Euro-Ski

So the other day, someone asked me what was the most interesting ski lesson that I have ever taught. I thought about it for a while and said, ” Well, aside from the time I taught a blind nun with a colostomy, or a blind Hell’s Angel from Chicago, I guess it was the Euros in Kuhtai in the Austrian Tyrol. I was there with Mark Singleton and Kenny Griffin representing Western Pa. in an event that the Austrian government called ” Ski Happyning.” We were selected by PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America) to represent our region along with a group from all over the U.S. One week of touring and one week actually placed with a ski school in an area in Austria. We were selected to go to Kuhtai, a little hamlet high up in the Austrian Alps. The ski school director picked us up and drove like a mad man through the night up these twisty mountain roads that led to the ski area. There he placed us in the hotel for the night and told us he would see us in the morning to shadow his instructors and their lessons for the week. You see, in Austria, tourists come to ski for the week and part of the package is a mandatory session each day with the ski school. It is tradition as well as something that the patrons of the resort look forward to each year when they take their winter vacations.

Late that night, the road was covered with an avalanche and the instructors who lived in the town below were unable to get to Kuhtai to teach their lessons. So the three amigos from Pennsylvania went from being the guests to the employees in a real hurry. The ski school director came to us and explained the situation and said, ” Do the best that you can, but you guys are being put to work.” He was a bit of an iron ass anyhow so it was not surprising that he was discouraged that a trio of apple cheeked American yahoos would be teaching his clients.

After some of the local instructors took the beginners, we were given our groups and off I went with a group of Austrian ladies who were none too pleased to be with the American, instead of their usual handsome Austrian blonde ski god. I did the best that I could seeing that I spoke little German and mostly had to communicate with physical instructions on what I wanted to accomplish. I showed them the PSIA certified technique of a wider stance and they were having none of that. They shook their heads “no” and said for me to go ahead of them and guide them down the slope. As I looked back, they had their feet glued together in standard,Arlberg, counter rotated, form at the time, and saw no reason to try a more athletic approach to stance which would enhance their turning and balance on the hill. It was quite a challenge to try to show them the wisdom of separating their feet but again, no way they were buying it. At the end of the day, they were all smiles because I had basically guided them all day which was a minor miracle in itself seeing that I had never skied the area and relied on a map and their instructions as to our direction. They bought me a beer at the end of the day and we had a few laughs in the bar, not understanding any of the conversation. I know that most Europeans speak English from my prior experience, but they held that from me with giggles and glances.

Regrouping with Kenny and Mark at the end of the day, we all had similar experiences and to have a challenge like that with a language barrier was almost as daunting as my experience teaching visually impaired individuals.

Taking us back down the mountain road at the end of the week, the ski school director thanked us in his limited English and as we left his van, he handed me their ski school banner which you see above. It hangs on my baker’s rack in the basement as a reminder of a wonderful time in Austria and a most challenging ski lesson.

Kind of reminds me that I need to get back to Europe to ski again. It has been a long time and the atmosphere and the history of the sport over there is well worth the effort. Think snow and thanks for reading.

Hahnenkamm- The Super Bowl of Ski Racing

You know, anytime you get to witness a sporting event up close and personal, it is electrifying. I have had the opportunity to stand on the sidelines at a Penn State football game, see Tiger rip off a drive at the US Open, and see World Cup giant slalom and slalom events from the side of the trail. It is amazing to see the skill level of these athletes. We have a local sports writer who pooh poohs the Winter Olympics and calls them games at best. He is also the same guy who does not consider Tiger Woods an athlete because he wears dress slacks to play his sport. I have had a running dialog with this guy who most likely never toed the line in a race or ever really had much experience as an athlete. Because, if he did, he would respect the talent and dedication that is needed to perform at a national level or a world class level in any sport. But in all of my experiences as a spectator, none was more electrifying than witnessing the Hahnenkamm Downhill Ski Race in Kitzbuhel, Austria. This race will be run again this weekend – the 75th edition, and if you have Universal Sports as a cable channel option, you can witness it live. I will have the DVR on for sure because I am addicted to the Universal Sports Channel.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA
A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of being selected to represent Western Pennsylvania along with Kenny Griffin and Mark Singleton on a PSIA trip to the Austrian Tyrol Region.photo The event was sponsored by the Austrian tourist board and the ski instructors group from the US had representatives from all of the national regions. We were each domiciled in a particular area for one week- teaching and sharing experiences with the local instructors. The other week was spent skiing different areas of the Austrian Tyrol , but the highlight of the trip for me was to see the Hahnenkamm up close and personal on the side of the famous “Streif” race course.AUT, FIS Weltcup Ski Alpin, Kitzbuehel Ski racing and bicycle racing in Europe is like the NFL here in the states. Eurovision broadcasts all of the World Cup ski races and cycling events and the European public is very knowledgeable about the details of each sport. They are rabid fans and show up in masses at events as shown on the famous climbs of the Tour De France. But there is no event that attracts more people in one venue than the famous downhill held each year in Kitzbuhel.Google Image Result for http--www.flags.net-images-largeflags-AUST0002.GIF (2)
To give you a little bit of the atmosphere, imagine if you will, 100,000 people lining the race course, schnapps and beer flowing, excitement mounting as the first racers descend the mountain at an average speed of 66 MPH. At the start at the Mausefalle, the skiers are airborne and reach a speed of 60+ MPH within seconds of starting the race. The Austrian army uses water hoses the night before in the course preparation to ensure that the track is rock hard and icy, which the downhillers prefer. As they make their way down the 2.06 miles of racecourse, they come up on an off camber left hand turn called the Steilhang. This is where Kenny and I stood and watched as the rabid fans with their cowbells screamed as the racers flew by. The technical ability of a ski racer to hold a turn, on rock hard ice,off camber, at speed is impressive and it is anything but a game as the local sports hack surmised. The year we attended was in the prime of the “Crazy Canucks” where Canada reigned supreme for four consecutive years. Todd Brooker, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read were the heroes of the day, spoiling the Austrian and Swiss dominance of the race. I had seen Brooker race before when I worked at Sugarloaf,Maine. As a young guy with wild, wavy red hair, and a devil may care attitude, he represented Canada at the Can Am Races at Sugarloaf on his way to advancing to the World Cup level. It was neat to see him ski again in Austria at this premier event. He has had a checkered past with this event, winning once and having the worst crash of his life in Kitzbuhel on the Streif.Hahnekammrennen2011
In the final straightway to the finish line, racers approach 90 MPH and as they cross the line, the noise is deafening. An electrifying sports experience to say the least. I have never seen a Grand Prix event or Indy, but I can’t see how those events could be any more exciting that seeing these world class athletes rocket down a steep alpine face at 90 MPH. These guys are all 220 pounds plus with massive thighs.  You have to be that strong to hold those turns in that course at speed.

These days , my viewing is limited to what I see on Universal Sports. I love to see how these racers make turns. Lots of ski technique taught today at an advanced level is influenced by the way a racer turns. World Cup ski racing is the benchmark for equipment manufacturers which trickles down to standards in manufacturing and standards in ski instruction. Witnessing world class ski racing is something that is always etched in my mind. I will never forget the atmosphere of Kitzbuhel, the great apple strudel, the beer, the food,  and having the opportunity to witness an event as powerful as the Hahnenkamm. If you get the chance, try to watch it on Universal or streaming on line. It is not the same as being there, but you will get the idea. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Get to know an Austrian

Trans Can HigwayGoogle Image Result for http--www.flags.net-images-largeflags-AUST0002.GIF (2)photophotophotorodeln01 If you check out my Janury 23rd blog post about my time in Austria called “The Rodelrennen” you will see some funny things that happened along the way there. If you are a skier, at some point you will meet an Austrian. Even if you are not a skier, you will still like the stories of a very passionate and humorous people whose lives revolve around winter sports. As I said in the post, my first experience with the Austrians was on an exchange trip between U.S. and Austrian ski instructors. I was a guest for two weeks in that country and participated in the Rodelrennen(read about it), skied in many areas including the Soelden glacier where the recent World Cup opening races were held, and taught for a week in Kuhtai- a small resort near the Italian border. Witnessing the Hahnnenkamm World Cup Downhill Race, I got to see the passion of the Austrians up close and personal as 100,000+ people line the “Streif” to see their heroes rocket down the slope at nearly 90 MPH into the finish area. This race is like the Super Bowl in Austria and the whole town of Kitzbuhel buzzes with the energy of the world’s greatest ski race.

In my teaching experience over there at Kuhtai, I was reminded that the origin of ski instruction was in St. Anton, Austria. The technique of the Austrians was never questioned and the introduction of the wider stance by the PSIA American Technique was seen with a wary eye by the patrons of the Kuhtai resort. I was trying to teach them the wider, more athletic stance that the racers were using, but the ladies and gentlemen who were taking the mandatory lesson at the time would hear none of that. They wanted me to guide them basically around the resort and not try to teach them anything new especially the current teachings of the PSIA. I drank their plum schnapps and reveled with them as they all enjoyed their time in Kuhtai, but make no mistake, we were in the land of skiing- Austria. Anyone else who thought differently was a usurper to the ultimate degree.

Personally, I have met many Austrians in my skiing adventures and as much as they are a proud people who take their winter sports very seriously, they are a fun lot. Take my friend Max Katzenberger. Max was a pilot for USAirways and was proud of the fact that he was a captain and worked his way up through the Austrian military. He always walked in front of his crew and remarked to me one time that whenever he was in a holding pattern and wanted to land, he just thickened up his accent a bit and they got him down in a hurry. Another time, some guys were ignoring the flight attendants on the plane and their instructions. Max called the security at the gate and had them removed from the plane. He remarked,” I tell you guys to behave, you don’t behave, now you go to the Klink!!!” You don’t mess with an Austrian. Max was fun to ski with and was a very enjoyable host on my honeymoon with Janet. We met Max and his wife Barb in Austria and toured the country with them. They showed us his home town of Moedling and we spent some time in the Austrian wine country in the foothills of the Alps in a town named Gumpleskirchen. Max had that joyous love of life. He passed away a few years ago and he is sorely missed among the local ski community.

Josef Cabe was the ski school director at Hidden Valley Resort here in Pa. for many years. Josef and I would travel to PSIA update clinics and it was so funny to hear his big hearty laugh and his very thick accent. He constantly criticized the clinic leaders and insisted on showing them the right way to ski. He was strong as a bull and could ski most people into the ground, including the clinic leaders. In the evenings, he led the group in song with Austrian anthems and everybody loved Josef on the slope and off the slopes.

Another Austrian that I spent some fun time with was Rolf Sigmund who owned a ski shop in town at the time. Rolf was a solid skier in the Austrian mold and we went heli-skiing one time in British Columbia together. He didn’t like the off piste skiing in the trees, and in the wind packed conditions that you get sometimes before you hit the deep powder that is always shown in the movies for heli-skiing. Sometimes it gets pretty rugged and Rolf always remarked to me on that trip that,” thees is pullsheet McClaaaahskey. We should go to Tahoe. The slopes are smooth and the chicks look at you in da lines and it is way more fun than theeees pullllsheet McClaaahhhhskey.” I laughed as he tried to bribe the helicopter pilot into flying us back to the lodge so we could watch the Super Bowl. Rolf was hilarious as he drank his schnapps and abused some loud obnoxious New Yorkers who were along on the trip.

I got my rear end chewed pretty well one time by a rather intimidating Austrian named Rudi Kuersteiner. I was with a group of guys skiing rather fast through a beginner area at Whiteface in the Adirondacks. We were there for a clinic and Rudi saw us and skied up to us at the bottom of the hill and demanded that we all follow him to the side of the slope. There he told us in no uncertain terms how rude we were and how dangerous it was to ski that fast where beginners are learning to ski. He was right!! We were wrong and were told so by an old pro. Again, you don’t mess with an Austrian. Fun loving people but don’t get on their bad side.

The Austrians are passionate people and if you get the chance to ski with them, talk with them, drink beers with them, you will surely have a good time and you will be told how skiing really is and how you must go to Austria to ski where it all began. I always laugh when I think of their universal famous line to me…………” you don’t know sheeeeet McClaaaahhhskey.” They are right. Thanks for reading.