With views to die for, Paul Suart is reminded to keep safety in mind when snowboarding.
Snow capped mountains stretched out across the vast horizon below me from the upper reaches of Austria’s SkiWelt resort.
It was a breathtaking view most skiers and snowboarders would die for.
Yet, adopting the most severe of worst case scenarios, it was a dramatic vista I could have died for.
For this intrepid, and rather foolish boarder, suddenly found himself alone and, by complete accident, on a black run – the hardest grade of slope in terms of difficulty to descend.
Having negotiated part of the advanced route, I reached a point, seemingly ‘off piste’ in a valley between slopes, where I was no longer comfortable with the unforgiving and rather steep terrain.
Unclipping my board to walk across to the slope 100 yards to the left, I began to slide uncontrollably down towards a sheer drop – unsure if there was a barrier to break my fall.
After sliding for what must only have been a few seconds, but felt like an eternity, I managed to dig in and grind to a halt some 50 yards above the drop.
Lying on my back, with the uneasy reality I was so high up mountain peaks were below me, I did what all skier or snowboarder is secretly ashamed of doing. I called out for help!
Too scared to do any more than lift my head from the snow, in case I began to slide again, I chose to cry out when skiers sporadically passed on the slope about 200 yards to my right.
Thankfully it was only about 30 minutes, though it seemed like days, before three German skiers came to my aid.
The altruistic trio stayed by my side until a search and rescue team escorted me, unhurt but somewhat embarrassed, from the slope in an industrial-sized snow plough.
That the plough is called out twice a day on average, according to its two operatives, did rather alleviate some of my abashment and guilt.
This had been a hair-raising experience I had brought upon myself – with no blame apportioned to the organisers – having become separated from the rest of my group and the instructors.
The moral of the story then, as a relative novice boarder; try not to tackle slopes on your own and only take on runs you are comfortable with else take a ski lift or cable car down.
Needless to say the whole ordeal, as fraught as it was, did and never will deter me from boarding again. And rightly so.
In fact, the best cure for my newfound jitters was to immediately return to the slopes of SkiWelt - which with 279km of runs is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area, 80km north east of Innsbruck in the federal state of Tirol.
Later that evening, after my ski group had reunited and regaled our stories of the day over après-ski in a bar by the Sport Erdinger hire centre in Söll, I was back on the piste.
This time, however, I was pulling a toboggan down a gently inclined floodlit track winding 2.5km through the valley of Söll.
Not only was it reassuring to be back on the mountain, if not as far up it, but tobogganing proved an unexpected highlight of the trip not just for me but also my travelling companions.
The drama I had encountered almost mirrored, in a quite different way, that of the enchanting descent into Innsbruck Airport days earlier.
A sea of mist hovered below as we flew through a valley between snow capped mountains.
As our plane pierced the mist, a series of scenic, dusty white miniature villages, reminiscent of a snow globe scene, were gloriously revealed beneath us.
Innsbruck city centre, just a short drive from the airport, was our first port of call – in particular its four very different Christmas markets.
What became instantly apparent, as we walked along Innsbruck’s glamorous, litter-free streets, each one glistening with sparkling Christmas decorations, was the feeling of affluence and indulgence that immerses Tirol’s capital city.
That Innnsbruck is home to one of the world’s largest Swarovski shops and a museum dedicated to the history of the highly sought-after range of crystals, appeared to justify such an observation.
We strolled in the bitter evening cold hardened by a wind chill that made the temperature feel much cooler than -10°C to Marktplatz, the city’s main plaza, which was almost entirely covered by quaint Christmas market stalls.