A young woman has turned her dream of living in the mountains into reality and made Ötztal her new home. This is the story of Vreni Meijerink, one of Tirol’s 739,000 inhabitants.
Life has brought Vreni Meijerink from the Dutch coast to the middle of the Ötztal Alps. Figure skating was her favourite hobby in Holland, in Tirol she became a ski instructor. And a mountain bike guide, who teaches others how to perform tricks on their bikes. Even local parents entrust their children to the flying Dutch woman who speeds down the trails. This is not the course, however, that Vreni’s life was supposed to take.
We meet Vreni in one of the many sports shops in Sölden. Blonde curls, a ready smile on her lips and cool bike shorts. Anywhere else, Vreni would pass as a surf instructor, but the helmet strapped to her backpack reveals that she has other plans: she wants to show us one of the many singletrack trails that traverse the mountain slopes outside her front door. Vreni welcomes us with the Ötztal dialect welcoming words of, “Griaß Enk”, her Dutch descent hardly noticeable as we start to chat. She shows the photographer his e-bike for today, who whoops with joy as he takes it on a quick practise run.
On the mountain instead of in the lecture hall
Figure skating was Vreni’s passion as a girl – she even made it to the Dutch championships. At the age of ten, she tried skiing for the first time and was immediately hooked. After finishing school, Vreni completed ski instructor training and spent three winter seasons in the Tirolean ski resort of Ischgl, which was “mega cool”. Nevertheless: she had to return to study in Amsterdam, because Vreni’s parents insisted their daughter should have a decent education.
In winter, whenever possible, Vreni jumped into her car in Amsterdam on Thursday and drove directly from there to Ischgl, a thousand kilometres away. On Sunday, she drove back. Finally, after finishing her Bachelor’s degree, there was nothing stopping Vreni from leaving Holland – and she knew exactly where she wanted to go: The Mountains. Together with a friend who refused a job offer at a renowned consulting firm, she enrolled for a master’s degree in Innsbruck: “I always knew I wanted to live here. My studies were more of an alibi.”
Vreni’s new home: Sölden
Vreni tells me all this as we cycle uphill. Even in summer, gondola lifts transport mountain bikers and hikers to the mountain in Sölden, but we are heading up on the other, calmer side of the valley. There are no lifts here. We have to rely on our own pedal-power to surmount the 600 metres in altitude difference to the trail entrance. Vreni wants to show us the Kleble Alm Trail, a “shared trail” for mountain bikers and hikers.
Vreni moved here because of her boyfriend, who comes from Ötztal Valley. Vreni met the qualified ski and mountain guide while studying in Innsbruck. In the meantime, the two have become a professional team, they run a bike school together in Sölden and rent out accommodation. Vreni holds riding technique courses, does the bookkeeping and has been a mum since November 2015. Her daughter’s name is Hedi.
We continue the uphill climb on the gravel road, metre by laborious metre. Vreni sets the pace. The photographer speeds past us on his e-bike. Vreni stops at a bend. She looks down at the collection of houses in the valley, encircled by majestic three thousand metre high peaks. It was not love at first sight with Sölden, she admits: “I’ve always found Sölden ugly, because the main road runs right through the middle of the village. My boyfriend asked if I was always this superficial. Now Sölden is a paradise for me, because you can do so much here: in winter, you can ski literally outside your front door, in summer you can go mountain biking or hiking. Even though it is only a village, there is always something going on. “So many nationalities, so many people – I like that.”
If she missed anything, it would be the sea and city life. Vreni grew up in the coastal city of The Hague: “There are lots more small cafés and restaurants in The Hague and Amsterdam, but they couldn’t survive here. I understand that, of course.” “Instead, there are alpine farms and mountain restaurants around Sölden, where you can also get good coffee – and good food.
Mountain bike lessons
When Vreni moved from Innsbruck to Sölden in 2013, she began to train local children from the Union Radiclub Ötztal Cycle Club. At first there were just seven children, now there are 70 to 80 per week. “And this is how my great love for cycling developed,” she tells me over coffee at Kleble Alm. “At some point I wanted to create a special experience for the children. So I just took them down that slope over there.” Vreni points to a grass strip on the opposite side of the valley, which serves as a ski slope in winter. “I asked the kids if they thought it was cool, to which a girl replied: Totally awesome!” 2013 was also the year in which Sölden cableways founded the “Bike Republic” and began to create special lines for mountain bikers. To this end, around forty trail builders are employed at any one time in summer.
We say goodbye to the landlady, Vreni puts her kneepads, gloves and helmet on. I have some trail experience, but our photographer does not. Vreni explains to him how it works and starts getting enthusiastic: “It is an incredibly great feeling when you ride around the hairpin bends and shoot down the trail without having to put your foot down. I don’t always manage it, but it’s a fabulous feeling when I do.” After a few attempts, the photographer rolls downhill over tree roots and uneven terrain with his full-suspension e-mountain bike – much slower than Vreni, but he is obviously enjoying it. Vreni keeps an eye on him. “As a bike guide, I provide tips and tricks to help people have more fun as they ride downhill. When they are confident enough to say: “Wow, that is really cool,” I know I have done my job right and that is very satisfying. As a teacher, you have to ask yourself: What is the best thing for that particular person to learn? And that is a lot of fun.”
At the end of the trail, one final key section awaits: a steep rocky outcrop. Vreni stops briefly, looks at the trail ahead and pushes her bike back a few meters. She then pushes away and masters the rocky section seemingly effortlessly. I rest my case: a flying Dutch woman.
Photos: Bert Heinzlmeier, Tirol Werbung