In the Ötztal Valley – to be precise at 47° latitude – lies Austria’s largest outdoor adventure park. Our author, for whom summer in the mountains had so far meant nothing more than an easy walk in the meadows, agreed to take on the challenge of Area 47.
There are so many things I would have liked to have done in my life: watch the famous Hahnenkamm downhill race live in Kitzbühel, finish reading “The Tin Drum” by Berthold Brecht, piss in the rose bed of Alexander Gauland, the tub-thumping spokesman of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany. Okay, so maybe there aren’t that many things I still wanted to do, but one thing is for sure: I’m not ready to die. And with that, I bid you a warm welcome to Area 47. Located near Haiming in the Ötztal Valley, around 50 kilometres west of Innsbruck, it is the largest outdoor adventure park anywhere in Austria and covers an area totalling 8.5 hectares – that is equivalent to around 12 football pitches. Visitors to Area 47 will find more than 35 arenaline-pumping attractions, a few of which I will be trying out today myself. Lots of friends of mine have already been here and told me how great it is, so I thought it was time to come along myself and see what all the fuss is about.
The Mega Swing
My first challenge for the day is the Mega Swing. This involves clipping yourself into a rope 27 metres above the ground and jumping off into the abyss before swinging from side to side like a giant human pendulum. Area 47 calls it “an exciting aerial adventure”. My healthy portion of common sense calls it “suicide.” Nevertheless, I find myself standing on a platform beneath a bridge looking down into a huge expanse of nothingness below. If I am honest, I can only see a tiny little bit of this nothingness because I have my hands pressed firmly against my face and can only bring myself to squint through the cracks between my fingers at the drop which awaits. My legs are shaking, my head is spinning. This activity is open to everyone aged 12 years and older, so inevitably there is a queue of impatient children behind me.
“That’s so cool,” says one.
“I’ve already jumped twice,” adds another.
“I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be so scary,” comments yet another.
I hate children.
I will soon turn 35. Just a few weeks ago I was at the doctor’s to have my moles checked. A few days ago I started making myself a bowl of superfood for breakfast each morning. And now I am about to splat into a patch of tarmac at 50km/h. No amount of chia seeds can help me with that, but I’m sure my blood values are fantastic.
So, enough pessimism. Let’s get it over with. Time to jump. Am I a man or a mouse?
I’ll jump on three.
Mouse. Definitely a mouse. I turn around to the guy in charge of the Mega Swing and plead with him: “Please, just push me off.” To be honest, I thought he would hesitate. I thought he would think twice and try to convince me to jump on my own. Yeah, right. As if he had been waiting all his life to do it, he placed his hand in the small of my back and shoved me off the platform quicker than I could say “life insurance”. I am falling through the air so fast that I can feel my heart thumping all the way up in my throat. The one or two seconds of freefall feel like half an hour. Okay, maybe not, but they feel a hell of a lot longer than just a few seconds.
When I finally get to the bottom and a member of the Area 47 team releases me from the rope, I have just two thoughts:
1. I hope my stomach won’t be down around my knees forever.
2. I want to do it again!
Unfortunately, I don’t have time for another go on the Mega Swing as I have to head off to the next attraction waiting to scare the living daylights out of me.
This is what I expected: a heart attack.
This is what it really felt like: a bit like your first kiss – adrenaline shoots through your body faster than Sebastian Vettel driving a Formula One car around the Nürburgring.
Next time: I’ll remember to stay relaxed and enjoy the ride.
For the next activity I have to climb up once again to the platform under the bridge, back to the point where I was standing just a few minutes ago. The friendly young man who took such sadistic pleasure in pushing me off is still there. This time he straps me into a harness around my waist and connects this to a carabiner above my head. Stretching out in front of me is a steel wire crossing the entire adventure park. A little sceptical about the ability of the harness to take my weight, I jump up and down a few times to see if it will hold. Seems safe enough to me. I then give a sign to the instructor, who gently sends me off on what turns into a high-speed aerial adventure across Area 47. It feels a bit like that time when I was at school and had the role of the angel in the nativity play. With the slight difference that this time I manage to not vomit onto the Virgin Mary below – and, of course, the view is a bit better than it was in the gym at my old primary school. I fly over the restaurant, the water slides and so close to the divers on the diving tower that I could almost reach out and touch them. After around two minutes in the air the ride comes to an end and a friendly member of staff waiting at the bottom brings me back down to earth. Pretty cool, I think to myself. Now it’s time for lunch.
This is what I expected: wide-eyed fear high above the ground.
This is what it really felt like: brilliant fun – not scary at all.
Next time: I will take a GoPro with me to record the ride.
Taking the plunge
After lunch I head to the Water Area, a huge 20,000m² zone with five water slides and a diving tower where visitors can jump from three, five and ten metres – and with a mechanical platform which can be moved all the way up to 27 metres above the ground. The latter is, understandably, for pros only – those guys you see jumping off impossibly high cliffs in some of the world’s most amazing locations. I, on the other hand, would look more like a stoned lemming falling off a rock. That is why I decide to start on the three-metre board – it might sound like nothing, but it actually looks pretty high when you’re up there. There are four progressively more muscular men behind me. We must look like that famous picture showing the evolution of humans – with the only difference that first in the queue is not a hairy chimp but a pale blob. That’s me. No belly flop can be as embarrassing as having to stand here next to these muscle men straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch advert, I find myself thinking. The fastest – and only – way out of there is to jump. As I come back up to the surface I hear applause ringing out from the spectators standing at the edge of the pool. What my dive really that good? No. The applause is, in fact, for the professional cliff divers who are currently on the ramp travelling up to 27 metres above the water. Bunch of show-offs.
This is what I expected: a painful landing on my back.
This is what it really felt like: like falling off a 100m tower.
Next time: I will jump without screaming.
Ready, steady, fire!
This attraction reminds me a little bit of that circus trick where clowns are fired out of a cannon. I find myself sitting on a ramp with a large hole behind me – and behind that large hole is a water pump. As soon as the pressure reaches two bar, the water squirts out and shoots me off the ramp. The good news is that I will land in a pool of water below. The bad news is that during the previous diving session I somehow managed to lose the rubber band which keeps my swimming shorts around my waist, meaning there is almost nothing attaching my board shorts to my backside. My fear is that when the water comes it will not be the shorts and I that will be catapulted off the ramp but instead one or the other. While I am pondering this potentially embarrassing quandary, the light turns green and tells me that the water pressure is high enough to get the party started. I press the button next to me – and a split second later a huge wave whisks me off my perch and down into the water below. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it’s a journalist’s naked backside!
This is what I expected: whisked away without my swimming shorts.
This is what it really felt like: like when I was a child and my father threw me into the air in the swimming pool.
Next time: I will lie back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Der menschliche Kiesel
After doing a running repair on my swimming shorts using a shoelace, I head to the water slide. You might know water slides from your local swimming pool, but this is something totally different. It is a 17-metre-high monster with a gradient of 32°. I am given a kind of bodyboard to take with me up to the top and slide down on. I feel a little bit like David Hasselhoff in Baywatch. Maybe it’s because I am also moving in slow motion. I am not in a hurry to get to the start. I am told to lie down on my stomach on the plastic board with my head pointing forwards. Such is the speed that you pick up on the way down, the splashdown in the pool at the end turns into a bodysurf acros the water for 10 or 15 metres. What I really like about this slide is that it is different from all those ones you normally see in swimming pools. On the other hand, head-first was never one of my favourite things to do. Before I start thinking about it all too much, I just get going. When I reach the bottom and skim across the surface, I feel like a flat stone skipping over a lake. All in all I like it – and head straight back into the queue to have another go.
This is what I expected: a black eye and a few grazes to the face.
This is what it really felt like: Suuuuuuuuuuper! Like in winter when you lie on your stomach and slide down a snowy hill on a plastic bag.
Next time: I will push off even harder at the top.
Water skiing 2.0
Next up is wakeboarding. This sport is to water skiing what snowboarding is to skiing. You stand on a board and let yourself be pulled over the water by a mechanical winch. At Area 47 there are two small lakes dedicated to wakeboarding: one for beginners where you can just go up and down the lake, and one about twice the size equipped with five winches designed for advanced wakeboarders. This second, larger lake gives wakeboarders the chance to zip across the lake and show off their skills on seven obstacles. It looks pretty cool – if you are any good at it. Unfortunately, I am not. That’s why I find myself at the small lake using the beginners‘ winch as I try and find my balance on the board. To give everyone a chance, each ride is limited to maximum of five minutes. That doesn’t mean there is a man with a stopwatch and a whistle counting down the seconds. Instead, the friendly members of the Area 47 team are there to give you useful tips and generally let you ride at least until you have made it to the first buoy, meaning almost everyone goes home with a feeling of success. It is 12 years since I last stood on a snowboard, but nevertheless my experience on the snow seems to help me a bit. I even manage a few loops around the lake without falling into the water. When I finally get out of the lake, I find myself agreeing with what my ex-girlfriend always used to say: five minutes are just not long enough.
This is what I expected: head-first into the water after just a couple of metres.
This is what it really felt like: just as cool as back in the day on my snowboard.
Next time: I want to ride for longer!!!
The “Blob” is noting more than air-filled tube lying on the surface of the water. This is how it works: one person sits at one end, another person stands on a platform at the other end about four metres above the water. This person jumps down onto the blob, catapulting the person sitting on the other end up into the air. The heavier the jumper, the higher the force transmitted to the person on the end – and the higher they fly into the air. I take my place at the end of the blob and slowly turn round to see who will be playing the role of the jumper. Jesus Christ! The man getting ready to launch himself off the platform onto the other end is a six-foot-six body builder who looks heavy enough to send a cow into space. I find myself praying in vein that he will somehow jump off at an angle and miss the blob. My luck is out. AAAAHHHHHH!
How high did I fly? No idea – I had my eyes closed. Of course. I thought I felt a bird’s feather gently stroke my back, but maybe that was just the cold sweat coursing down my spine. The spectators gave me a hearty round of applause when I landed on the water with a huge splash. After all, the Blob is located right next to the restaurant with its large terrace giving diners a chance to follow the action with a pizza and a cool beer. Now that’s what I call after-dinner entertainment.
This is what I expected: a small splash.
This is what it felt like: a big splash.
Next time: I will make a fist, stretch out my arm and fly like Superman – after all, you have to give the audience a show.
Area 47 certainly lives up to its reputation. Even the hands on the clocks seem to turn faster than in other places. When I check the time it is already evening and my train will be leaving soon. But I’m not really ready to go home yet. There are still so many things to do here. For example, rafting on the Inn, pot-holing, canyoning, etc. That is why Area 47 offers 86 double rooms and 17 lodges as well as 26 teepees where visitors can stay the night – and admission to the Water Area is included in the price. When I finally slip out of my swimming shorts and change back into my normal clothes, I make a promise to myself: I’ll be back in a few weeks. And that time I’ll stay for a few days – and try out every single activity on offer.