Photos by Tomsen Photography
Climbing, surfing, mountain biking, yoga. When it comes to sport, it’s rare that women choose just one. Take road cycling, for example. My boyfriend will obsess over the sport. He’ll buy all the gear, read every magazine, scour all the websites and watch every online video. Cycling will dominate his life for six-months - and then he’ll get bored and move onto something else. I like cycling, but I also enjoy making time for other sports in my life. I will still go climbing, kayaking, surfing and make my Saturday morning yoga class.
“Women are multi-taskers," says Monika Fiedler, founder of the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. “Often they want to try out lots of different sports as well as eating good food and relaxing afterwards." That’s what the brand new Women’s Summer Festival is all about. It’s a weekend of outdoor adventure and fitness in the mountains with a group of sporty, like-minded women.
Ischgl is famous across Europe for skiing and snowboarding, but it started life as a summer destination back in the 1960s. City folk would escape the urban sprawl in August to breathe in the fresh air of the Tirolean mountains. Hiking and mountaineering became increasingly popular. You can see why. Ischgl is a typical beautiful mountain village with old wooden buildings, traditional murals and cattle grazing in the fields. Above the Paznauntal Valley, emerald green mountains rise up to a height of 2,872m.
As I approached the Women's Summer Festival, I could tell this was my tribe of women. Everyone was either testing mountain bikes, getting ready to go climbing or working out on the TRX bands. Food trucks were parked outside serving vegetarian health food boxes, bulgar wheat salads and chia seed puddings. The schedule was jam-packed with hiking tours, trail running sessions, yoga classes and more.
First up, mountain biking. We followed Anna, a guide from BH Mountain Bikes to a flat grass field to learn the basics of enduro. Most people will just turn up at a mountain bike trail with their mates and give it a go. At the Women's Summer Festival, you are given the opportunity to learn the right technique for tackling trails so you don't end up flying over the handlebars on your first run. The trick to staying stable when going downhill is to not sit down. You've got to keep your pedals flat and even to stay balanced. Elbows poking out to the side. Bum tucked under.
After practicing our downhill skills on the flat, it was time to ascend via. the Fimbabahn cable car up to 2,320m. It was a cool 5ºC on top of the mountain, even though it was early July. Our BH Emotion bikes looked like regular mountain bikes, but there’s a motor tucked inside to help with the uphills. As you pedal up, the bike feels lighter. It’s like having a superpower.
The downhill section was much trickier. As a beginner, it’s especially hard work. Bumping down the track, your handlebars jump and jolt as though they have a mind of their own. “Don't hold onto the brakes - speed is your friend!" the guide yelled as we hurtled down the mountain side. I could smell burning rubber. We only descended easy beginner trails over rocks and tree roots, but it was a challenge just to stay on the bike. My heart was thumping in my chest right until we skidded back to the expo area at lunchtime.
Climbing is one of the main summer sports in the Paznauntal Valley, so we had to give it a try. After collecting a harness, helmet and shoes from the Edelrid stand, we made our way to Galtür, home to Austria’s highest natural climbing wall. At 25m high, it’s a huge stone wall built to simulate natural outdoor climbing conditions for beginners.
Our guide Christoph showed us the different types of knots to tie into our harness and explained the basics of belaying. We started with top-rope climbing where you are attached to a rope that passes through an anchor system at the top of the wall and down to the belayer on the ground. “Ok, climb!" yelled Christoph.
The rock was cold and slippery from the morning drizzle. Unlike an indoor climbing gym where the route is marked out for you, climbing outdoors gives you a lot more freedom. You pick your own route. It forces you to engage your feet more, rather than than relying on your hands to pull yourself up. By the time I reached the top, my knees were shaking and my hands were numb but I felt such a sense of achievement as I looked back down the valley and my belay partner smiling below.
After an hour of top-rope, we moved on to a mini via-ferrata. This is a self-guided climb where you clip your harness to a metal cable and follow a rock climbing route. It involves unclipping and re-clipping onto the wire each time you move to the next section. You aren’t relying on a belayer below, it’s just you and the rock face.
Alongside adrenaline-pumping adventure sports, there are daily yoga and Pilates classes for those who want to stretch out. The Saturday morning class is held on top of the Idalp mountain in a glass-walled restaurant. The view was truly phenomenal. Clouds drifted around the green mountaintops like smoke rising from a fire. As we moved through our sun salutations, the mist shifted to reveal cascading waterfalls and towering cliffs. It's easy to see why this was one of the most popular yoga classes of the weekend.
After we bid ‘Namaste’ to our instructor, it was time to descend the mountain – but not in the traditional way. We climbed up the metal staircase wearing a giant nappy-like harness to the top of the SkyFly, a two-kilometre long zipwire suspended 50m above the ground. The guide clips you in and within seconds, you are hurtling down the zipline at 84 kmph, passing over gushing ice cold rivers and a forest of pine trees. It’s definitely the best way to get down the mountain.
Women had come from all over Europe for the Women’s Summer Festival. There were girls who had travelled with friends from Germany, mountain bikers from Switzerland and mothers from Italy. Iscghl is so close to the German, Swiss and Italian borders, making it a prime location for attracting sporty women from across the Alps. While the festival is mainly orientated at German-speaking visitors, I still felt incredibly welcomed as a monolingual Brit.
The best thing about the Women’s Summer Festival is it gives you the opportunity to explore new sports that you might not have tried before. Instead of hooning down a mountain bike trail without knowing the best technique, here you learn how to tackle the trail with proper instruction. You'll also learn something new about yourself. Every woman I spoke to took away something new - whether it was an undiscovered love of heights or a new-found passion for yoga. So next summer if you are looking for an excuse to try a new mountain sport, get down to the Women’s Summer Festival. You won’t regret it.
The Women’s Summer Festival will be held in Ischgl again in June/July 2018. Tickets cost €279 per person, including guided tours, yoga and pilates classes, functional training, a free beauty treatment, stand-up paddling courses and an awesome goody bag. Accommodation suggestions can be found on the Women’s Summer Festival website.
BMI Regional fly directly from Bristol to Munich from £181 return per person. It’s a three-hour transfer to Ischgl. Alternatively there are flights from London to Innsbruck and it’s just an 80-minute transfer.
Thank you to Visit Tirol for organising the trip.