Fans enjoy snow and ice in London during summer Games
Two national hospitality houses are doing their best to bringing winter to London during the summer Games with an Austrian ski lodge and a Russian ice extravaganza set to pull in the crowds.
"No matter if it's raining or the sun's shining, there's always snow falling in the Austrian Alpine Garden." So said the animated compere, dressed entirely in traditional Austrian attire, on the opening day of the Austrian ski lodge overlooking the Tower of London.
Despite the first heavy downpour of London 2012 on Sunday afternoon, the 'Snow Day' at Austria House continued full throttle with more than 1,000 visitors attending a variety of free events and activities promoting the traditional culture of Austria's Tirol region.
Surrounded by snow-covered pine trees and snowmen, revellers crammed into the grounds of Trinity House by Tower Hill tube, drinking steins of beer and sampling Austrian delicacies such as schnitzel and fried potatoes, sausage and sauerkraut, kasierschmarrn and apfelstrudel.
Barmen in lederhosen and waitresses in dirndl kept things chugging along as a DJ played a mixture of camp classics such as YMCA and upbeat Euro disco. There were yodelling classes, thigh-slapping Schuhplatteln dancing and an auction for the skis of Austrian triple Olympic medallist slalom skier Marlies Schild. Somewhere, Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards was being interviewed by the BBC, while ITV broadcast their morning weather report from the snowy Alpine Garden.
On the back of hosting the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in January, Austria have brought the Alps to the Thames for the entire duration of London 2012. The free venue is open daily from 10am to 10pm and has TV screens showing all the Olympic action – plus promises appearances from Austria's medal-winning Olympians (on Sunday it was, rather incongruously, the men's beach volleyball pair who dropped by).
"I like the fact that the sports stars seem to be mingling with the public and there are some proper Austrian specimens on display," said Steve Marshall, who was enjoying a beer after visiting the Olympic Park in the morning with friends.
"It's very authentic and great fun. The music is just the kind of stuff you hear in Austrian ski resorts – there's a great vibe and it's exactly like Apres Ski in St Anton," said Victoria Howard, who earlier this year got engaged on a skiing holiday in Austria with her boyfriend.
Austria House is not the only national hospitality hub recreating winter in London over the next two weeks. Across the city in Kensington Gardens, Russia have set up two lavish "parks" – one promoting Russian culture and another showcasing the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Located a hop, skip and jump away from the Royal Albert Hall, Sochi Park features an interactive pavilion in which visitors take part on a digital trip through Russia to the snowy Krasnodar Mountains of Sochi, including virtual chairlift rides and skiing.
But the centrepiece of Sochi Park is a vast ice arena putting on daily performances of a skating show entitled Sochi: Small Stories of a Big City. The 95-minute ice spectacle – created by Ilya Averbukh, the world-famous Russian skater – features six Olympic champions and 18 world figure skating champions performing the show's leading roles.
Sunday's opening night was enjoyed by a largely Russian crowd eager to spot some of their nation's biggest sports stars – such as 2006 Salt Lake City gold medal pair Tatyana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. There was rapturous applause and gasps from the crowd during key acrobatic stunts during the show, which was accompanied by live singers and musicians performing a score composed by the renowned Russian composer Roman Ignatyev.
"It was an amazing show and some of the ice dancing was breathtaking – especially when they used props like chairs, bikes and even flames," said Andrew Mayers, who had come with his Russian girlfriend. "I'd recommend people bring a jumper though – it gets pretty cold in the arena," he added.
Just like Austria House earlier in the day, rain played a prominent part in proceedings. Highlighting their understanding of the kind of British humour on display during Friday's opening ceremony, the Russians ended their ice show with a controlled indoor downpour as the skaters performed a rousing finale with umbrellas and a chorus of "It's raining love from the sky".
Tickets for the Ice Show at Sochi Park start at £15. For those wishing to take to the ice themselves, there is a smaller public rink at the nearby Russia Park by Kensington Palace. One ticket allows entry for both parks and costs £20 on the door and £18 online.
It's early in the London Games, but the contest to host the best national hospitality house is certainly hotting up, even if Austria and Russia have taken a decidedly cool approach to matters.