I’ve just returned from a three week trip to Europe where I watched the World Cup Men's Downhill and Super G team at the Lauberhorn (Wengen, Switzerland), the Hannenkahn (Kitzbeuhel, Austria), as well as a Europa Cup Super G in Meribel, France.
The Lauberhorn ( www.lauberhorn.ch/en) is the oldest and longest (2 1/2 minutes) downhill in Europe. Most first time racers return home to focus on building stronger leg muscles and lung capacity for their second attempt. I learned that the characteristically reserved Swiss become quite the party animals during this 3-4 day event. One evening, Dr. Krause and the Ganong family enjoyed a dinner with Bode Miller. When I asked if he ever backed off, the reply was perfect "I would not have had this long successful career if I had not learned to back off at times."
The Downhill event started with the Swiss Air Force flying their white jets, painted with a big red cross on the belly, in formation, in and among the most beautiful peaks in Europe. The Moch, Eiger and Jungfrau are incredible! A series of small cog wheel trains carry the 50,000 people up to the race. At mid-mountain, the Kleine Scheidig station, you can change trains and go down to Grindelwald or up to the Junfraujoch, the highest train ride in Europe at 3450 meters ( www.ifjungo.ch/jungfraujoch). The races went well and we all had a good time.
The Hannenkahm (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hahnenkamm,_Kitzb%C3%BChel) is the most famous (don't ask the Swiss to agree) and dangerous Downhill on the World Cup Tour with 80,000 people in attendance. In fact 1/3 of the race field skips this race rather than risk injury. This was not very comforting since my "little boy" Travis was having his rookie run on the course! (http://www.travisganong.com) He started 37th but had to wait as "next" in the start gate for 45 minutes as the previous competitor was taken away in a helicopter and then the following customary forerunner also crashed. My wife was a little tense and it did not help to have the Euro TV cameraman's lens 18 inches from her face the entire run. Travis made it down in a respectable 28th place and recorded the highest bottom speed at 137.1 kph….Yikes! The World Cup skiers are true rock stars in Europe. It took each athlete 30 to 45 minutes to work through the autograph/photograph seeking crowds. Since Travis finished in the top 30 I had to surrender my “Traa Scarf” to an Austrian in the Londoner that night.
In addition to race watching and skiing, we also did some Rodeling. When I asked what this was we were told, "It is what adults do at night, in the winter, after too much Schnapps. You slide at breakneck speed down an icy 2 mile course on a small sled which is controlled by dragging your feet and hands”. The Paulsen’s and some of their Austrian friends introduced us to this sport and - holy cow- is it great!
After those great events it was off to Sestriere, Italy to be the doctor with the World Cup Women's speed team! It’s amazing to think of covering all of this ground, but as many of you know, and as my friends Skip Ready and Francois Lalive told me, “Everything in Europe is a 2- 2 1/2 hour drive". I had the pleasure of visiting my friends in Mollis and Montreaux, Switzerland in the midst of my travels. The women’s' races in Sestriere were unfortunately plagued by bad weather. This was the tough section of my trip - featuring snow, fog, ice, and bumps while carrying the 50 lb medical pack. Even though races were eventually canceled each day, we were still up at the crack of dawn, out to the piste to check and postpone every hour until 3pm when the final cancellation came each day. I did however; find the Olympic Cross Country track across the parking lot from our accommodations in Pagaleto. Here, there was perfect skating up the canyon past old Italian war ruins each day!
No significant medical issues arose for the US on this trip. However, sometimes the other teams don't have doctors and on this trip I had the privilege of evaluating Patrick Jaerbyn and Anja Pearson, both of Sweden.
Photos: crowd scene at Wengen, Rodeling, Your TTMG Docs, Travis Ganong and Didier Cuche (Swiss team - the guy who wins all the Downhill races)