Music festivals aren’t for everyone, I know that. But for most British teenagers, going to your first festival is like a ‘coming of age’ ritual. It’s likely to be the first time you’re free from parents, rules, school and coursework. And with that freedom, perhaps it’s the first time you drink your body weight in alcohol, pop a load of pills and shag a complete stranger? Maybe.
As a teenager growing up in Reading, going to the world famous Reading “rock” Festival was a rite of passage. At school you were nobody unless you’d been to Fezzy and stayed for the whole three days of carnage. Though we lived only 15 minutes from the festival, we’d still pitch a tent and insist on camping. Sometimes we’d even pay a few quid more to arrive a couple of days early, just to secure a prime spot in Green camp (everyone knows Green camp is the best camp).
But come the morning, we’d be texting our mums on our Nokia 3310s, begging to be picked up so we could come home and have a hot shower. A few hours later, clean, fed and watered, we’d return to the festival and get straight back on it. Standard.
Apparently, people who love music festivals are the happiest people on the planet. I certainly love festivals and they definitely make me happy; I love the atmosphere, the people, the camping, the food and drink, and of course, the music. I’ve seen some of my favourite bands and artists perform some of my favourite songs all over the UK – I’ve got memories I’ll keep forever.
I remember Eminem bringing Marilyn Manson onto the main stage during his performance of The Way I Am at Reading Festival 2001, and Damon Albarn falling from that same stage two years later. In 2004, I witnessed 50 Cent getting bottled and booed off the stage (it is – or was – a rock music festival, after all). And in 2008 I watched RATM controversially take to the stage dressed in orange Guantanemo Bay costumes – though I couldn’t hear them at all, as there was terrible wind and the sound didn’t carry. Then over in Essex in 2009, I met Sir Richard Branson backstage at V Festival, celebrating his birthday. And although not quite on par, the next day I met Pixie Lott in the toilets. But even better than all of that, a week later at Reading Festival 2009, I met TJ and Bambi – who 10 years later, are still two of my best friends.
Despite my love of festivals, however, I’d never been to one abroad. So in 2015, already well into my 12 countries in 12 months travel challenge, when I was offered the opportunity to attend a festival in Austria, all paid for by work, I immediately said “yes”.
The company I was working for at the time was sponsoring Snowbombing Festival – Europe’s largest skiing and snowboarding festival, held in the Austrian ski resort of Mayrhofen. I knew nothing about the area or the festival, but that didn’t matter; whenever I mentioned to anyone “oh, I’m going to Snowbombing”, I was met with lots of approval and “you’re so lucky” comments.
Dubbed the Glastonbury of the slopes, Snowbombing is five days of snow sports and drinking during the day, then more drinking and music at night. But this wasn’t like Reading Festival or V Festival – this was underground grotto pool parties, igloo raves and enchanted forest mash-ups up a mountain in minus -10c temperatures. It looked amazing and sounded beyond cool, despite me having never heard of any of the DJs or artists on the line-up.
The music wasn’t the only thing I was clueless about, however: I’d never skied before, let alone been to a ski festival. For those who do like skiing and/or snowboarding, and are looking for a festival to attend, this handy Ski Festival Finder tool will help you choose the best one for you and your budget. My advice: do your research. I’m never one to pass up the chance to try something new or go somewhere new, but in this instance, I really wish I’d done more research about the festival. And I probably should have had a couple of skiing lessons before, because Snowbombing is definitely not for amateurs.
The plan was for me to meet, greet and host a couple of bloggers during the festival, do a bit of skiing and a bit of photography with them, encouraging them to use the new (at the time) Samsung Galaxy S6 and write about the phone on their blogs and social media. Easy, right? Wrong.
“I’ve never skied before either”, said blogger Kate Lavie, as we drove from Munich, across the border to Mayhofen. “But how hard can it be?”
My first – and only – skiing experience.
The first time I skied was also the last time I skied, and will be the only time I ever ski.
Just like festivals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, in the moment I tried to click my right boot into my ski and ended up on my arse instead, flailing like an upturned cartoon turtle, unable to right myself because the left foot had painfully twisted at a weird angle with its boot and ski still attached, I realised skiing isn’t for everyone either. And this was in the ski rental shop – I hadn’t even seen any snow yet.
My twisted ankle was painful and the skiing struggle was real; but I was hosting these bloggers, and had promised them the opportunity to ski. So, clad in rented ski gear that stank so badly of BO it made me want to throw up, with our VIP gondala passes in one hand and our rented skis in the other, we made our way to the bottom of the mountain. The sun was out and I was sweltering under layers of thermal tops, jogging bottoms, multiple pairs of socks and a very unflattering fleecy branded headband.
As the gondola ascended higher and higher, however, it was evident that we weren’t wearing nearly enough clothes…
Stepping out of the gondola, the cold air hit me in the face with the force of a bulldozer smashing down a 20-storey derelict building. Everyone seemed to know what to do, so I followed the other skiers’ and boarders’ lead, took off my trainers and placed them in a shoe rack. I pushed my feet into those hateful ski boots then crabbed my way to the edge of yet another hill, wondering how much further I’d have to go until I could “ski”.
The boots were killing me, my knees were permanently bent forward in the manner of a geriatric with terminal hemorrhoids. People were gliding their way around me and sliding onto a conveyor belt thing. Like a sheep, I clicked my boots into their skis and followed blindly – literally, the cloud was so low I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.
I had been on the conveyor belt thing for less than 10 seconds before disaster struck. My blasted right boot clicked out of its toe cup, throwing me off balance. As I tried to steady myself with one ski pole, I ended up dropping the other. Twisting my neck around to see it lying on the snow, getting further and further away, I begun to panic about how the hell I was going to get it back – and if I couldn’t get it back, how much the rental shop would charge for losing it. I wasn’t concentrating and by this point, I couldn’t see my one remaining pole, the cloud was so thick.
I hadn’t realised that I’d reached the end of the conveyor belt. As I was launched off it at speed, my skis detached themselves again and ended up crisscrossing each other, causing me to trip over my own feet and land face first into the snow.
Kavita, one of my bloggers, came to my aid, pulling me up and helping dust me off. Back on my feet and a little more composed, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Someone had seen me drop my pole and grabbed it as they’d conveyor-belted passed. Handing it over, he smiled with a blithe smugness that can only be seen on the faces of those who enjoy slippery environments while strapped to long pieces of wood. “Be more careful”, he said.
This wasn’t how skiing was supposed to be…
When you see photos of people skiing, they’re always happy, laughing, smiling. They’ve got sparkly white teeth and a killer tan. They’re dressed in perfectly-fitting snow pants with matching snow jacket, and usually sporting mirrored Oakley ski goggles that reflect the amazing view from across the mountain. These people are making their way down the slopes gently, stopping occasionally for cheese fondue and a hot toddy. Sometimes they even have children in tow, all wrapped up in cute little snow suits – looking like miniature Michelin men but skiing like Bode Miller, before they’ve even learnt how to write their own name.
What you don’t see, is this:
This is two 20-something aged women who have never skied before, absolutely petrified about going down the
nursery baby slope. Standing there frozen (literally and metaphorically), they’re clenching their poles tightly as children that don’t even come as high as their waists (which isn’t high, as I’m only 5ft1) dart out in front of them. They’re unable to see more than a foot in front of their faces, and having already fallen over umpteen times, their woolen, non-ski appropriate gloves are soaking wet, causing their fingers to go numb.
But they’re committed. They will get down the slope, they will try skiing for the first time…
Following Kavita’s lead (as she’d had a ski lesson before in Switzerland), Kate and I gingerly pushed ourselves further and further towards the edge of the slope. Kavita was already nearly at the bottom, having slid down gracefully and effortlessly. “You go first, I’ll come down after you,” said Kate. Swallowing a lump in my throat, trying not to show how scared I was, I forced my pole into the ground and pushed myself off.
“Mind out” I screamed, as I slalomed uncontrollably and involuntarily around the aforementioned kids. I was going so fast, too fast. People were diving out the way of me. I could see the end, the flat part at the bottom where Kavita was now stood, perfectly poised like the ski bunny she was – but I couldn’t slow down. I whooshed passed her, passed a queue of people waiting to board the conveyor belt thing, passed even more people who were stepping out of the gondola cabin and clicking their boots into their skis.
“Remember to snow plow!” yelled Kavita. But it was too late: the only plowing I did was to plow head-first straight into a massive snow drift.
Everything was white; I wondered if I was dead. Or if I’d at least broken a few bones, which would be the perfect excuse to not have to attempt “skiing” again. But pulling my face out of the snow (which thankfully wasn’t yellow), it seemed everything was still intact. My ankle was a little twisted, and my boots had popped out of their toe cups again, but I was otherwise unscathed.
Kavita and Kate were both at my side, helping me up again. “Are you ok?” Do you want to go back down?” said a concerned Kate. “Yes please,” I replied feebly. My first – and only – attempt at skiing, and I had totally bombed it.
All was not lost. The bloggers and I still had a fun few nights at the festival, despite not hitting the slopes anymore. I don’t think either of them really minded, either – Kate was coming down with tonsillitis so didn’t feel great, and Kavita was happy to just explore the resort. There was one aspect of skiing that we could get all on board with though: the après ski.
And it had to be Jägerbombs, of course.