Austrian party town kicks off the World Cup season in style; Didier Cuche
conquers flats to become king of the hill while GS queen Tanja Poutiainen
adds another gem to her crown BY HANK MCKEE AND SHAUNA FARNELL
Soelden, Austria, has a reputation as a party town. Having the World
Cup roll in every fall does nothing to diminish that reputation. Throw in a
“parade” that features 40 different fan clubs, many with their own form of
noise production — cowbells to full brass sections — and it’s not hard to
find a good time.
More than booze buoys the spirits, however. Having the races come off,
particularly under sunny skies, translates directly into the pockets of those
owning lodges. Andre Arnold, the four-time pro champion, is such a lodge
owner. He’s also the chair of the organizing committee. “It is important for
Soelden that these races come off well,” he says. “And it’s not easy to get them
all up here.”
The media reporting of the event throughout Europe demonstrates there is
snow and skiing available, and that means an up-tick in bookings that can run
right through the season.
The logistical problems arise because the racing all takes place 12 kilometers
up from the valley that contains the lodges, restaurants, brat grills and beer
halls. It’s a long, winding road that can suck the energy from a small block
engine on the way up and smoke the brakes on the way down. Spectators are
bused to and fro and it takes a caravan of buses of them to get 10,000-plus to
the top and back down. The road is barely wide enough for two buses to pass.
The post-race traffic jam is all but inevitable.
It’s a situation that’s not unheard of at World Cup sites, but the distance trav-
eled from town center to race site is way longer than ideal.
The World Cup opening is a stimulus package for the local economy. Beer
company Goesser sets up tents all over town; brats are grilled, vodka and
Champagne poured, chestnuts roasted on open fires. But street vendors aside,
with 10,000 to 15,000 extra people in a town of 4,000, there’s plenty of action in the local establishments as well. It’s not unusual while heading out to
the races early in the morning to find people obviously still partying from the
night before vacillating on the streets.