Exuberant excess—the way of the Hahnenkamm—is apparent right from the starting gate.
The Europop bass lines pulse through the chorus of clanging cowbells and cheap plastic horns as a tide of (mostly) inebriated fans flows to fill all empty spaces for a riotous weekend of races. The Hahnenkamm has been touted as skiing’s version of the Super Bowl, but that’s not fair to the Hahnenkamm. It’s much more open and accessible. Add in the storybook charm of Kitzbühel, with medieval architecture and soaring peaks, juxtaposed with the mink-wrapped leisure class and frenetic face-painted fans. And it all points to the spectacular Streif, ski racing’s most feared and revered downhill course. Everything about the most infamous stop on the World Cup circuit lives up to the hype.
The 2017 race schedule: the super G, Jan, 20; the notorious Streif downhill, Jan 21; and the Slalom, Jan 22.
Only two Americans have won the notorious Streif downhill: Buddy Werner in 1959, and Daron Rahlves in 2003 (on a fog-shortened course).
In addition to offering a line of sight to the most challenging and decisive sections of the Streif, the finish area is also one massive party that regularly pulls in upwards of 45,000 specta- tors. Fans arrive well before the event to claim the best spots. The majority of the spectating area is free (try that at the Super Bowl). And with a drinking age of 16 and just about zero oversight from event security, fans arrive toting prodigious quantities of adult beverages. Portable stoves are also a common sight, used to heat spiced wine and melt fondue.
Kitzbühel at dusk. Looming in the background are the downhill (left) and slalom (right). Race organizers lease sections of the course from farmers who still pasture cattle on the famed mountainside.
With 54 lifts linking over seven municipalities and two provinces, Kitzbühel offers up some of the best ski access in the world.
Every available space is utilized, including handy rooftops.
A very young Austrian ski fan chilling out in a very Austrian stroller.
A rare morning respite. With its many vaulted cellar restaurants, cobbled alleys, and historic cemeteries and churches, like the two 14th-century examples seen here, a sense of history permeates everything in Kitzbühel.
This isn’t a national ski team but rather a Swiss fan club (yes, they have their own uniforms), all lugging famed Swiss Trychler (carrying bells), weighing more than 40 pounds each. The fans march in a slow hunched waddle, ringing their bells in unison with each step. The sound is deafening at close range and audible virtually anywhere between the town and the race-courses.