I haven’t heard a conversation in a bar for the last couple of weeks that didn’t include the word “Hahnenkamm”. People are wondering if it will be too mild, will there be enough snow – then a few days later – perhaps there is too much snow!  The Hahnenkamm weekend is the highlight of winter in Kitzbühel. The Super-G on Friday and slalom on Sunday sandwich the main event, the downhill race on Saturday. Together with the Lauberhorn race in Wengen the previous weekend this is the toughest fortnight on the World Cup calendar.

I visited Kitzbühel last Tuesday to watch the practice session for the downhill race, and the race piste looked to be in excellent condition. I was intrigued to watch the team preparing the piste. Down the full length of the Streif (the piste on which the downhill race is run) there were groups of army cadets scraping the snow flat and even, while skiers wearing giant tanks of die on their backs sprayed the blue markings.

When everything was ready for the racers, the practice session began, and the next two hours was a blur of activity as lycra-clad skiers flew down the scarily steep track at death defying speeds, making it all look very, very straightforward. While the session was on I made my way down the parallel piste (rather more sedately) so I could watch a few skiers tackle each section of the course.

Did I learn anything from the day? Well, I learnt that if I take a photo of Bode Miller flying over the final jump while a spectator just in front of me appears at the bottom of the shot, my camera decided that focussing on the back of the spectator’s head is more important than focussing on the skier in the centre of the image, so my photographic submission for the Pullizer Prize will have to wait another year.

Top 5 Hahnenkamm Facts

  1. The fastest man ever in the Hahenekamm downhill is Franz Strobl, whose 1997 winning time of 1:51.58 has yet to be beaten.
  2. With 5 wins Didier Cuche of Switzerland is the master of the Hahenkamm, closely followed by Karl Schranz and Austrian legend Franz Klammer, who both won 4 times.
  3. The gradient of the race’s steepest section at the start of the Mausefalle (mousetrap) jump is 85%.
  4. During the race weekend, over 25,000 people book into hotels and B&Bs around Kitzbühel, and on Saturday most of them are standing by the side of the piste, with a bottle or two of Jägermeister to keep them warm.
  5. And surprisingly, the inaugural race in 1931 was won by a Brit! Gordon ‘Mouse’ Cleaver scooped sixth place in the downhill and second place in the slalom becoming the first winner of the combined Hahnenkamm title.