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No day like any other

Go behind the scenes to meet the people hard at work around the clock to provide you with the perfect ski holiday.

Author: Stefan Nink

4:00 am

Over there, between the mountains, a crescent moon slices through the darkness of the night and for one brief moment Florian Kaserer squints as he returns to the brightly lit bakery. It’s half past three in the morning and the crate of bread rolls he’s just placed on the ramp outside was the last delivery for today.

Florian Kaserer bakes for Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis. With 2,500 residents plus 14,500 guests, this adds up to a lot of breakfast bread every morning. Today it was, hang on a minute while he goes to look, 7,496 bread rolls, 980 kornspitz, 75 special breads and fourteen loaves of dark bread. Not to mention pretzels and a variety of other small rolls.

Kaserer and his four colleagues began their shift at nine the previous evening. Now everything has been baked, packed and labelled with the name of the customer. Three drivers will shortly be arriving in their vans to pick everything up to deliver to the hotels and guest houses. A winter sports resort in the Tirolean Alps has a big appetite.

The bakery

  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis bakery © Österreich Werbung

7:30 am

He’s just taken another look outside and nothing has changed – it's simply perfect. Not even the tiniest cloud mars the baby-blue skies over Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis and Jens Fuchs has a good idea what that means. Everyone will turn up at once this morning. Two hundred hotel guests, which in winter equates with two hundred skiers. Or snowboarders. Or simply holidaymakers who want to get out into the sun as fast as they can. When the weather is bad, they like to sleep in a bit and then drift in for breakfast in dribs and drabs. But on a morning like this? It’s as if someone has fired an invisible starting gun.

Fuchs is the restaurant manager at the Wellness-Residenz Schalber. He is very well aware of how the weather can affect the schedule in the kitchen and restaurant. For the final time, he checks the buffet. A variety of dark bread rolls and wholemeal loaves from the bakery up the road, muesli, fruit and freshly pressed juices awaits. Most of the products come from Tirol, many of them from the region; the dairy products are even homemade. And now the guests are coming. All at once, of course.

8:00 am

And then the first guests begin making their way to the slopes. It’s still early, it’s still quiet but the chirping of the birds along the Dorfbahn-Straße is now mixed with that slight scratching sound made when thousands of legs in ski trousers rub against one another. At the ski hire shop by the valley station Dave Fullwood searches the crowd for familiar faces. He can match faces and skis, he says, a pretty useful talent and one that saves time. A lot of time. He’s often got the right pair of skis in his hands before the owner is even standing before him.

Dave is English and has been jobbing at the ski rental in the valley station for the last twenty years. He knows many of the guests personally and many of them know him. With his big bushy beard and wild mane of hair he is a picture of cheerfulness as moves ceaselessly among the crowd, waving to one guest, hugging another, calling out, “Hey! New hairstyle? That’s wicked mate!” to a third.

On any normal winter morning, between two and three thousand winter sports enthusiasts come to pick up their gear at 'Check In'. In the morning everything has to be quick, nobody wants to wait but there has to be time for a couple of friendly words and a joke or two, says Dave. And perhaps he’s right. Perhaps a perfect day of winter sports does indeed begin at the hire shop; a place we always assumed was rather impersonal and probably fully automated. It is 8:17 am and as Bob Dylan’s nasal voice comes out of the sound system, Dave sings along to the refrain of "Like a Rolling Stone" as he goes to fetch the next pair of skis. The right ones, of course.

A winter sports day in Serfaus

  • A winter sports day © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at A winter sports day © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Lawensbahn chairlift © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Lawensbahn chairlift © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Ski hire © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Ski hire © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Well-groomed pistes © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

9:20 am

“Red and green,” sighs Heiseler Andi, “what’s so hard to understand about that? Red and green, like traffic lights.” Heiseler Andi’s real name is Andreas Heiseler and he is one of the conductors on the Serfaus underground railway. Yes indeed – the underground railway. There are only two in the whole of Austria and the other one is in Vienna, where else? But, for the past twenty years, the Serfaus line has brought up to ten thousand skiers a day from the car parks just outside the village to the valley station, all underground and with no traffic jams. With the help of several cameras in the carriages and on the platforms above them, Heiseler Andi and his colleagues make sure that everything runs smoothly.

How does it work? With the help of a small box in the control centre. Depending upon which button is pressed, the underground passengers are bossed around a bit. “Please move into the carriage,” booms a voice from the loudspeakers in the compartment (button 1). Or, “please refrain from smoking” (button 4). According to Heiseler Andi that always works. In the near future, he wants to incorporate an announcement that will solve the red-green problem. “Unless you tell them, people don’t notice they can only use the doors with the green lights above them,” he says. “The other doors don’t open, you see.”

The Serfaus underground

  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Webung /  nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Webung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung /  nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung /  nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis underground funicular railway © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
 

The ski instructor

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Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis kids ski school © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.atSerfaus-Fiss-Ladis kids ski school © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

10:30 am

The sun is shining, the Super Murmli song is playing again, yet Phillip is angry. You only have to look at him; the frown on his forehead beneath his helmet, his lips pressed tightly together. Anyone who knows Phillip knows this does not bode well – something is going to happen. All because of the stupid bindings! Try again, toes in, heel down. It clicks, everything seems firm, but then the boot comes out again. Full of fury, Phillip stamps his foot. Twice, three times. Then he drops down into the snow and starts to scream his head off.

It's not his mum, but Edith Ellinghaus, who hurries to help. She is one of thirty ski instructors who look after the youngest guests at the Kinderschi Alm. Guests like Phillip, who was three last week. But he’s no longer crying and screaming. Now he’s skiing down the slope, grinning from ear to ear.

Teachers like Edith Ellinghaus have made Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis a leading destination for families in the Alps. And facilities like the Kinderschi Alm, a children’s playground in the snow, with its mini-slalom course and back-to-the-start conveyor belt. By the end of their holiday, some of the children who are dropped off here every morning can ski better than they can walk.

The Chef

  • Stefan Monz © Österreich Werbung/nunofoto.at Stefan Monz © Österreich Werbung/nunofoto.at

1:00 pm

He’d wanted to come back for a long time, says Stefan Monz. Back to Tirol, to the mountains, back home. This nagging feeling had actually always been there, in France, in Denmark, even during the two years he spent in New York. “Is that what you call homesickness? It is, isn’t it?” Monz is standing in his kitchen in the Seealm Hög, one of these impressive new buildings made of stone, timber and steel that only Alpine architects can create (ok, and a small number of Norwegians perhaps).

After many years spent abroad, this is his first position as executive chef and his vision is to do everything a little differently to the others. With more style. More colour. More creativity. The menu now boasts “Roast Duroc pork tenderloin with herb-gorgonzola sauce and mixed lettuce salad” and “pan-fried sole on tomato risotto”. Here, at least, the days of the Wiener Schnitzel are numbered.

Every day, Stefan Monz and his team of ten prepare up to two thousand meals, most of them in a two to three-hour slot around noon, when skiers and snowboarders want to fill up with calories. Can it be done? Can you really offer creative cuisine under conditions like these? According to Stefan Monz you can. If you have a vision.

The Seealm speaks volumes

  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Seealm © Österreich Werbung /  nunofoto.at Seealm © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

3:00 pm

Despite all the review sites, the virtual travel communities and the possibility to book everything online, there are still people who turn up late on a Thursday afternoon desperately looking for a room. For tonight of course, until Sunday. Oh, it's high season? Well couldn’t you... Would it be possible, perhaps...? Do you think they might make an exception...?

“We’ve never had to send anyone away,” says Verena Dreier. Her desk at the tourist information centre is a work of minimalist art, with nothing but a computer screen, paper and pens on it. Everything else, even the brochures, are outside. “But you have to be willing to compromise if you come at the very last minute. This isn't a quaint area that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

Indeed. On any one day in the high season, there’ll be up to 14,500 guests staying in the region. With numbers like this, cancellations are inevitable; “There’s always someone who cancels.” These rooms are the ones Verena Dreier can work with. “And if there are no vacancies in Ladis, there’ll be one in Fiss, and if people really want to stay in Serfaus but the only free room is in Ladis, they’ll take that too.” She smiles. “As I said, we’ve never had to send anyone away.”
 

The snow plough

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Michael Gigele © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.atMichael Gigele © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

4.30 pm

Seen from above, the high street in Serfaus looks as if someone has sprinkled thousands of bright chocolate drops over it. Winter sports enthusiasts returning home are a colourful crowd. One thousand metres above them, Michael Gigele is dressed in a simple blue overall as he turns the ignition key to start his work. Gigele drives a snow plough. One of twenty that groom the region’s 212km of ski runs every day. Each one has 400 HP.

And? What’s it like? “Lonely,” Gigele replies. Especially the night shift from nine in the evening to two in the morning, “you only have the stars for company then.” But he has to concentrate anyway. Snowcats are steered with a joystick and tiny movements in the cockpit have big consequences outside, where the shovel distributes the snow, fills holes and flattens bumps. “You need a whole season to master the art. And then it’s a question of practice. With time you get to know your snow.”   

In summer he’s a lorry driver. But he prefers the snow plough; he always wanted to drive a snow plough. Because of the challenge. Driving an excavator is easy compared to a snowcat. And anyway: “isn’t that what we’d all like to do? Drive to work with 400 HP?”

 

Dashing through the snow

  • Paul Greiter © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Paul Greiter © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

6.30 pm

At the moment you wouldn’t know just by looking at him that Paul Greiter is the mayor of Serfaus. With his knee-high, fur-lined boots, warm winter coat and felt Tirolean hat, he leads Lotte and Myrte, his two Haflinger mares out of the stable of his Darrehof farm to harness them to the sleigh. Soon a jolly group of guests will clamber into the sleigh and wrap up in warm blankets for a delightful ride to the Gasthof Madatschen.

As always, Paul’s mayoral heart beats faster as he shows his guests why Serfaus is called Super fauces, i.e. over the gorges, in Romansh. For the path runs beside snow-covered meadows and forests high above the valley. The view of Serfaus with its romantic twinkling lights and unique mountain scenery covered deep in snow is truly amazing. “Yes, indeed,” Paul says, “even people without a romantic bone in their body are left speechless”.

10:30 pm, 11:17 pm or 12:46 am

Cross the bridge at Argebach, then turn left and continue straight ahead. Lucas Geiger’s mountain inn is just about close enough to Serfaus for you to get there on foot. Yet at the same time, it’s far enough to make you feel you’re hiking out into the open countryside and that’s part of its charm.

According to Geiger, the Madatschen is the only restaurant on the plateau that retains its original features, only the winter garden is new; everything else is as it always has been. The restaurant. The furnishings. The food. Many of the regular guests first came here as children with their parents and Walter has been playing the accordion here for 32 years. Now as before, the kitchen opens at ten in the morning and only closes when the last guests leave. Which can be late at night, often even in the early hours. As always, the white peaks shine beneath the star-filled Tirolean skies as if they had been painted onto the black firmament in opaque white.

Meanwhile, the bakery of Florian Kaserer is already brightly lit.

The Madatschen restaurant

  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at
  • Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at Madatschen © Österreich Werbung / nunofoto.at

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