With the Mafia of the Alps

March 8, 2011

Recently, I was invited to the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Garmisch by the tourist office directors from ‘Best of the Alps’. Founded in 1989, the organisation was created as a unifying brand for 12 of Europe’s most established ski destinations, many of which we’re proud to sell here at Momentum Ski (Lech, Davos, St Anton, Seefeld, Garmisch, St Moritz, Zermatt, Megeve, Chamonix, Kitzbuhel, Grindelwald and Cortina).

As you can imagine, I was somewhat taken aback to find myself rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful men and women in the Alps, including the tourist office directors from each of the 12 resorts. My mild surprise soon gave way to complete astonishment as the Championships got underway. The atmosphere was electric.

Those of you lucky enough to have witnessed a major international ski race will know what I mean, and those that haven’t, only will, if you go yourself. It’s almost indescribable; the excitement felt by everyone in town, and the burning question on everyone’s lips: who is going to be the best skier in the world today? Nothing except an FA Cup or World Cup Final really compares.

The race was fantastic, with Ted Ligety of the USA winning the Giant Slalom, much to the surprise (and frustration) of the Austrians and Swiss.

I continued watching long after Ted had sown up the win, with GBR athletes Noel Baxter, TJ Baldwin and Dave Ryding coming down in bib numbers in the 50s and 60s. An honourable mention must also go to the lone Iranian skier in bib 67, Porya Saveh Shemshaki, who takes his surname from the wonder ski resort of Shemshak, situated just outside Tehran.

After an enjoyable lunch, the Best of the Alps attach├ęs took us on a tour of the major nations headquarters. As with the Olympics, these are the buildings inhabited by the national federations to look after and entertain their key partners and sponsors. Entry is by invitation only, of course. But then again, I was in the company of the Alpine mafia, the BOTA (or MOTA, as I prefer to call it!). Thankfully, this wasn’t the Olympics, otherwise it would have been the equivalent of a very long pub crawl. Swiss House was our first stop, heavily branded with St Moritz logos because of its candidacy for the 2017 World Championships.

The place was full of cheese fondues, dried meats, cheeses, flags, pickles and all the Swiss wine from the Valais that you could shake a stick at. World Cup Champion Didier Cuche walked in during our visit to rapturous applause, even if he didn’t win a medal.

Next came Italian House; slick, spacious, lean and contemporary, with a nice glass of Prosecco and handshake from Alberto Tomba to greet you at the door. Would you have expected anything else?

Several more glasses of Prosecco later, we arrived at Austrian House.

Again, they didn’t fail to live up to national stereotypes: buxom, dirndl-clad waitresses were on hand with an endless supply of beer, which were thumped upon the tables in time to the music played by the oompah band in the corner. For those of us that preferred to stick to wine, the chief sommelier was none other than Adi Werner, owner of the legendary Hospiz Alm in St Christoph.

Bavarian House was our final, somewhat-weary stop. The facility is a permanent fixture in Garmisch at the moment, promoting the heritage of the resort as a former Olympic and now World Championships host.

With good reason, too: Munich (and Garmisch by extension) is a candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics. With Munich just a 90-minute drive away, Garmisch is personal favourite of mine as a German ski holiday destination, whether it’s for a weekend ski getaway to the slopes, or a longer ski holiday. And with some of the best hotel rates in the Alps (rooms from as little as 80 euros a night), it’s reasonably priced, too.

Amin Momen

Amin Momen