn’t easy) if anything to escape the -5ºC (23ºF) temperature, and managed to cram everyone into a little tiny bar, where they proceeded to order 100 beers which were consumed at an alarmingly fast pace.
Finally, an hour later and several incidents with intolerant and rigid locals later, we rode the bus back, making two stops: one for the drinking group to keep on partying all night in town, and another one in the hotel where the other group went straight to the bar to keep on drinking. I’m used to being the one who chooses to remain sober even if I don’t have to drive, but that was some next level drinking I had not seen since the time I hanged out with Russians in New York.
Yet the next morning everyone woke up on time (albeit most were hung over and didn’t look too… healthy), we had breakfast, and they went on to ride the bus for 14 hours (or longer as the toilet in the bus was broken and many more pit stops would be required), and I rode the train back to Vienna via Salzsburg, enjoying postcard views of the Alps and writing this post.
Next company trip: Sailing in the North Sea in June. I can’t wait!
Some photos here