Off to see our Austrian sister | VailDaily.com

Off to see our Austrian sister

Carolyn Pope
Photo by Steve Pope/Vail Daily Brian and Pat Nolan try their hands at milking the wooden cow in the contest the visiting Americans did not win.
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LECH AM ARLBERG, Austria – “You know, it’s a lot like Beaver Creek,” said Roberta Iacino, one Coloradan who ventured to Lech am Arlberg, Austria with the Beaver Creek hiking group. Disappointment echoed in her voice, as she took in the stark mountains and charmingly painted homes. But the disappointment lasted less than a few hours. By the second day, she laughed at her first impressions. “I’m so glad I came,” she said. “There are definite similarities, but they’re so different. This is an incredible place.”There are mountains, and then, there are mountains. We brag about our Rockies, but let’s face facts, Austria has the Alps. Lech is Beaver Creek’s sister resort. Located in Arlberg, Austria, the town is nestled deep in the heart of the Alps, and is an apt companion to Beaver Creek.

At first glance, there are similarities – from the awe-inspiring peaks to the quaint buildings. But where Beaver Creek is young and precocious, Lech is old and wise. New buildings are sprouting here and there, but the strict building guidelines ease the new into the old, like a mother cow sheltering her young.I was one of the fortunate ones who, this past September, visited Lech with a group from the Vail-Beaver Creek area. The trip was organized by the Beaver Creek Resort Company with the mission of introducing those from our valley to the splendor of our sister city, as well as paying a visit to new and valued friends.’Look at that!’

We arrived the first day weary from the travel, but were herded into a van and whisked from high-tech Zurich to our destination. Ulli Jochum, blonde and bubbly, greeted us. I had met Ulli during Oktoberfest in Beaver Creek when she and her husband, Stefan, visited with a large contingency of tuba and trumpet players from Lech’s official band.Along the bus journey, the travelers often nudged each other with a “Look at that!” as they pointed out the windows at the European architecture, a plunging waterfall or a herd of cows. The primary purpose of this trip was to hike, and, of course, there was some trepidation involved to traveling so far to do something we could all do in our own backyards. How difficult could it be? Accompanied by Beaver Creek’s hiking guru, Nate Goldberg, many of us who weren’t quite prepared for our own fourteeners were relieved to learn Lech’s altitude – the village is around 4,750 feet – is substantially lower than that with which were accustomed. Really, though, how different would this venture be from our beloved Rockies? As any hiker knows, the views are great at the top, but it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Cruising into Lech, Tony O’Rourke, of Beaver Creek Resort Company, excitedly watched a group of bikers trekking along the winding highway. Nudging his wife, Suzy, he attempted to encourage her to join him in a quick ride upon arrival at the hotel. A seasoned traveler – I’m an international flight attendant – I told them I would stick to my usual routine: A three-hour cat nap upon arrival, then adapting as quickly as possible to the time zone. Our hosts, the local Bürgermeister – or mayor – Ludwig Muxel and his wife, Diana, greeted us. Cow-milking contestThat evening at dinner, after Tony returned from his bike ride and Suzy from her hike, the couple were so bushed they hit the hay by 9 p.m. Poor Tony and Suzy missed out on an evening to remember.

After dinner at the hotel, Ulli and Stefan announced this particular day was a celebration – the cows had been brought down from the mountaintops to their winter grazing area and as was the tradition in Lech, a party was to be held in a barn at the top of the hill. Of course, the celebration included plenty of lager, schnapps, a band and even a cow-milking contest. Who could turn down such an offer? So, off we went. We loaded up into Ulli’s and Stefan’s Audi, and along with Brian and Pat Nolan, Phil and Jane Manhard from St. Louis, Nate, Federica Bal and Roberta Iacino, off we went to a barn. The night was beautiful and cold, and we arrived at the barn, which, from the smell, had very recently housed a fair share of livestock. The crowd was loud and young, the music, very Americanized, the band pounding out music from John Mayer to the Rolling Stones – and even John Denver, performed by none-other than former Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz’ nephew, Martin Kurz. After a round of beers for everyone, I searched for our bovine friend. No warm-blooded cow to be found – instead, the creature at the center of the contest was constructed from wood, with a black rubber udder.

Fortunately, I was manning the camera, so participation was easily avoided. Several other members of our posse, however, were lassoed into the event. Nate paired up with an old friend from Lech, because they had previous experience as a team. Pat and Brian Nolan joined in, too, and the contest was on. Although no Americans walked away with glory, we all left sated with schnapps and good laughs. No doubt, we were the first to leave the celebration, but after a long day of travel and the upcoming day of hiking, it was time to head back to the Aurora. Vail, Colorado