Skiing with Franz Klammer
8th November 2011
The chance to ski with once of the world’s greatest downhill racers is something most keen skiers would jump at – or run a mile from if feeling a little rusty. PlanetSKI reporter, Katy Dartford, felt both emotions.
Franz, known to everyone in Austria as The Kaiser, was waiting for us at the bottom of K70 run in the Austrian resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim.
Still dashing at 58, he ominously enquired whether I’d waxed my skis. Franz speaks good English but ‘slow down’ isn’t really in his vocabulary. To say I was nervous was an understatement. It’s not every day your skills are assessed by one of the greatest downhill skiers of all time.
Franz won his first downhill race on K70 when Bad Kleinkirchheim – known as BKK – secured the right to host the inaugural European Cup competition in December 1971. At the time, the poor farmer’s son from Mooswald in Carinthia was struggling for recognition in the skiing world. But that victory was a major breakthrough for the18-year-old Franz.He then went on to win 25 individual World Cup downhill races, five World Cup championships and a gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck.
So no pressure then, I thought, as we ascended the slopes of the beautiful Nockberge Mountains.
I gazed down at the charming resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim, an old spa town that spreads out along the beautiful, high Kirchheim valley on the south side of the Alps with its timber-faced and chalet style buildings, all set in stunning ‘dumpling’ shaped mountains.
No UK tour operators have a presence in BKK, so the resort is still relatively unknown to the British market. But visitors from across the world are attracted to BKK for a chance to relax in the top wellbeing haven and ski the slopes made famous by Klammer.
As our group set off some straggled behind; others cut me up hogging the right to ski on the Kaiser’s tails as he sped off in lightning speed down the slopes he knew so well.
Trying to emulate his style, I zipped in right behind Franz, skiing at uncomfortable speed, as I tried to glue myself to his tracks.Franz kept glancing back, increasing his speed to test my nerve. Eventually he stopped; peering through his white-rimmed sunglasses and pointing his pole at me. “Show me your turns,” he said.
Blushing furiously, I desperately tried to carve my most precise and dynamic turns, as he watched my technique intently, drawing envy from others in the group.
Coming to a stop as casually as I could, Franz suggested I “relax a little- and try to plant your poles before you turn.”
After this initial test, I indeed managed to relax and admire the Kaiser from a comfortable distance, whilst enjoying the snow that was so firm I could hold a line without straining my muscles.
We stopped for a lunch of typical Austrian fare at the mountain restaurant named after him. Although initially sitting with us, queues soon began to build up for chance to talk to the Kaiser and get him to autograph ski passes, so Franz eventually left us and worked the room.
Klammer clearly has god-like status here, with the World Cup downhill course, the mountain restaurant and even his favourite cake from the local pastry-maker named after him.
Despite this however, he is totally charming and unaffected by his fame.
Managing to chat to almost everyone, he downed some schnapps before preparing to hit the slopes once more. “Are you ready?” he asked me. “Oh yes,” I said, blushing again, doubting very much that after goulash and dumplings, schnitzel and apfelstrudel all washed down with fantastic pale Austrian beer, I’d have the gusto to try to keep up with Franz.After an afternoon of more relaxed skiing, Franz waved goodbye and disappeared off into the sunset. Sad to see him go, I soon cheered up as I rested my burning legs in the steaming pools of the public spa facility, the Romerbad, conveniently placed directly at the end of the Franz Klammer run.
The enormous, state-of-the-art building features a series of pools, hot tubs, saunas, steam and infrared rooms. Best of all was the roof top hot pool overlooking the dramatically illuminated Franz Klammer course.
As I relaxed in the steaming water, I thought back to Franz’s 1976 Olympic victory, as he flew down the mountain, like a human missile in a yellow ski suit, constantly threatening to veer off course but managing to hold it together.
This winning performance was a huge moment in the sport and made me more than happy to eat the Kaisers powder dust.
Franz Klammer Ski Days
Sign up with the BKK Tourist Office to be one of 25 people chosen to ski with Franz Klammer – all you need is a valid lift pass. To find out next year’s date (usually in January) and apply to join the group checkwww.badkleinkirchheim.at or email email@example.com
Further information from the Austrian National Tourist Office www.austria.info
The Top Ski Carinthia Pass is the best deal for skiers and boarders who want to see more than one resort – it covers the whole region and a 6-day gold pass costs from €194 for adults and from €99 for children up to age 14. In addition, there are attractive family packages, partner packages and the grandchild ski pass. More information on www.topski.at
One day ski passes for Bad Kleinkirchheim (BKK) and St Oswald only cost from €40. The €51 ski pass includes entry to the Spa Thermal Römerbad in BKK, one of the most beautiful alpine wellness temples in Europe, with 13 different saunas.
For the spirit of the mountains