Back to the slopes and back to school. Eighty eager skiers standing sideways awaiting the instructor's signal to perform.
Time for no more than four or five turns before your fate is decided. Off I went. The turns big, safety being the key word and I arrived at the end of the short slope in one piece. The judges were fooled and I found myself a few classes up from the anticipated level.
Straight to the ski lift and we landed at the first stop up the mountain. We were ushered into a practice area with a gentle slope and one of those magic carpet ski lifts which every beginner gets to know intimately over their first week.
It was a brief stay as Rufus, the instructor, must have seen enough and he led us away from the play-pen and off on the first run of the week.
Brimming with confidence, I took off with the others trying to keep an eye on the guiding bright red jacket up ahead. The blue run took us around the side of the mountain and by the end of the week I was very comfortable enjoying this final run back to the ski village.
But this was the first run of the week and visibility was poor. Add to that the fact that about four more groups appeared to start as we did and the track was just a little narrow for my liking. My speed increased at about the same ratio as my technique disintegrated.
It was certainly not the most graceful of descents but I made it down with only the odd wobble, albeit with a yellow-bellied final stretch, which saw me slide rather than ski into the lively mountain base.
However, there was no sign of the red jacket. My new classmates had also mysteriously disappeared and it was now abundantly obvious that I had not returned to whence I had started. The run had split halfway down and I took the road less travelled to the other side of the mountain.
Well it was a bit of a trek to find my way back to base, but I got there just as the class were breaking for lunch. Rufus had a plan for me and my luminous green jacket.
So relegated to my new class after lunch, I felt that I was now in more suitable company as the nervous faces and ultra-slow pace eased down the same slope as I had earlier negotiated.
Gradually the skiing improved and after another day of gentle, if narrow, blue runs, we were brought beyond the home slopes of Penken and out to discover the vast Mayrhofen ski area.
The instructor’s ability to increase confidence and technique throughout the week was remarkable as our class tackled some of the easier reds and trickier blue runs. As a result, I was able to join up with my more proficient skier friends after school and explore the entire resort without the supervision of the comforting red jacket.
This year, my third in a row, the destination was the lively Austrian resort of Mayrhofen, located in the Ziller Valley area of Tyrol. And getting there couldn’t be easier – in skiing parlance, at least.
The flight into Innsbruck from Dublin took little over two hours and the final descent affords stunning (if a little terrifying) views, as there is a lot of manoeuvring between the beautiful alpine peaks and slopes.
Transfer time to the resort is a mere hour, which is nothing compared to the three-four hour coach journeys associated with most European ski resorts.
The town of Mayrhofen is typically Austrian and alpine, as you would expect, and the main road and side-streets are lined with cafés, bars and ski shops.
The slopes are reached by a ten-minute gondola ride located in the centre of Mayrhofen, which takes you to the ski village, the gateway to the Penken mountain slopes.
The different mountains of Horberg, Rastkogel, Eggalm and Ahorn are all very accessible and the large number of red and black runs will cater for even the most hardcore skier.
The most famous slope in Mayrhofen is the aptly named Harakiri, which is Austria’s steepest groomed slope. And I can certainly confirm that it is one monster of a black run, but that was just from my vantage point in a passing cable car. It was not and, I’d imagine, shall never be attempted throughout my future skiing endeavours.
Bars and restaurants are also dotted throughout the entire ski area so there is always a nearby watering hole to take a break and recount the day’s events before making your way back to base for the well deserved Apres Ski.
The resort of Mayrhofen is renowned throughout Europe for its lively Aprés Ski scene. And it’s not the Irish or the English who are leading the charge at the end of the skiing day but the Dutch who travel in large numbers every season.
The Elch Bar is located up in the ski village and is jammed for the last hour of daylight. On a clear sunny day, the big outdoor area offers amazing vistas, which you can enjoy while you sipping on your well-deserved pilsner.
Back in the town, the Ice Bar boasts the best Aprés Ski atmosphere as it gets thronged early, thanks to its prime location beside the gondola drop off. But be warned. Being full of Dutch party people, there is no escaping the cheesy Euro-pop techno music – it does get the crowd going though so it serves a purpose, I suppose.
Elsewhere, the adjoining Sports Hotel is one of many bars and nightclubs located throughout the town centre, which open until the early hours.
For a break from the hectic nightlife, it is possible to book an excursion into Innsbruck to take a ride on the Olympic bobsleigh track, which is driven by former member of the Austrian bobsleigh team.
I stayed in the traditional Hotel Neuhaus, which is very centrally located, less than a ten-minute walk to the gondala. The rooms are big and clean, while the half-board package included evening dinner, a buffet-style menu offering a wide range of excellent Austrian and European options. The hotel also boasted an indoor swimming pool and spa, which was the ideal place to relax and recover following a hectic day on the slopes.
Crystal Ski Plus Packages for 7 nights skiing are available from €529, which includes, flights, transfers, accommodation, ski/board hire and lift passes (book before 30 November). Crystal Ski also offer First Time Ski Packs at €359, or Area Pass & Skis at €311.
To stay at the 4* Hotel Neuhaus, packages start at €929, including flights and accommodation for 7 nights (January departures).
For more information, visit www.crystalski.ie or call 01-4331010.
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