Tag: skiing


A view up the Saalbach-Hinterglemm valley, Hinterglemm is in the distance

Mrs SomeBeans and I have been skiing again, staying in Hinterglemm in the SkiCircus area of Austria. Hinterglemm is the upper of the two main villages in a valley running east-west, Saalbach is the larger village and gets more sun but the lifts are spread out around the village. We went with Inghams, flying from Manchester to Salzburg, the transfer time is about 2 hours, with a stops at Zell am See and Saalbach which are both relatively close. Salzburg airport can’t really cope with the number of package tour flights it gets in a short period.

Conditions last week were fantastic, for the first four days of our holiday we didn’t see a single cloud, temperatures were fairly low but there was no new snow during the week. Skiing was best between about 8:30am-10am before most people, other than the locals, had got out on the slopes. I suspect getting up at 7:30 every morning is not most people’s idea of a holiday.

Hinterglemm has a lot of lift capacity out of the village, a short gondola ride takes you to a set of four chairlifts on the south-facing side of the valley and two longer gondolas take you to summits on the north facing side of the valley. The link to Saalbach on the south side of the valley is a bit odd: from Saalbach it an an old 3-seater chair lift, followed by a long t-bar drag lift and an old 2-seater chair lift. The return from Hinterglemm the link is a bit easier but still involves a short t-bar. A nice range of skiing with some big wide pistes, pistes through trees and a few long black runs on the north-facing side of the valley which we didn’t try out. The area is pretty well linked up with some circular routes, and the ability to get to pretty much anywhere in the linked are in a couple of hours at most.

We stayed at the Hotel Glemmtalerhof in a large north-facing room looking towards the Reiterkogelbahn which could have accommodated 5 people. The hotel is right in the middle of the village with only a short (~200m) walk to either the Reiterkogelbahn taking you onto the south-facing slopes or the Unterschwarzachbahn taking you to the north-facing slopes. Food was fabulous and overall a good hotel. Drawbacks were that is was a bit noisy, since it sat on the middle of the village and there seemed to be an awful lot of smoking being done in the reception, cafe and bar area. Across the valley, right next to the Reiterkogelbahn, was the Hotel Alpine Palace Wolf which looked very posh and maybe worth a go in future.

Some of the other guests were a little odd: Sunday night as Gala dinner night featured a dessert buffet, which they ate from copiously pretty much all the way through the meal. Mrs SomeBeans, qualified to teach food hygiene, observed sufficient prodding and sniffing of the desserts that she preferred not to partake.

Once again we were plagued by “other people”. This time the party who didn’t realise that “Boarding at gate 7” meant: “get on the plane”, and one of whose children spent the flight gently pummelling my back through the seat back – I was calm since I decided to treat it as a free massage!

Overall a very good holiday with some fabulous skiing: this trip was unusual in that we were able to travel in term time – normally we are restricted to school holidays. I suspect the lift system in SkiCircus copes fairly well with February half-term, so might give it a go then next year.

A selection of photos:

This is “twinkly snow”, as you ski past it the ice crystals twinkle.
Mrs SomeBeans and I on a chairlift, we’re a bit camera shy
Great snowfields near the top of a mountain
The Leoganger Steinberge, a panoramic view from Wildenkarkogel
Looking towards Hinterglemm,invisible over the edge, with pretty clouds and icicles
Obviously I captured GPS data, we covered about 180 miles in 7 days including uplift

More photos here, along with captions.


Mrs SomeBeans and I have been skiing for the last week, and this is a small set of photos from our trip. The family will be subjected to the full 120 photos but you, gentle reader, get the edited version. We went skiing in Westendorf, in the Austrian Tirol, this is where we learnt to ski in January 2001 (a tale of misery, pain and addiction).

On our return we discovered that Westendorf was the village my mum visited most summers. We’ve been back a few times since, each time there are a few more ski lifts, pistes and restaurants to try. Last week was half-term in the UK and several European countries, so airports and so forth were pretty busy. We managed to avoid most of the crowds by making an earlier morning start and keeping to the quieter bits of the mountain.

The first few days of our trip were cold and clear, actually that’s not quite true, it was clear at the top of the mountain and murky at the bottom because of an inversion layer (meterologists: feel free to correct me)

The cold weather was associated with snow, which covered the trees:

We saw sundogs, once again, but I found them impossible to photograph using my compact camera, however I did catch an okayish picture of a related effect – the pillar of light is a real effect you can see with your own eyes – not lens flare.

If I’d have dropped down the slope a little to take the photo the brightest spot would be floating a little way above the ground. Mrs SomeBeans saw this but kept quiet, assuming she was hallucinating! I believe it’s caused by a reflection of sun from aligned plate-shaped ice crystals in the air.

Over the last few years there’s been a big change in ski wear – most people now wear ski helmets, here you can see me sporting my new purchase:

Mum was with us this time, she’s a bit leery of trying downhill skiing but does a bit of cross country skiing:

You’ll notice that few people feature in my photos, this is because I am something of a misanthrope – more of which later. As we left Westendorf it was snowing once again… and we returned to England yesterday to more snow overnight.

SomeBeans’ feeling for snow

As you may have gathered from the header for my blog and my profile picture, I’m rather fond of snow. Although this love has been with me for many years, it was science which got me into skiing: science is very international, and a couple of my students grew up close to the Alps and naturally went skiing every winter. This was the spur that sent me and The Inelegant Gardener on our first skiing holiday, in the Austrian village of Westendorf. After a week of being too hot, too cold, too much in pain, too scared: in the car back from the airport we swore we wouldn’t book a second holiday for at least a week, we lasted three days before booking the next trip!

Why is it so addictive? Perhaps it’s the massive amount of light you get from a blue sky and a white ground at a time of winter’s deepest darkness, perhaps it’s the gorgeous scenery made magical by snow, perhaps it’s the feeling of moving at speed with little effort, or the feeling of powdery snow piling up to your knees as you glide, with your skis submerged, through fresh snow.

Between looking at the spectacular views, eating the goulash soup in the toasty mountain restaurants, gliding down the mountain with grace and elegance and the moments of panic when discovering you are on a piste somewhat beyond your ability, there is much of scientific interest to be found on the mountains.

To start with there are snowflakes, lots of snowflakes:

Growing up in England, I’d never really believed that snowflakes had six-fold symmetry – English snow seems to come in big puffy flakes or rain. Actually to demonstrate the point, we have just been subjected to a fall of little icy pellets. Whilst skiing I was exposed to proper perfect snowflakes which I watched settling on my coat arm as I trundled up a slow chairlift. The difference is all down to how cold the air is and how much water vapour there is in it, this is shown in the snowflake shape diagram here. Actually, this simplifies things a little: the diagram shows what you get when you make snow in the laboratory under carefully controlled, fixed conditions. In real life a snowflake will experience a range of conditions as it falls to earth, which will all contribute to the shape it’s in when it lands. In England this means ‘an irregular blob’, in the Alps it means ‘pretty snowflake’. You can find out much more about snowflakes on Kenneth G. Libbrecht’s website.

There are also sundogs, I’ve seen these a couple of times on days when there is diamond dust in the air:

Sundogs are the short arcs of light either side of the sun. These form under certain atmospheric conditions, bloody cold ones in my experience, the air is filled with tiny thin, hexagonal plates of ice, which drift gently to earth. As they fall they align so that their flat faces are parallel to the ground. They act like little prisms, the little prisms mean that light coming towards you from the sun is thrown out to the side – leaving a gap close to the sun and a bright spot further out. Since they are aligned relative to the ground the sundogs are most obvious either side of the sun (as opposed to a ring all the way around). This is explained in more detail here, along with many other atmospheric optical effects.

Snow also impinges on my own field: the physics of appearance. Consider this: water in a glass is a colourless, transparent liquid; ice (made properly) is similarly transparent, yet clouds (made from tiny water droplets) and snow made from crystals of transparent ice are white. The difference being the microscopic structure of the material. Calculating the details of the reflectivity of snow and clouds is an active area of research for people interested in atmospheric physics, and climate change.

There are so many other things I left out of this post such as wind-sculpted snow, glaciers and the mechanics of skiing itself (although I’ve found that thinking too much about what I’m attempting to do on skis normally leads to a fall). There is a book dedicated to mechanical aspects of skiing: The Physics of Skiing by David Lind and Scott Sanders.

Ever the keen observer, I have discovered that the hairs in my nostrils freeze when the air temperature is around -10°C, take a deep breathe through your nose: if you get a prickling sensation then it is at, or below, -10°C. I did try snowboarding once, and from this learnt where my coccyx was and just how much it could hurt! And by the power of wikipedia, I discover there is a special name for this hurt: coccydynia.

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday