How Ski Tours Can Benefit Your Well-Being And Quality Of Life

Winter sports are considered as healthy. But, until today there were no scientific studies that proved in any way if winter sports actually benefit our well-being and our health. An EU project named WinHealth is now undertaking a ski tour study in the project region of St. Johann in Tirol.

St. Johann in Tirol, Austria © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

In January I was invited to visit St. Johann in Tirol, Austria for the WinHealth active days with a few other bloggers and journalists. I have studied in Innsbruck a few years ago (crazy how time flies!) and did go snowboarding there a few times so I was very excited to finally go on a ski tour. This has been on my list for so long but it just never happened. 

 

St. Johann in Tirol is located in the middle of the Kitzbüheler Alps region. It lies in a valley between the mountain range of the Wilder Kaiser and the mountain called Kitzbüheler Horn. It's also the most populous municipality in the district of Kitzbühel.

 

As I arrived at the train station, the sun was shining and the town looked cute and inviting with a few shops, cafes, and restaurants. I loved the village character and the surrounding mountains that do look quite impressive. It took me around 15 minutes to reach my destination, the Explorer Hotel

Checking in to the Explorer Hotel

© Nikola Jandric from Credo Web
© Nikola Jandric from Credo Web

Arriving at the Explorer Hotel, the building looked very welcoming with a wooden look from the outside and very modern on the inside. The check-in was warm and welcoming and I don't know if you know but we have another formal version of 'you' in German, we say to each other 'Sie', especially if you don't know each other or if it's in business.

 

 

As I arrived at the receptionist, she immediately explained that everyone in the hotel says 'du' to each other, the informal you. It was a nice and very laid-back way to arrive, quite different to the 'normal' check-in, that's for sure.

Explorer Rooms

Arriving at the Explorer Hotel, the building looked very welcoming with a wooden look from the outside and yet modern on the inside. The check-in was warm and welcoming and I don't know if you are aware, but in German, we have another formal version of 'you'. We say to each other 'Sie', especially if you don't know each other, if it's in business or if it's an older person. 

 

As I arrived at the receptionist, she immediately explained that everyone in the hotel says 'du' to each other, the informal you. It was a nice and very laid-back way to arrive, quite different to the 'normal' check-in, that's for sure.

Explorer Hotel St. Johann in Tirol © Melanie Klien @Mafambani
Booking.com

Made for Explorers

Explorer Hotels is a chain that is the perfect match for sport fans. You'll find them in  the Germany and Austria. By booking here, you'll get a 15 € voucher for your next stay. 

 

Being oriented towards sport fans, this hotel group offers a very unique service:

  • touchscreens with tips for excursions, ski areas, hiking trips, etc. 
  • workbench with tools for your bike or ski equipment 
  • gopro rental for your helmet 

From the hotel, the ski touring group drove to Intersport Patrick, a sports equipment shop where we did our check-in. On a computer, we had to log ourselves in with our data (size, weight, experience) and tried ski touring shoes on. I was surprised at how light the material was. The shoes and the skis have almost no weight at all compared to my normal ski boots and skis at home. We were all set for the next day and had a great dinner at Villa Masianco. I can recommend the vegetarian pizza provencale. The restaurant is central and easy to walk by foot to and from the hotel. 

But first, coffee.

You know me, I L O V E  breakfast. The next morning I started my day early with some yoga in bed, a hot shower and the perfect view out of my room. 

Everyones runs around trying to find a place where they still serve breakfast because eating breakfast, even if it's 5 o'clock in the afternoon, is a sign that the day has just begun and good things can still happen. Having lunch is like throwing in the towel." 

- Jonathan Goldstein - 

Our meeting point at the hotel was set at 8:30 AM so there wasn't that much time left for me and I decided for a quick breakfast. Three slices of bread together with a yummy plum jam (I love plums!) and along with a Latte Macchiato. 

Ski touring for beginners

I rushed back to my room to grab my backpack. Now there are a few things that I would pack differently now, compared to this day.

 

As already mentioned, I have never been on a ski tour before. I'm from the alps (living int he most western part of Austria) and I ski since I am a little kid. Both of my brothers do ski touring and I probably would have never dared to rent some gear and them if I could join. I can already imagine the look on their faces. I am quite slow too and I can't go skiing in deep powder. Embarrassing to say that as an Austrian, but yes. That's the case with me. So you see, there were a few obstacles why I haven't tried it so far. 

 

Therefore, I packed my backpack with things I usually pack when I go skiing or snowboarding. Let me put it like that...there are a few things that I would pack differently now. 

What to pack for a ski tour

We were told to dress appropriately. Certainly, everyone was wearing ski clothes. If you're going to book a ski tour for beginners, I can highly recommend bringing the following with you: 

 

  • a backpack (maybe you can rent one, but rather make sure and bring your own) 

 

  • your own water bottle from home (you can fill up the bottle in your hotel room, we have excellent water quality in Austria. There's no need to buy bottled water in a shop.) I was quite happy to sip my water bottle a few times when we had a short break in between. It was exhausting, so I was thirsty. 

 

  • a light headband that covers your ears and part of the head if you need to. I brought a normal cap and it was way too hot! As I said I prepared myself like I was going to ski or snowboard. Therefore I was wearing a cap on my head and I had my helmet with me for skiing the slopes down. Way too hot! Rather bring a headband that can dry quickly because you ARE going to sweat!

 

  • light outdoor jacket - pack your normal ski jacket in your backpack and for going up, rather wear a light outdoor jacket. Funny enough I do even have such jackets at home but I didn't come up with the idea I would need one of those. 
© Nikola Jandric
© Nikola Jandric

Our guide is telling me and Eva from placevaventura to take off our jackets as it's going to be warm for us within a few minutes. I couldn't believe it first, but oh yes, he was so right. 

The mountains are calling and I must go...

What were my thoughts so far about ski touring? I had this image in my head, that it's exhausting. But other than that, I couldn't really imagine what it would feel like to 'hike' up. As soon as we got set up with all the gear and our guide showed us how to walk with that ski, I found out it looked easier than it actually was. 

I found it to be more difficult while I was 'walking' in the flat as I was so used to the skis being tied to my foot, that I wanted to lift the skis off the ground. Once we started to hike up, we turned a buckle at the back of our ski shoe and it became easier for me to simply lift the heel off and just slide the skis along the snow. I was mostly at the end of the group going in my own rhythm. 

© Nikola Jandric
© Nikola Jandric

To  my big surprise, we were welcomed by the ladies of Kitzbüheler Alpen who waited for us in a ski hut with delicious cookies and a warming tea. It felt good to take off my sweater and to enjoy the view over the Tyrolean alps. The cookies were delicious and it felt great to be with this fun group. I find it interesting how quickly a group of strangers become a team because they are active outdoors and I could imagine that this must be a great team building event for companies or for departments within a big company. 

 

While you're on a ski tour it's a lot about accepting everyone and their level of fitness. This means you look after each other. You take more breaks if someone needs to, you help each other up if they fall (like it happened to three of us, and me as well when I accidentally hiked up a part where the snow was frozen). And even if you are a bit faster, you always look back and make sure everyone is doing okay. 

© Eva Kaiblinger from placevaventura
© Eva Kaiblinger from placevaventura
Tea, schnaps and mountains. Austria in a nutshell.
Tea, schnaps and mountains. Austria in a nutshell.

After our ski tour, we skied down on the slopes until we reached the restaurant, Grander Schupf. For lunch, my dear blogger friend Doris from Doris World and I shared Kässpätzle and traditional Austrian dishes, cheese spaetzle and Kaiserschmarrn (also a dessert, but Austrians are the perfect example to show you that you can always have dessert for lunch, just in a bigger portion) ;) 

Kaiserschmarren at Grander Schupf, St. Johann in Tirol © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

After our ski tour, I jumped under the shower, put 'Sport go' from Ringana on my body.

(a thermal active gel that warms and relaxes and releases muscle tension. If you need more info, just contact me. )

Oh boy, that was so helpful! I quickly headed back to the lobby to grab a coffee and sat down to listen to two very interesting speeches.

Now, what is WinHealth?

There were many reasons why the EU-Interreg project WinHealth was initiated. One of those is that there are many potentials that are not fully used yet in winter tourism areas. 

 

 

As we heard in the press conference when Dr. Hartl was speaking, he explained that Winter, in general, isn't associated with health right away. If you think of your health, you think of summer. Hiking in the Alps, etc. that's what comes up in our association. WinHealth comes from Winter + Health. 

Can you spot me? © Standort Agentur Tirol
Can you spot me? © Standort Agentur Tirol

 

The goal of this project is to create scientifically based health touristic winter offers to the public. Therefore WinHealth included eight partners (St. Johann in Tirol, Ritten und Brixen in South Tyrol, Province Udine in Italy and Friuli Venezia Giulia) between the time of November 2016 and April 2019. New offers and products and also new business models are expected.

 

Nowadays 50% of the global population lives in cities, and the rural population is constantly decreasing. Without doubt, cities do have many advantages, maybe one of the most are jobs. But, there are many other comforts that we do enjoy when visiting cities. There are vast opportunities concerning entertainment, it's multicultural and very diverse and you find the best options for anything concerning culture. 

 

Cities come with many side effects though. You might be aware of some, like air pollution (especially fine dust pollution) and noise. In his speech, Univ.-Doz. Mag. Dr. Arnulf Hartl (head of the Institute for eco medicine at Paracelsus private university), explained the close relationship between fine air pollution and loss of time to live. He explained that living south of Milan, Italy could mean to lose around three years of your lifetime due to fine air pollution and nitrous gases. 

 

There are some other side effects from cities like less movement or exercise, and alienation of nature because people are constantly in an exchange with others and their immune system. 

 

St. Johann in Tirol - © Standortagentur Tirol
St. Johann in Tirol - © Standortagentur Tirol

I was horrified to hear that fine dust pollution is also leading to a worsening of mental sicknesses like dementia, a higher cancer risk, and depression. 

 

We all know that sitting is the new smoking, I am sure that's not new for you. According to Dr. Hartl, if we'd manage to reduce the amount of time we sit only by one hour per day, we could extend our lifetime already. 

 

Another problem he showed up is, that many kids grow up in an environment today that leads to an exercise intolerance They don't want to move anymore. This is a reason why more and more children and teenagers are obese.

Benefits of the Alps

To be between 1,500 and 2,000 meters is actually benefiting our health strongly. it has a positive effect on our sleeping quality, the pulse and the general well-being. According to the Austrian Moderate Altitude Study (AMAS), people will feel more energetic, as well as concentrated and less tired. 

 

Another fun study shows that according to the Austrian "happiness index", the happiest are Tyrolians and people from Vorarlberg (that's where I am from), followed by Salzburg and Upper Austria. Seems like those mountains do make us happy. I can underline this. Whenever I am in the mountains (and luckily we are surrounded by them), I am very content, happy and feeling free. 

Scientifically based health tourism

Health tourism had a high development in the last few years and is seen as the strongest growing segment in tourism. Also, Ski touring is an ongoing trend in Austria. There are around 600,000 estimated ski mountaineer in the country, and each year roughly 56,000 ski tour equipment is sold and the numbers are counting. Although it is believed to be healthy, there are no significant studies that prove it actually is. The risk of injury in ski touring shouldn't be underestimated. And therefore the study wanted to show insights about muscular fatigue. 

A balance test that participants had to do every day © Standortagentur Tirol
A balance test that participants had to do every day © Standortagentur Tirol

In the second speech, Univ-Prof. Dr. med Wolfgang Schobesberger, head of the Institute for sports, alps medicine and health tourism (ISAG) in Tyrol, he pointed out that the risk of muscular fatigue shouldn't be underestimated.

 

 

And while a ski vacation is inviting to simply go skiing, regeneration is vital. He explained that while a vacation could be a trigger to change his lifestyle towards more sports and more physical movement, it doesn't have to be.

 

To create a certain program in health tourism could be attractive and it could be a new way of gaining new customers and to keep them. 

Details of the ski tour study

The study started already in March 2017 with participants who were between 40 and 65 years old and were experienced in ski touring and active in the last two years. In the second part of the study, the new tourist target audience were participants with a knee endoprosthesis. More and more people are facing problems with their knees who result in such a surgery. 

 

The forecast for 2030 says that over 50% of the persons concerned will be younger than 65 years. There are barely any studies which could give a suggestion what sport is good for this target group. 

- Dr. Schobersberger - 

 

The participants stayed at the Explorer Hotel during the time of the study and were tested each day with different tests like the balance test and some other appliances. 

Testing the knee © Standortagentur Tirol
Testing the knee © Standortagentur Tirol

Winter is healthy

The results of the study will be presented within this year and it's expected that both, science and tourism will benefit out of it. The project region, St. Johann in Tirol was the place where we all met and that's for a few reasons. The destination is perfect because of it's great access to hospitals, doctors, therapists and its good tourism infrastructure. 

 

Last year a lot of investments were made, among others over 17 million € were invested in new facilities. On Wednesday and Friday evening the slopes are open and people can go ski touring up to a ski lodge where they can have a drink. This is an important action for the locals as well who can go ski touring after work.

 

Also, the tourist areas realized that the behavior of customers has changed within the last couple of years. A few years ago, people used to buy a ski pass for the entire week, now they decide on their own what they want to do and they choose amongst different products. 

© WinHealth
© WinHealth

Outdoor activities in the snow do have many positive advantages for your health. It's good for your muscles, and the Alps are good for our lungs. It's not for nothing that the Alps are considered as the green lungs of Europe. 

 

Let's put all those nice facts to the side for one second. 

 

Winter sport is so much fun! And while sometimes you might want to snuggle inside on the couch and you want to just enjoy the spa all day, you can still do that after you have been active. Because once outside, it feels so good to do something. Also in winter, I love to be outdoors in the snow, as in the mountains it's often sunny while in the valley it's grey and foggy. And believe me, after you have been active on the slopes or you went for a long hike, you deserve your spa time even more. 

 

© Standort Agentur Tirol
© Standort Agentur Tirol

Over to you, have you ever been on ski vacations and did you ever try out ski touring? What was it like for you?

 

Could you imagine to book a specific vacation package in a ski area if you'd knew it would benefit your entire health? 

I was invited by Fine Facts and its partners. My opinion is always my own. I'd like to thank the entire WinHealth project and all its partners, the tourism region Kitzbüheler Alpen, Standortagentur Tirol and especially Fine Facts for the wonderful organization of this event.