Imagine you're in a top-down convertible, cruising down a wide-open road at sixty, seventy, maybe eighty miles an hour. Warm wind blows your hair back, the exhilaration of sunlight and speed pumps adrenaline through your veins. What a pleasant dream. Now imagine blasting that speed on skis down an icy slope, blinded by fog and flat light, nothing protecting you besides a helmet, goggles, and a spandex speed suit. That's an alpine skier's dream, and that is at the very core of Tyrolean Alpine culture.
Much like U.S. Americans count down until (American) football season, Tyroleans (people from the Austrian alpine region called Tyrol) spend all summer gearing up for ski season. If you've ever watched the Winter Olympics, World Cup, or seen Lindsey Vonn compete (I recommend watching her HBO special), you will know that this heart-pounding, dangerous, physically demanding sport is not for the faint of heart. The four disciplines of alpine racing are called slalom, giant slalom (GS), super-G and downhill, and each requires immense amounts of physical stamina and mental astuteness. And while each discipline's courses are set to specific guidelines, all courses are not created equal.
Enter Hahnenkamm Streif: the world's most demanding and dangerous downhill course.
Here are some quick and eyebrow-raising facts:
- The maximum grade of the course is 85% (40.4°)!
- The Streif course runs 2.058 mile long
- Racers can reach speeds of more than 140km/hr (87mph) on the final stretch of the course - faster than the speed limit on American freeways!
This race takes place in the iconic town of Kitzbuhel, where fairy-tale fantasies come to life. Locals meander the streets in traditional Trachten (Lederhosen and Dirndl), multicolored facades line cobblestoned streets, and the epic Tyrolean Alps are visible in every direction. Luckily for Backroads, Kitzbuhel is a haven for hikers and cyclists in the summertime, and we call this little village home for two nights on our German & Austrian Alps hiking, biking and multi-adventure tours. Even in the exuberance and cheer of the summertime festival season, everyone in town seems to be waiting until the day they can strap on skis. After all, this is the place where most kids learn to ski as soon as than they can walk, where nearly everyone's backyard is ski in-ski out, and where a cold bier or warm Gluhwein at the end of the day is "mandatory."
Hotel Tennerhof, where we spend two luxurious nights on all our German & Austrian Alps trips, directly faces the Hahnenkamm's Streif slope. The breakfast patio has an uninterrupted view of the course; each morning we sip cappuccinos and wonder who in their right mind would voluntarily race this! In fact, some of our hikers might prefer the Streif VerticalUp event, where participants race the Streif upwards to the start booth of the ski race! But don't worry: we can comfortably reassure you that none of our hiking or biking routes will ever hit 85% grade.
Hahnenkamm 2020 takes place from January 24 - January 26. If you're like us and prefer watching from the warmth (and safety!) of your home, you can see it on NBC Sports.
Join us in Austria to on our Alps Walking & Hiking Adventure!
Above: Watch Red Bull TV's short feature "The World's Most Dangerous Downhill Ski Race | Streif: One Hell Of a Ride"
Below: Kitzbuhel in the early evening