Hiking up and down mountains is the best way to get fit for skiing – and it’s more fun with a dog in tow. This summer Welove2ski has been out and about in the Austrian Tirol with four of our team (including the dog) trying out different sports ranging from mountain biking to Via Ferrata.
Jackson, our labrador who – until now – sported a prosperous-looking waistline, understandably passed on the pedals and the carabiners. However, four legs beat two for trail running.
Here’s Jackson’s tale:
The brief sounded pretty simple to me: meet the guide outside the church in Ellmau and hike for 90 minutes – 4km up a wooded ravine to Hinterschiessling Alm on the high mountain pastures of the Wilder Kaiser mountains for a well-deserved €10 all-you-can-eat breakfast.
Our host and My People wasted minutes discussing whether I could negotiate a series of narrow bridges over raging torrents and a cattle grid. Do bears sh*!t in the woods? Offer me a Full Austrian with extra Speck (bacon), and I can walk on water…
The journey out here was cool. The Pet Passport system makes overseas dog travel within the EU (ok, to the EU) pretty easy. My People got a double-sized Thule roof box for their luggage, leaving me with the boot of the hatchback all to myself. The only problem was the cycle rack at the rear. Don’t these people at Thule and Volvo have dogs? Getting in and out was a bit like conquering that tricky treble on the equestrian cross-country course at Rio.
Westendorf, better known for its skiing as part of the giant SkiWelt (Soll, Ellmau, Scheffau, Hopfgarten, Going) is stunningly beautiful in summer, but occasionally frustrating. There’s mile upon mile of rolling meadows that would be great to run through. However, the local farmers treat hay as a crop. They don’t take kindly to me frolicking through the rich grass.
No sooner have they cut and baled the hay than they spread the most deliciously-scented farmyard muck all over it. I long to roll in every field, but for no known reason, this is not permitted.
The trouble with people in general – and My People, in particular – is they’re slow. On Saturday, we hiked the Hahnenkamm. In winter the racers take around two minutes to complete the 3km course at speeds of up to 144km. My lot, in summer and with a local guide, took THREE HOURS! At the end, they were exhausted, while I was just warming up. Makes you wonder how they manage to do the skiing, doesn’t it?
Incidentally, they never seem to run up the mountains but travel by gondola – there’s 13 operating in the SkiWelt area in summer, with dogs and mountain bikes carried free of charge. Quite scary, the first time you have to jump in and sit on the floor, but you soon get the hang of it.
Other animals can also present a problem around here. Firstly, there are cows with bells around their necks – they think they own the mountain. What’s the German for arrogant? It’s not that I give them a bad time, it’s just that they don’t like dogs in general.
However, there’s an exception to every rule. Up on the Hohe Salve above Soll and Brixen I was having a rest when a cow wondered over and started sniffing and then licking me. Surprisingly pleasant, actually.
Then, there’s farm cats that don’t run away when you chase them, but sit and hiss at you. I’ve had encounters with goats, a pig, and a couple of tame rabbits, along with hens and even Lippizaner horses at the five-star Hotel Stanglwirt in Going which has its own riding school.
I am, I have to admit, not an obedient dog on all occasions. Sure, I’ll come if called to dinner, but not normally just because They want me to. But, I was told, that what with cows and difficult, dangerous paths up ravines, I needed a refresher behaviour lesson. Left with no choice, I grudgingly agreed as long as They came along too – as far as I was concerned, their need was greater than mine.
We met Hedwig, not outside The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley or The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmead as you might expect, but outside Pub66 which she owns in the Tirolean village of Ellmau.
Hedwig Brandauer-Achenwald (+43 664 20 28 195) is a ‘dog whisperer’ – an animal psychologist who leads weekly ‘pack walks’ organised through the Ellmau Tourist Office. She is also keen on meditation and has a business selling natural remedies for humans, dogs and horses.
“I aim to help a dog’s behaviour in different situations they may not have experienced before, such as staying in a hotel or meeting new people. The pack walk will help them inter-react with other dogs, to remain relaxed and well balanced,” says Hedwig. “Calm, respect and love are the three important foundation stones”. Yeah, well.
Fellow patients on our pack walk were a Havanese called Happy with her person Dominique, rescue dog Alfie with her heavily pregnant Ramona, and an Australian Shepherd called Jessie with two-legged Stefanie. Hedwig had brought along her own dogs: Amy, a Portuguese Water Dog puppy and Max, a giant wolf dog.
Me, go hiking with a mudblood – half dog, half wolf? This guy already knew the others and was the established pack leader…after Hedwig, that is. She made it very clear from the start that she was the boss of all of us.
Being the new kid on the block and faced with these two control freaks, I opted for maintaining a very low profile indeed while they all made up the minds as to whether I could be one of the guys. After a few growls on my part and a failed attempt by Max to dominate me, we all got along famously and had some fun.
Hedwig, for a person, was really cool and I instinctively found myself doing whatever she told me to do. By the end of the walk she had all six of us dogs walking on leads beside her and then she got all of us to sit down together.
She told Our People that provided they remained calm, then their dogs will be calm too. She got them to meditate as they hiked: “Shoulders back, chest out, concentrate on the smells and sounds of the wild,” she said. “Every dog needs a pack leader. There’s no reason why that pack leader can’t be human.”
More obedient? Yes. On the long, steep climb up the ravine to Hinterschiessling Alm above Ellmau I did exactly what I was told to do. The hike was far from easy and I accepted that a missed paw-hold on wet rock could have had dire consequences. But, as always, I was better at it than They were.
The disappointment was the breakfast. It turned out that it was all They could eat – not me. I tell you, it’s a dog’s life in the mountains, but I’ll be back next summer.
All photos © Welove2ski