Sunday, April 11, 2010
My First Lauberhorn
I wake up in the morning to unfamiliar sounds. Cow bells are ringing, people are singing and dancing in the streets and the beer is already flowing freely amoung the revelers. These are the sounds I jump out of bed to as I wake up for my third World Cup Ski Race: The Lauberhorn Downhill, Wengen Switzerland.
The previous three days have been spent in relative normal ski racing circumstances with just a few spectators watching us racers complete our training runs on the worlds longest downhill track. By relatively normal I am only talking about the crowd before race day, as the Lauberhorn is not normal. It is over three miles of the most challenging downhill on the planet. The classic old start haus sits above tree-line and all you can see as you look out is the daunting north face of the Eiger, and the massive glaciers of the Junfraujoch. The view on a good day rivals anywhere in the world. So with all of these natural wonders around, now you have to focus and ski DH! Pushing out of the gate you drop immediately into your tuck where you quickly are up to speed and set up for the first big left footer triple turn. There was a huge hole exiting the first turn that caused some trouble but it is relatively easy. Then you traverse on a short cat track and then out onto the spine of the ridge on the mountain where there are no trees or fences for reference. Just wide-open fast downhill turns into the first jump. After the short flight you land on yourright foot, and start a very long traverse leading you off the spine of the ridge and towards a crazy 180-degree carousel turn. Here they made a huge turn to slow you down from 70 mph to about 40 in preparation for this really cool jump through a cliff band, with rocks on your left and below you and a fence on your right. You literally have to thread the needle there between the rocks and fences getting as close to the fence as you can in the air and drop through what feels like an elevator shaft.
Upon landing is one of the most technically challenging section with a compression into a two gate right footer with a jump exiting into a huge bank turn to a fall away left footer where you want to not get pushed low that exits you onto a narrow road. Now comes the scary part. You are nuking down this cat track that is 20 feet wide with a fence on your left and a snow bank on your right with no gates, and all you can see in front of you is a b net fence wall. Here you have to swing way out to the left of the fence almost touching it and then bend up you 215 Dh boards on the flat road to avoid hitting the fence for the first 90-degree left footer. This is followed up by another quick right footer 90-degree turn over a bridge where you come extremely close to the safety pads on the exit and where many people have crashed in the past. These are the famous “S” turns of Wengen.
After the “S” turns you take a deep breath and relax for a second knowing that the hardest part is over. You pop off a little jump coming out of the forest and drop down a steep face and then through the also famous train tunnel into the SG section. By this point you have already been skiing for a minute and a half, which is close to how long most DH’s are and you legs are burning. But Wengen at this point is just beginning. You definitely start getting really tired by the train tunnel and I also remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I am breathing really hard”. I was literally breathing as hard as If I had just sprinted up Red Dog face at Squaw in the summer! So the length of this downhill is what makes the rest of the relatively tame sections of the course extremely hard. There is a flat gliding section exiting the tunnel for a few gates before the turns start to swing up again for three single SG turns into a big double right footer SG turn into a challenging fall away single left footer up an over another bridge and down the steepest straightest and fastest section of the course. Exiting the SG section your speeds raise up significantly to 90 or more mphs. It is tough to hold your tuck at these high speeds and it is usually dark in this section so you cant see the bumps so it is very challenging. You come off the steep section into a compression single left footer and then a double big swinging high speed right footer where you want to carry that speed on to another little jump and then through two single gates into the finish turns. Now, you have been just skiing as hard as you possible can for two and a half minutes and you have to execute two more extremely icy awkward blind turns. Many of the strongest racers in the world stump out here, or run out of gas you might say and miss the last gate, so you really want to make sure that you stand up and are in a strong good position to be able to snap off those last few turns and then into the finish. I collapsed from exhaustion after my first run!!!! It was crazy long, but so much fun!
So race day. My first Wengen race day just so happened to be the 80th anniversary of the race, which also just happened to be the oldest ski race in the world which was run on a Saturday at noon on a Swiss national holiday and where the Swiss skiers were favored for the win. Oh yeah and it was a perfectly sunny blue bird day. So, 80,000 crazy fans showed up! The immense crowd was definitely something new for me. Loading the trains in the morning, there was absolutely no room and the train cars reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. The hype was already so built up and it was still only 8:30 am, three and a half hours before the first races did his run! It was nice to get out of the packed train and put my skis on and do something familiar, rip some wide open turns on my Sg skis. It was great to just ski, but at the same time, race day hype was all around with a steady stream of helicopters dropping VIP’s off on the top of the mountain where the prime race view location was. For three hours before their race there is a literal traffic jam of helicopters working there way up the valley and to the top of the mountain! After warming up and inspection, the US team had rented this room for us up near the start where we all went to relax and take our boots off and get mentally ready for the race. It was so quite in there and everyone was so focused, that for me the hype just kept building up even more. Just before race time the Swiss Air Force does an amazing jet plane show buzzing the start house and the Eiger and getting the crowd fired up. The bands then start playing as loud as they can and by this time most of the people are belligerently drunk! The next challenge is getting to the start where about 2 thousand spectators had congregated. The Swiss military soldiers had to create a human barricade to make a narrow passageway for is athletes to navigate through to the start house. Then you are in the start area where there are camera crews and all the different countries trainers and ski technicians prepping the skis and the athletes for their run. As I said already, the hype is building constantly and by the time my turn to start rolled around, it was extremely hard to think about my skiing or anything. I was almost shaking with adrenaline. Finally though I entered the start house and everything became eerily silent in my mind and I clicked into my skis, visualized my run, and pushed hard out of the starting gate into the fresh mountain air to complete my first Lauberhorn Downhill.
Posted By Travis Ganong at 8:07 PM