“Lean back! Lift your legs and take the curve at full speed! Shift your weight towards the inside of the turn, stick your foot out to steer and then quickly pick up speed again after the curve – until the snow turns to powder and I’ve shaken off those chasing behind me! Best time!” I think to myself about yesterday’s toboggan run whilst the whole family sets off out again in this glorious weather.
Yesterday we took the free ski bus to the starting line of the toboggan run at Heutal in Unken, but today we are driving ourselves. We want to stay out all day and head down from the high mountain pasture by the light of our headlamps. Our local equipment rental assures us that the toboggans have been well waxed – which promises to result in our best times yet given today’s cold temperatures and fresh powder snow. But first, we take a leisurely stroll from the car uphill on a mild slope through the sparse woods. Around 45 minutes later we reach a picturesque clearing for ski tourers and snowshoers leaving their tracks down from the Sonntagshorn. “Cows graze here on this idyllic mountain pasture in the summer and spend their alpine summer here before heading back down in the valley with the dairymen in the autumn,” says Grandma, who has spent many alpine summer holidays here in Heutal with Grandpa.
I play our favourite game with Grandpa and Dad to pass the rest of our time climbing: guessing tracks. Alongside the path we discover fresh footprints and tracks made by roe deer, stags, squirrels, foxes and hares and eagerly discuss where each of them was coming from and where they were headed. Meanwhile, Mum and Grandma are engrossed in mother-daughter gossip and take things at a more leisurely pace. After a short time, today’s destination appears before us: the Hochalm snack bar at the foot of the Sonntagshorn, 1,460m up.
A cosy chalet evening
The sun terrace gleams invitingly in the midst of these wintry mountain pastures and the delicious aroma of freshly cooked traditional chalet fare from “Klaus’s Chalet”, as the Hochalm is also known, drifts down to greet us. In no time Grandma and Mum then overtake us in the last few metres leading up to the chalet, saying with a laugh, “We’re so looking forward to cheese gnocchi and the other regional delicacies here – it’s given us a tailwind!” Together we settle down on the terrace for a brief thirst quencher as the sun begins to set before making ourselves comfortable around the tiled stove in the warm parlour.
We decide on the large pan of cheese gnocchi and when the cast iron skillet arrives on the middle of the table, Dad shouts, “Ready, steady, grab your spoons!” Each of us pick a side from which to attack the cheese gnocchi, with our dinner sometimes descending into a real fight over each of our Kasnocken patches. We do a lot of laughing and end up polishing off the entire pan, including the delicious crust on the bottom.
A little something sweet to finish off is an absolute must before our toboggan race, so we order fluffy Kaiserschmarrn pancakes with apple sauce and choose some of Paula’s home-made pastries, including a quark strudel with a vanilla sauce and delicious apple pie.Grandpa and Dad treat themselves to a tipple of rowan berry schnapps to round off our delicious dinner, protesting that “it’s good for a full stomach and means we’ll be in the right ‘curving spirit’ during our race”.
The quest for the fastest time
We grab our sledges, which we had leaned up against the wall of the chalet when we arrived, and line up at the entrance to the 3.5-kilometre natural toboggan run. I make sure that none of us are positioned past the starting line and give the command, “Ready, steady, sledge!” After a few swift kicks with the legs, my sledge gets going and we head for the curve at speed. Just as I had already rehearsed it in my mind, I quickly stick my leg into the snow to steer and then it’s quickly onto the next straight. A quick glance over my shoulder shows my pursuers have already dropped back and are fighting to maintain their position a little further back.
Curve by curve, the snow around us turns to powder, and of course I return triumphantly to the car park as the winner. A full 30 seconds faster than the previous day, and Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa all finished a long way behind me, albeit with a smile. Mum and dad had apparently challenged each other, resulting in a leap into the deep snow, because they both look like living snowmen. Laughing, we tell each other about our runs and decide to hike back to Hochalm tomorrow. On the one hand there is still the chalet bread we saw on the menu, which we really want to try, and on the other hand, I’m sure I can shave off another few seconds from today’s toboggan personal best!