Der Rodelrennen

rodeln01 A number of years ago, I was invited by the Austrian Government to attend a two week ski instructors symposium in the Tirol region of Austria. I was one of three guys representing Western Pennsylvania. The first week was action packed as we skied in Innsbruck( Home of the 1964 Olympics), its sister resort Axams Litzum, Soelden, and Kitzbuhel. In Kitzbuhel, we not only were treated to fabulous skiing but witnessed the famed Hahnnenkamm Downhill Ski Race ( the Super Bowl of Ski Racing.) The second week we were assigned to a ski school in Kuthai, Austria which is a ski resort near the Italian border. It was an interesting week. The road avalanched and for a few days, there were only a few Austrian instructors living in the resort. The others lived down the mountain and were unable to get to the resort until the road was cleared. Consequently the American visitors were pressed into service and we really enjoyed it save for the fact that the Austrians didn’t like the open stance taught by the Professional Ski Instructors of America – our organization. They liked the tight European stance which favored the famous Bogner stretch pants, and would not waiver no matter how hard we tried. But all in all, it was a great week and we learned a lot about ski instruction in the Austrian environment. The hospitality was excellent and the S.W.A.G.( shit we all get),pardon my French, was overabundant. Jackets, pants, hats goggles, gloves, etc. Very extravagant gifts courtesy of the Tirol.
But for me, the highlight of the trip aside from the Hahnnenkamm, was an event called Der Rodelrennen( Road Race). The deal is that the locals line the mountain road with luminaria similar to what we see on Christmas Eve. Because of the snow depth the road has sidewalls of snow that are 10-20 feet high because of the plows that displace the snow to the side of the road. The luminaria line the actual road from the top of the mountain down to the village of Kuthai. This serves as lighting to a race that is conducted on a luge like sled. These races are popular in Europe and the Kuthai version is co-ed. Because we were visiting the town, we were entered into the race and I was assigned to a rather athletic looking blonde young lady named Gabrielle. She spoke no English and I had a rather limited vocabulary of German/Austrian so the communication was sketchy at best. Gabby showed me that I was the person to steer the sled by sitting back on the sled and steeering with my feet like the fellow in the picture here. Only difference was that Der Fraulein was sitting right behind me holding on to my waist. We were a tandem preparing to be launched down the course by the overanxious starting crew who were imbibing heavily in plum schnapps.
One of the things I learned in Austria was that you never refused plum schnapps. It is not like the syrupy schnapps we have here in the states but rather like drinking Jet A Aviation fuel. When that stuff hits your poor stomach, it is in shock especially when offered in the morning before breakfast as we made our way from town to town. The night of the race, the proverbial Jet A fuel was offered once again and my stomach seemed to sense its presence and tighened up well in advance. However, it was consumed with a false grateful spirit, as the starter group pushed us into the abyss. Gabby and I started to gain speed quickly and I had to learn in a hurry how to steer the sled with my feet and the proper leaning technique so as not to crash into the walls of snow. As we picked up major speed, we were headed to the first hairpin turn and fortunately I had the presence of mind to take the bend high, steer and lean, and slightly brake with an outriggered foot. With Gabby screaming hysterically in my ear, we made the first hairpin without losing much speed and entered a major straightaway where I thought certain death loomed. But again, taking the next few turns high and being well prepared in advance, we only nicked a couple of walls and miraculously Gabrielle held on as we sped our way to the finish line.
As we saw the line in sight, a crowd was forming and I saw several cherry faced Austrians waiting for us with plum schnapps in their hands and my American instructor contingent cheering us on as we slid sideways accross the finish line. Two local teams had our time beat, but Gabby the jolly fraulein and I managed to take the bronze medal in third place. We were awarded a large bottle of champagne on the podium that night with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The post race dinner was celebrated with our contingent, the hosts from Kuthai and Gabby and her boyfriend who cheerfully inhaled the bottle of champagne. More Jet A fuel was offered and consumed and the night seemed to fade in the glow of a sore stomach and alpenglow of the schnapps. A good time but tough medicine that schnapps.
So if you ever get the chance to ski in the Alps, check out and see if there is a Rodelrennen being contested. Most likely it would be fun to watch but from my experience, much more fun to partake. Schnapps or no schnapps. Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “Der Rodelrennen

  1. J.R. says:

    Great post Pat! I don’t think I ever heard this one before!? Thanks for sharing. You will have to elaborate on this adventure further the next time we are on the trails. It sounds like a great time.

  2. Mark Hutchinson says:

    Pat! I can alway hear your voice as i read your posts, thanks for sharing another fun story! Your description of the snowbanks remind me of tahoe year before last.

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