New Year in Austria

I managed to finish my exam corrections before Christmas this year, so I’m now back in Austria for some snowtime, this time in Niederau, a quiet village in the Wildschönau valley in the Tyrolean Alps. I was pleased with my recent article on the history of cosmology appearing on the ArXiv on Christmas Eve, with another well on the way, so I grabbed the last place on a cheap’n’ cheerful package with the Irish tour company DirectSki.com and it has turned out to be one of those holidays where everything goes right.

Instead of the usual B&B, I’m staying in the Hotel Harfenwirt, a large family-run hotel a stone’s throw from the bottom of the ski-lift. It’s a really nice old-fashioned hotel, with plenty of Austrian and German guests (always a good sign) as well as Irish and British skiers, very sociable at dinner in the evenings. Things were a little chaotic on the first night of arrival, but the hotel has a real old-world charm that you just don’t get in the larger chains. As a bonus, my room has a balcony overlooking the slopes, not to mention the jacuzzi, swimming pool and sauna downstairs, perfect for tired thigh muscles. I speak reasonable German and I’ve skied since I was a child, so I’m very much at home here..

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Hotel Harfernwirt in Niederau

As for the conditions, it’s a good season in Austria and Switzerland so far. Plenty of the white stuff, yet lots of days with clear skies. That said, it hasn’t snowed in the Wildschönau valley for three days so it’s beginning to get a little icy on-piste and cruddy off it. For the ski enthusiasts  amongst you, I tried out some Salamon deep-snow skis for off-piste today, but without much success. I didn’t find they made much difference in the deep snow (my weakest point) and they were hard work on-piste, not a very firm grip on the icy bits. So I’ve swapped them for a pair of Fischer all-mountain skis for tomorrow (the advantage of renting kit is that you can try out different types of skis).

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An off-piste trail (right of T-bar)  in the afternoon sun today

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The view from the top of the local mountain

All in all, it’s been a great holiday so far, it was worth getting the exam corrections out of the way early. I do a few hours of physics in the mornings, head off to the slopes in the afternoons, then some more research after dinner. They say the great thing about academia is the holidays, and I must admit  that my research can be done anywhere with a decent internet connection…

The Schrödinger connection

I have just discovered that we are only one valley away from the town of Alpbach, the Tyrolean village well-known for its association with the great Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. It was during a romantic break in Alpbach that Schrödinger discovered his famous wave equation, an important advance in the development of quantum physics (legend has it that he made the breakthrough in a burst of creativity between bouts of skiing in the mornings and romantic trysts with his girlfriend in the evenings, although her identity has never been confirmed). Schrödinger was very fond of Alpbach, and moved there full-time on his retirement from the University of Vienna; indeed he is buried there. (John Gribbin published a very nice biography of Schrödinger recently, you can find my review of it for Physics World here). Perhaps someone should start an annual winter conference in quantum physics in Alpbach in memory of Austria’s greatest physicist. I’d certainly be on for that!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “New Year in Austria

  1. Joseph

    Really enjoying the blog Dr. O’ Raifeartaigh! Keep up the good work.

  2. Kevin

    arosa, switzerland. not alpbach. Minor quibble…
    Schrödinger suffered from tuberculosis and several times in the 1920s stayed at a sanatorium in Arosa. It was there that he discovered his wave equation.

  3. cormac

    Kevin: Fwat? I have a terrible feeling you’re right. Alpbach was Schrodinger’s favourite resort, but it may have been Arosa where he made the breakthrough…but what about the girlfriend story? Must check this ..

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