I am back in Kitzbühel after last week’s Snow Polo World Cup to watch one of the most fascinating ski races on the calendar: the Hahnenkamm race. The legendary race down one of the world’s most notorious ski runs, the Streif, is the ultimate challenge for any professional skier and absolute highlight in Kitzbühel’s social calendar.
First held in 1931, the Hahnenkamm race today is part of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup. Although a Super G and Slalom race are also held, the weekend’s main event is Saturday’s downhill race, which not only requires top skill to master but also a pair of gigantic balls. As Didier Cuche, one of only two athletes who won the race a record four times once said after coming down: “Congratulations to all who made it down with me, I think we are all crazy!”
Named after the Streifalm, a meadow on the upper part of the descent, the Streif features jumps of up to 80 metres (262 ft), steep slopes nearing an 85% gradient, and top speeds reaching 140 km/h (86 mph). Averaging at 103 km/h (64 mph), the skiers cover a total length of 3312 metres (10900 ft) with a height difference of over 800 meters (2624 ft). Heavy crashes are the order of the day, many of which meant the end of a career.
Not surprisingly the excitement of the race attracts tens of thousands of fans, turning cosy Kitz into a crowded madhouse – much to the delight of local pub and bar owners. Media from around the world also flock to Kitzbühel (TV coverage of the event reaches over 500 million people) as do a range of international A-list celebrities. While the skiers compete for the trophy, a variety of more or less exclusive parties and events, held throughout the weekend compete for the celebrities.
However, the one place where everyone meets, the prime spot for the privileged few is the exclusive, WWP managed KitzRaceClub below the finish line. This has to be the best and most exclusive hospitality space I have ever been to. During the day the gigantic marquis features excellent live cooking stations by award-winning Viennese catering company Do&Co, while on Saturday night it is home to the exclusive red carpet KitzRaceParty.
King of Kitzbühel
The race itself is best watched either from the Mausefalle (“mousetrap”) jump just below the start, the Hausbergkante, or the bleachers around the finish line.
After a cloudy Friday, which saw some skiers struggle during the Super G, Saturday featured the famous Kaiserwetter: sunshine, not a cloud in the sky and crisp temperatures; perfect conditions as long as you have enough Jägermeisters in your pocket to keep you warm.
Up at the start we watched the athletes arrive and go through their individual preparation rituals. Afterwards a snowmobile took us down from the Red Bull Energy Station to the mousetrap, the steepest part of the run. From here the invitation only hospitality zone provides the best angle to watch the skiers shoot past and down the steep edge.
For a while it looked good for the Austrians and fans cheered their local heros but in the end it was an Italian who won the downhill race and who subsequently will have one of the Hahnenkamm gondolas named after him, just like every of the previous 72 winners before him. The local disappointment was short lived though as 23-year old Austrian Marcel Hirscher won the slalom race on Sunday, leaving the Austrian team’s hopes for the World Cup still intact.
One last Gösser beer and a fabulous filet steak later, the KitzRaceClub closed it’s doors and this year’s party was over. Although not at Stamperl, where it seems the party never ends. This time, however, we escaped to Rosi’s Sonnbergstuben for dinner and one last Jägermeister after what has been an equally fantastic and excessive weekend.
As the World Cup moves on, Kitzbühel regains it’s peace and the Streif becomes a publicly accessible ski run again (although a pretty difficult one). Until next year, when the circus returns and the battle for the King of Kitzbühel is on once again.
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