No, not because of the naked German men who hang out their ‘wares’ in the hotel spa nor because my prowess on the slopes has noticeably increased. So what was it made this holiday so delightful?
For a start, I think it is particularly delicious to be a mum who has managed to bequeath five days of packed lunches, grumpy wake-up calls, fruitless sock searches and twice-daily school runs to hapless husbands who phone each other, unsure about their ability to survive so long without the respite of a few nocturnal pints.
And even though between us, we’ve hidden tiny gifts under pillows, left words of maternal encouragement pinned to kitchen corkboards, cooked chickens, frozen casseroles and stuffed wardrobes full of clean clothes, still – like the pain of childbirth – we have already forgotten our blood, sweat and offspring by the time we hit the N8 and the road to Dublin Airport.
Freed from the shackles of motherhood, like prisoners out on weekend leave, the world looks suddenly bright, fresh and full of promise.
I’m glad we’re mostly old enough now to be able to create bucketloads of laughter without resorting to Bacchus’ charms. I now much prefer the genuine humour and repartee you get when sober to the false sense of having a good time we used to get only after empty wine bottles littered the dinner table.
I don’t begrudge anyone else their alcoholic apres-ski, I’m just glad I no longer have to wake sore-headed to prove I’ve enjoyed myself sufficiently the night before.
There’s lots to make me laugh on a skiing break. It starts before 7am when I do my living-alarm-clock impression, waking the gang with a burst of song from the Sound of Music, a different piece each morning depending on the signs: an inspirational "Hills Are Alive…" on days 1 and 2 when I know they’ll be eager to wake and get out on the slopes.
Or a gentle ‘Edelweiss’ when I know they’re recovering from an exhausting day of snowstorms and low-flying clouds and will first need to be seduced with pots of Johnny’s strong black coffee and a whole buffet table heaving with everything from cheeses, smoked salmon, salamis and hams to large pots of fruit salad, greek yoghurt, honey, seeds, to plates of Viennese marble cake, croissants, ginger bread, all freshly baked in our very own coffee shop.
Then we’re off in the car to find some snow. This year, though staying in our usual Austrian resort, there’s no snow to be had so we search a bit further afield to find the wonderful Waidring and the gondola cars that take us high above the clouds, 800 metres until we reach the winter wonderland that is Steinplatte and its 30 km of easy and almost-easy runs.
Steinplatte is situated so high up that our ears pop as we ascend and we are temporarily deaf when we return to base. But the slopes, as far as the eye can see, are teeming with skiers of all sizes, ages and nationalities.
Tiny colourful tots, nonchalently gathering snow for snowballs as, ski-pole-free, they carelessly follow their instructors down the mountain-side. Gangs of package-tourists, stopped for a ciggy break. Serious Dutchmen, searching out the red runs (few and far between the blue runs at Steinplatte, and no black runs at all). Snowboarders jumping over ramps and landing in snowdrifts. Adolescent show-offs skiing backwards…
Within half an hour of getting back on the slopes this year, I was coaching – in French – a stranger, a complete beginner. Marion Ryan, international ski coach, ha ha. The blind leading the incapable.
Later, reluctantly, we adopted a South African and her gentle elderly husband. She’d cried the day before and had returned to face her demons. I wondered about that. Even I could find nothing to cry about on this peak, so gentle and soft, but we accepted her tale and led her back through her hell until she smiled again as the chair lift came into view and shaking, she could return to base, head held high.
Our Austrian ski trips are punctuated by hearty breakfasts, long hours skiing, meditational jacuzzi sessions and deep snore-strewn sleeping. I knew it was a perfect holiday when on our last day, when we could easily have done some shopping, had a beauty treatment or sat gazing at the mountains from our balcony before our late afternoon flight, instead we got up extra early, reduced breakfast to a mere 45 minute food-fest and sped off for our final few hours of parallel turns, snow ploughs, precarious chair-lifts and just the occasional plunge into soft powdery snow.
Skiing is infuriating and energising, painful and poetic, ludicrous and liberating. It’s fresh air with a purpose, exercise with an objective. While I’ll never be good, I’ll always be good enough.
I’m not sure of the details of what happened at home while I was gone. But I’ve done a head count and no-one appears to be missing. The cats seem a bit miffed, milk rations were probably well down this last week but no one else seems too concerned by my absence. I may quietly start planning the next trip…