Whether you're an avid ski fan or you've never skied, a Park Rat or a Powder Hound, obsessed with technique or, quite simply, an Aprés King/Queen, the Hahnenkamm Race weekend has a little something for everyone.
If you’ve ever dreamed about skiing at speeds of 140km/h, making turns with a gravitational force of up to 3G and throwing yourself down 3km of track made of pure ice in under 2 minutes, then chances are you’re either completely mad, or an avid follower of the Hahnenkamm Rennen. In fact, you’re probably both.
If you haven’t dreamed about doing it, but you’re a fan of skiing, then you may know the event from that Ski Sunday episode you watched a week before your annual ski holiday. If this is the case, you’ll know that the Hahnenkamm race is one of the fastest downhill men’s ski races in the world.
The other big possibility is that you’ve literally never heard about it before, and you might have skied all your life so now you’re probably thinking ‘how have I never heard about this?’. That was me about 4 months ago. But no fear… it turns out that downhill racing is a very technical discipline within alpine skiing. One that doesn’t particularly appeal to those who prefer to be learning 180s in the park. Or those that don’t ski. That is, I mean, if you haven’t actually seen the insane event in person.
The Hahnenkamm race takes place around the end of January every year in Kitzbühel, Austria and we strongly recommend, if you’re in the area during this time, that you grab yourself a ticket and immerse yourself in the action.
What’s the Craic for the Weekend - A Seasonaire Point of View
For those who have spent a season in Kitzbühel, or have visited during the off-peak weeks, you’ll know that it’s a fairly, shall we say quiet resort. But for the race week, everything changes.
The event attracts thousands of people to the town, far exceeding comfortable capacity, and for that one main weekend, the town feels fully alive. The main three races (Downhill, Super G and Slalom) occur over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but for those working in resort, everything starts to get interesting about 10 days beforehand. Temporary buildings start going up, helicopters become a standard background noise and the finish line stands are quite literally built ON the Kinderlands of BOTH ski schools. Which had its ups and downs. Stages and stalls start to appear in the streets in town and, slowly but surely, an unfamiliar buzz starts to grow.
During the week before, there are a number of junior and local races that occur and the pistes and lifts function generally as normal, but then training for the the main races start on the Thursday. During training, you can ski down next to the run, using restricted parts of the Streif run (note that it can get pretty narrow and restricted), and watch the racers manoeuvre the course in person, some of whom have never thrown themselves down the icy piste before. There aren’t a huge amount of crowds in the stands during training, but you start to get a feel for the importance of the event in the skiing world. I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up and he’s not even a skier.
The Super G (super giant slalom) kicks off the weekend’s races on the Friday and everything gets exciting. Unfortunately for me (Jodie), I was one of the few instructors that had been booked that weekend by THAT family that forgot to check the race dates… (Big up mine and Seb’s team instructing that dragged us both through this experience). It didn’t matter too much in the end, because it turned out that if you are in instructor uniform, you can get into the gated areas closer to the run, regardless of whether you are teaching or not. If you can’t get into the gated areas however, I would recommend skiing down to just below the Mausefalle section of the run, just above the Walde chairlift (A3) on the Streif (red 21). This is where the racers fly over a piste with an 85% gradient, often jumping around 80m… so, even if you’re less interested in ski racing or haven’t managed to bag a ticket, it’s still pretty cool. There’s also a big TV screen there, so you don’t feel too far away from the finish line atmosphere.
Now Friday night is when the town fully wakes up and parties really kick off. I think both Pez and I, and the rest of the instructors, would agree, that the Friday night is the “seasonaire’s night”. The event tents and the stages have DJs that play your classic Austrian Aprés tunes and there’s no entry fee required for anywhere. If you are looking for a night surrounded by seasonaires who are experiencing what is essentially Christmas to them, and you’re keen to make the most of the entire weekend, then definitely hit the streets from Friday night. A successful route for the night might start at the Legenden Cafe, through town and towards The Londoner or, for a less stressful experience, El Dorado’s. We can’t promise anything but we can tell you that anything could happen. (She says, whilst recalling swinging around a dance pole to ‘Country Roads’, in the middle of the Legenden marquee).
So, if you’ve chosen to make the most of every aspect of the weekend, you’ll want to be up bright and early on the Saturday morning. It’s downhill race day. The main event. By 9am, there are people swaying around the street, can in one hand and vuvuzela in the other. I actually had to swerve a few people on my way to work. But the atmosphere is as alive as it was the night before. If you can remember it.
The race starts from the top of the main gondola and runs alongside the Streif run, meaning again that if you haven’t bought a ticket for the gated areas, you can still enjoy a ski and catch a glimpse of world class racers. But there’s not much skiing to be done on this day, even if you’re THAT family that managed to book the most expensive weekend in Kitzbühel and NOT realise or have any interest in that the huge event was taking place (don’t ever be that family). The race involves the top racers from all around the world, and Austria’s pride and joy puts them all to the test. This year, Austrian Matthias Mayer was favourite to win, and (SPOILER) he made the win in 1:59.55 (mins), just 0.22 seconds faster than the joint second positions. It’s all very intense and even those park rats and powder hounds amongst you will agree that it is in fact, pretty cool.
The Saturday evening has a slightly different vibe to that of the night before. This is, I guess, considered the “big night out” for the weekend. Even if you’ve only come for the skiing, and not much of a party person, this is the night that you’ll probably find yourself in the streets with a drink in your hand, or, in my case, a Currywurst. Yep. The best part about this night is the size of the street party. Position yourself directly in the middle of the town, under the main screen, and you’re pretty much at the centre of the fun. Oh, and make sure you bring your own cans and a hip flask. As previously mentioned, the Friday night seemed to be ‘locals and seasonaire’s’ night, and the Saturday is for everyone who can afford to pay €10 per tent, €10 per drink and who knows how much to get into the club. Nevertheless, it’s definitely well worth the party and you might find yourself having a good old dance in a random cafe next to their lit pizza oven during an 11pm dinner rush..!
If you’ve made it to the Sunday, it’s the final event day. The slalom. This is a nice little way to round off your Hahnenkamm experience and you can get pretty close to the race without a ticket. The finish line sits just above the Red Bull Restaurant, and here’s a quick tip to anyone wanting to take ski guests to have a watch: teach them how to walk on a hill in ski boots BEFORE you reach the crowd. Especially if they’re kids. Otherwise they might start a game of ten-pin bowling using fur-clad spectators as pins…
I may or may not be speaking from experience...
In fact. Just don’t take kids onto the spectator slope at all. Doesn’t matter how much you try to teach them about their boots on the snow. Just don’t.
After each event, the medals are given, and so the Sunday finishes the weekend with the slalom award ceremony. Having worked each day of the weekend, I never made it to these parts of the day but it’s a chance to see the athletes lift the trophies, and a good kickstart to the evening ahead, especially if your guy just won. The street party continues for the final night, but I wasn’t hardcore enough to make it to this point. It did sound great from my house though!
When the weekend is over, the town wakes up on Monday morning, says it’s goodbyes to the crowds and starts the clean up. The helicopter noise is just a familiar sound in the background of a ski lesson and, just like the end of the Christmas market, the streets of town are cleared of all festivities. You can now go back to queue-less bars, appreciate free entry to the Londoner (if you want to) and McDonald’s goes back normal prices. If you’re visiting for longer than the event, the last of the excitement comes from skiing down the race course yourself and watching a re-imagined version of ‘Bambi’ as you attempt to not do the splits on the blue parts of the piste. This is well worth a try, and a great way to put yourself in the shoes of the athletes and go full fangirl/guy. But be prepared and don’t underestimate the ice. The Mausefalle is terrifying and snowploughs don’t work. Trust me. Massive shout out to the instructors on ‘rutschen’ duty for the event!
The buzz of the weekend eventually slips away, and leave behind the locals and seasonaires returning to their less-exciting routines. I think myself and Pez could safely say on behalf of every instructor in town, that it is the best weekend of the season in Kitzbühel. I can’t speak for bar staff and locals, because it’s a bit of an invasion. But I’m sure it contributes to a large portion of the town’s tourism, so I can’t imagine too much complaining.
So, whether you’re still keen to race the Hahnenkamm or you’ve only just heard about it, I can again recommend a visit, should you be in the area. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re the avid ski fan, a self proclaimed park rat, or have never skied a day in your life, this weekend has a little bit for everyone. And regardless of if you’re there purely for the skiing or you’re in it for the intense Austrian party vibe, or you’re keen to experience a little bit of both, you’ll definitely find yourself having a great time.
That’s if you don’t get too Hahnenkamm’d.
Yeah. That's me.
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