Sigi shows off some of the old stuff.
It is to be expected that you’ll taste a bit of history when you ski the Alps. There are the mountain huts, all carved wood and richly atmospheric, with warm fires and schnapps and old skis on the walls. There are the legendary resorts, places like St. Anton and Lech, where each turn is an echo of the history of the sport, because the turns you are doing here are built upon the turns that skiing’s pioneers did before there were such things as high speed quads or even lifts. And then there’s the most unlikely slice of history of all, the Kästle museum hidden in the top station of Lech’s Rüfikopfbahn 2 lift.
You’d expect a venerable brand like Kästle to have a museum much like those mountain huts. But this is different. Step inside and you enter a world that is sleek and modern. Except, of course, for some of the skis that adorn the displays. The space is simple and clean, with a bar that, according to Kästle President Siegfried “Sigi” Rumpfhuber, has hosted some great parties. Large picture windows take in the superlative views, although on this visit we had to take Sigi’s word for it as it was absolutely pouring down snow outside. The displays (in German for now, but enhanced by graphics which make the displays easily understood by English speakers, with additional English descriptions planned for later) illustrate the rich history of the Kästle brand. And because the company was ubiquitous in the sport of skiing for so many years, that history is the history of skiing, from World Cup glory to the solitary and scary pursuit of ski mountaineering objectives and first descents.
A snowboarder contemplates the fact that two Kästles are better than one Burton.
Freeriding has always been part of Kästle’s DNA, including attempts on big Himalaya peaks.
The museum germinated from the most unlikely roots. The space is framed in by the mechanics of the Rüfikopfbahn, and you can feel a faint rumbling of the lift’s power as it whisks skiers to Lech’s famed terrain. Prior to the Kästle invasion, an attempt was made to create a private dining experience. The choice of décor, “all furry and pink,” according to Sigi, may have gone over well in Moscow or some sort of rave club in New York, but didn’t fly in the rarified altitude of Lech. With the failure of the restaurant, which didn’t even last a full season, the opportunity was laid for an experience that was new, better and – dare we say it – more educational. Thus the Kästle museum was born.
If you are looking for a quick break from your day, or want to tap deeper into skiing’s historical roots, there’s hardly a better place to start than a visit to the museum. From Kästle’s humble beginnings when the brand was founded on an initial commercial run of 20 skis, to the modern equivalent which counts athletes such as Hugo Harrison and Chris Davenport among its stable, the evolution of Kästle is, indeed, the evolution of skiing itself. The point is made all the more stronger by the fact that today, unlike any other European brand, Kästle doesn’t make racing skis (this, despite a string of World Cup success that is enviable). The company’s svelte line-up is, truly a freeride line: for those who like to carve the heck out of the piste or point ‘em straight off of cliffs there’s a model that will work well for you.
Of course, many brands claim to offer the same. But here, in the sleek interior of a space that rumbles to the heartbeat of the Rüfikopfbahn, it’s hard to imagine that any other brand does it so well, or is so in touch with both the past of skiing and its future.
To see the second installment of Tom Winter's blog in Austria,
An overview of the brand, its history and the athletes. Plus an inside look at the technology that makes the latest generation of Kästle skis so great.
Everything you need to know about this venerable one-two punch of Lech and Zurs, including options for accommodations, restaurants and nightlife.
Deals on traveling to and from Austria, background information on ski resorts and other winter pastimes and an overview of the culture, music and geography which makes this one of the must-visit destinations for skiers of all abilities.