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The Hahnenkamm downhill ski race
Kitzbühel, Austria


This year the race will be held from 17th to the 20th January 2002 .

They call it the most prestigious ski race in the world, dangerous and fast. They say the racers (downhill) accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h faster than a Porsche. I still didn't care much for it, professional sports and so called amateur sports (read corrupted Olympics) don't interest me much, i'd rather do the sport itself than watch others doing it. The Hahnenkamm is the most widely know downhill race in the world, but i was going there to snowboard.

Well, in this case i was wrong (as in most cases, but i'll never admit it...). The whole experience was impressive, and i can understand (not that i would do it) why people travel from North America and all over the world to enjoy the event, year after year.

The bottom of the race course

First let's talk about the partying. Every night (and most days) of the race weekend is party night with people drinking on the streets in any kind of weather or temperature. The bars get quite filled up after skiing time, to never really emtpy until the morning. The morning of the downhill, we got to the end area, to notice that many people's sense of balance had been left in the bars, or was altered by the many diverse alcoholic drinks they held in their hands, the Herminator Schnaps seemed to be very popular. Back to evening entertainement, the whole center of town, especially the Saturday night is packed with people, there are line ups to buy beer, even from the outside resellers, to get money from the banks machines (to buy more beer), to get snacks, basically for everything. The atmosphere is very lively with people drinking cheerfully, even just standing up, outside, watching the latest ski and snowboard movies displayed on a giant screen on one of the main streets. Saturday night, biggest party night of them all, the medals ceremony/party is set at the end area of the race, right at the edge of the ski hill, with some live bands and lots of noise. We missed that one as we were coming down from drinking in one of the huts up top. A bit later, right next to it, still at the base of the mountain, another stage is set up for some more live music and outside drinking. Once this is finished, everyone heads for the center of town, a mere 5 minutes away, to invade the bars, discos or just drink on the streets. In any case, you never need to look too hard for a place to have a good time.

The race:
First and only disapointment was that you have to pay to access the end area, it is not cheap either (approx.10$ us). One trick one might try is to get your ski pass for the day (or if you have a multi day pass) go to the top and ski your way down to the end area. I cannot garantee this will work as it might be fenced off from the top, but worth a try. There are many other areas on the hill itself where you can go and watch the dowhillers scream by, but the end is where the greatest atmosphere can be experienced. There are 2 giant screens set up to follow the racers from the top, these display the race as if seen on tv. From the end area, you can see the last curve (an impressive one as there is quite a long air just before, quite a few crashes) and the twisting straight to the end, with 2 launch bumps. It is very interesting to make it close to the last bump and just see the skiers fly by at incredible speeds, your neck barely quick enough to follow them, especially after a few Herminator Schnaps. Needless to say that when the Austrian skiers are announced at the starting gate, or arrive taking first place, the crowd goes wild with cheers, but the cheering is not reserved for partiotic purposes, all skiers get a good, well deserved round of screams and cheers, some good sympathy cheering also always rings when a skier gets up after a fall. The crowd is always so enthusiastic that it is easy to get caught up in watching the racers and to keep thinking to yourself: OK, after this guy, we'll go skiing........

The view from close up

Tips top watch the race:

  • Arrive early an estimated 30,000 people come to watch it......
  • Plan to only ski a half day the day of the downbhill, it is easy to not want to leave until all racers have come down.


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