Located in Radstadt Tauern, a subrange of the Austrian Central Alps, the winter sports resort of Obertauern offers more the 100 kilometers of pistes with the guarantee of snow from mid-November through to early-May each year. State-of-the-art lift facilities ensure skiers are transported safely and swiftly to even the highest peak (2,313m) to enjoy maximum time on the snow. Night-time skiing extends the pleasure and all levels of experience are catered for, from beginners through to dare-devil experts. Ski-in/ski-out accommodation offers luxury and convenience of the highest standard.
The history of the village of Obertauern goes back to the Celtic era (4th-1st century BC) and Romans used the pass in the first century, as attested to by relic milestones and tracks of Roman wagons. However the first mention of the pass was in 1207 with records in 1224 noting that a small church had been built at the top of the pass. By 1517, two inns had been built there, and these remain part of the village today. In 1764 a post office was opened with deliveries twice a week.
It is thought that the first skiers discovered the area in 1902, but the first record of skiers visiting Obertauern was in 1920. They arrived on foot with their baggage on horse-drawn sleighs. The official founding of the village is recorded as 8 December 1929, when the Tauern Pass started carrying regular traffic. The first lift was installed in 1948 and the tourism industry in the village of Obertauern started to grow, with more lifts and cable cars installed between 1952 and 1961. Interestingly, between 1948 and 1960, skiers prepared the slopes in exchange for runs, before the first motorized trail groomer was introduced. Piste construction with bulldozers in 1967 created part of the present day Tauern Circuit, allowing access for grooming equipment and more tourists. The first snow cannon was installed in 1985 and major upgrading projects were carried out in the latter years of the 20th century.
Obertauern continues to upgrade equipment and facilities, reinforcing its status as one of the top ski resorts in the world, often mentioned on “Best Resort” lists in magazines and on websites dedicated to the snow sport industry.
While artificial ski slopes are not likely to replace the real thing, they can come in very handy for skiing enthusiasts to brush up on their skills out of season, and provide and exciting pastime in areas that don’t traditionally get real snowfall or conditions cold enough to maintain artificially generated snow. Dry ski slopes attempt to mimic the attributes of snow in various ways, and some centers use mist or mini water jets to moisten the slopes to reduce friction and heat buildup and increase speed.
The United Kingdom has quite a number of dry slopes, generally as part of larger sports and entertainment centers. The most commonly used dry slope surfaces are Dendix and Snowflex. Both are made with plastic bristles, but Dendix has diamond-shaped spaces between strips of bristles, while Snowflex has bristles with no gaps. Skiers who have made involuntary contact with the bristles tend to agree that Snowflex is more forgiving than Dendix when falling on it, while those who have enjoyed the real thing agree that snow remains the preferred substance to collide with. Nevertheless, these artificial slopes provide a lot of fun and great opportunities to tone the muscles used in snow skiing while working on the basics of this popular snow sport.
Snow simulators offer another option for skiing without snow. Also referred to as ‘infinite slopes’, snow simulators are available in various sizes and with different levels of capability, from the most simple treadmill-style model, through to slopes that move to increase and decrease the level of decline one would experience when traveling down a real slope. Some even have large screen displays for skiers to focus on to enhance the real ski-slope experience.
Other snowless skiing experiences include roller-skiing, which uses specially adapted skis on wheels to travel on tarmac in much the same way as cross country skiers glide across the snow, and grass skiing which uses skis with rolling treads or wheels to travel downhill over grass. In addition to helping alpine skiers hone their skills, grass skiing has developed into a sport in its own right with competitors vying for the annual Grass Skiing World Cup.
While Australia’s resorts revel in recent snowfalls, south-east neighbor New Zealand has not been so lucky. With winter entering its third month, some resorts have been unable to open, while others are relying heavily on snow-making equipment. Larger resorts at high altitudes may be able to drum up some business with snow-guns providing cover for slopes, but smaller ski areas, some of which operate as non-profit organizations with the help of volunteers, don’t have snow-making facilities, and even if they did, the warmer than usual winter weather currently being experienced would likely melt any man-made snow.
Even critics of climate change may be obliged to rethink their stance as scientists in various parts of the world call attention to shrinking glaciers and melting permafrost. This has been visibly evident at the iconic Southern Alps Franz Josef glacier, a major attraction in New Zealand’s Westland Tai Poutini National Park. A recent aerial study of New Zealand’s Southern Alps mountain range carried out by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) reveals that since 1977 the region has lost up to 34% of its permanent ice and snow. Although New Zealand’s glaciers have had three periods of growth during the 1970s and 1980s brought about by temporary changes in the Pacific climate system, rising average temperatures have wiped out these growth spurts and are causing glaciers to diminish. This is impacting on tourism, with the Mount Cook area being a prime example, as glacier tours have turned into viewings of floating icebergs.
New Zealand ski operators are definitely being negatively impacted by the country’s warmest weather on record for this time of year, and while remaining hopeful for some late snowfall, some may have to accept the possibility of this season being a washout. Hopefully, one bad season is not the beginning of a trend.
The snow sport industry has been identified by the United Nations Environment Program as being one of the most vulnerable industries when it comes to being affected by climate change. With average winter temperatures rising, and the first snowfalls happening later and later, it is becoming increasingly difficult for resorts to run for the number of days they would have in the past. Even resorts with comprehensive snowmaking equipment are finding temperatures too warm to maintain ski-worthy slopes at the beginning and end of the season. Snow skiing areas at lower elevations appear to be most at risk for losing income, as many lack the resources to deal with the drop in natural snowfall and shortening of snow sport seasons.
Founded in 2007 by Jeremy Jones, a pro snowboarder who took note of resorts closing due to lack of snow, Protect Our Winters (POW) aims to “unite and actively engage the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change.” POW launched the “POW Riders Alliance” consisting of fifty-two professional snow sport athletes who are dedicated to fighting climate change. These alliance members are committed to making others – sponsors, fans, students, media, etc. – aware of the problems facing the snow sport industry. POW representatives have been to Capitol Hill to discuss with members of Congress the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon standards, and have hand delivered a letter signed by seventy-five professional athletes to the White House urging President Obama to act on clean energy and climate change.
In addition to numerous other climate change awareness projects, under the banner of the POW7, the organization has compiled a list of seven things individuals can do to fight climate change. Visit the POW website to find out how you can get involved.
Described as a cross between snowboarding and BMX, snowscoots are an exciting and novel addition to the ever-growing array of snow-sport equipment. Consisting of two boards with handlebars and foot straps, snowscoots are highly maneuverable as riders can steer as well as use their body movement to change direction, while reaching similar speeds to those attained by snowboarders and snow skiers. The majority of ski resorts in Europe have sanctioned the use of snowscoots, but North American resorts reportedly have yet to embrace the concept.
The first snowscoot prototype was created in 2003 by Philippe Lasala, who went on to found Black Mountain Downhill Design, the manufacturer and distributor of a range of snowscoots and other equipment. The snowscoot made its debut appearance during the World Cup in Pra-Loup, France, with the first competitions taking place in 2004. The concept was readily accepted by adventurous snow sport fans and by 2006 up to 50% of France’s resorts were offering snowscooting as one of their activities. By 2010, a number of ski areas in Switzerland had sanctioned the use of snowscoots, and it continues to gain thrill-seeking fans.
Snow sport enthusiasts in the UK can try out snowscooting at Chill Factore in Manchester – an indoor snow sport venue with a 180 meter slope boasting real snow. In addition to skiing, snowboarding and snowscooting, snow tubing offers a whole lot of fun with minimal risk. Instructors are on hand for beginners, while more experienced skiers can take the opportunity to brush up on their skills. There is also a Snow Play area and a Snow Park, with organized events increasing the fun factor of an awesome family outing. Certainly, there are many good reasons to add snowscooting to your list of snow-based activities.
Situated at Franconia Notch State Park, the New England Ski Museum has an interesting collection of items relating to the history and development of snow skiing, which are on display for the education and enjoyment of the thousands of visitors who pass through its doors each year. The museum has been operating as a non-profit organization since December 1982, presenting both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Detailing a timeline of skiing from prehistoric times through to the 1990s, the permanent exhibition at the museum is entitled From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: Eight Thousand Years of Skiing.
The permanent display also includes fascinating facts about the history of skiing in New England, listing historic events at Cannon Mountain, and chronicling the career of World Cup alpine skier Bode Miller, who was born in Easton, New Hampshire. Visitors to the museum can view film clips on any of several video screens, selecting from topics that include ski instruction, skiing and snowboarding styles and other items of interest. There are also film clips highlighting the unpredictability of snow and the danger and power of avalanches, with a view to promoting caution and safety when enjoying the great outdoors.
At the entrance of the New England Ski Museum, visitors will see replicas of prehistoric skis which are still used by tribes in Central Asia today. Also on display are K2Fours, popularized by Bode Miller in the mid-1990s, as well as the champion’s five Olympic medals. As the sport grew in the New England area in the 1930s, a number of small businesses developed to cater for visiting skiers. It was also in that decade that the National Ski Patrol (NSP) was formed in order to render first aid services to skiers in need. The NSP became the foundation of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division in World War II. Veterans of this military division were the driving force behind many of the ski resorts that were established following the Second World War, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. Economic hardships in the 1970s and 1980s led to many of the small ski areas closing down in what is now referred to as the ‘lost ski area’ era.
The New England Ski Museum is open 7 days a week (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas) between 10am and 5pm, starting on Memorial Day and closing at the end of Cannon Mountain’s ski season.
North American snow sport enthusiasts who are planning a mid-year ski break are likely to find just what they are looking for at one of the ski resorts in the South American Andes. Visitors to Chile have three great options just an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Santiago – El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado. These three resorts lead into one another, but operate separately, and skiers who would like to explore them all may want to consider staying in nearby accommodation and devoting at least a full day to each resort.
In recent years Valle Nevado has been transforming itself into the region’s first ‘Mountain Village’ with new and upgraded facilities for the comfort and convenience of guests. The new gondola ferries visitors from the Service Area over a distance of more than one thousand meters to the Bajo Zero Restaurant situated at around 3,200 meters above sea level. Each cable car carries six occupants, thereby minimizing queues waiting to ascend the mountain. Alongside the Bajo Zero gondola station, new beginner trails for adults ensure that visitors of all ages and levels of experience get the most out of time spent at Valle Nevado. Children between the ages of 4 and 9 years can join the Snow School where ski and snowboard instructors are ready to teach beginners the very basics, as well as to help those with more experience to improve their skills.
Valle Nevado’s ‘Learn to Ride’ and ‘Kids Learn to Ride’ centers offer beginners of all ages the opportunity to gain snowboarding skills, using a new method developed by Burton – one of the world’s leading snowboard manufacturers. The Snow Park offers terrain to challenge skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
Valle Nevado offers rental of the latest equipment, day-lockers, restrooms, and a shuttle service between the ski service area and nearby hotels. In addition to stocking the very latest in gear, outerwear and accessories, the Ski Shop provides a demo service for customer to try equipment on the slopes before making their purchases. Moreover, the resort offers summer training facilities for ski and snowboard teams, featuring slopeside lodging, athlete-specific meals, training terrain and spa and fitness center services. So, check out the facilities of Chile‘s Valle Nevado if you’re planning to head south for some mid-year skiing.
While it’s still in the feasibility study stage, there are reportedly plans to build an all year around snow sport center at the Philip S. Miller Park in the Colorado town of Castle Rock. With its head office located in West Chester, PA, and branch offices in Colorado Springs and Lakewood, Weston Solutions Inc. has been given the go ahead to conduct a feasibility study for the development of a center that would offer skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing throughout the year using surfaces covered in a synthetic substance known as Snowflex.
In reply to critics who are doubtful people will use the facility, particularly in the winter months when snow is the main draw-card to the area, development director of Weston Solutions, Shawn Temple, noted that the center will introduce new people to the sport, as well as offering facilities for training and progression, improving skiers’ skills before they hit the slopes. Temple also pointed out that local skiers who may not have the time to travel to the mountains to enjoy snow sports, can fit in an hour or two of skiing or snowboarding on the synthetic surface after work or at other convenient times.
Should the four-season ski center materialize, it will include Snowflex skiing surfaces covering 107,00 square feet; a Snowflex bunny slope; a Snowflex tubing run; and a mountain bike course. There will also be a lodge, restaurant and bar, and visitors will have ample parking allowing easy access to the center.
As per assistant director of parks and recreation in Castle Rock, Jeff Brauer, Weston Solution’s proposals will be reviewed every six months over the next two years and if they present a proposal, complete with financial backing, within the two year time period, then the seven member town council will vote on it.
As ski-biking becomes more popular, an increasing number of North American ski resorts and ski areas are opening up trails to this exciting sport. Durango Mountain Resort in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has been featuring ski-biking as a winter activity for some time now, offering lessons, rentals and spectacular terrain for a whole lot of family fun (minimum age is 12 years-old). Because of the level of stability afforded by three contact points with the snow, ski-biking is generally easier to learn and safer than skiing (although tuition is strongly recommended), making it an ideal activity for skiers who don’t get to the slopes as often as they would like to. It is also a lot kinder to the knees, allowing skiers with knee problems the opportunity to enjoy the slopes for longer without discomfort.
The fact that ski-biking is generally safer, does not mean it is boring or doesn’t require skill. Ski-bikes have been specially developed to travel and maneuver with speed, and stop abruptly when required in much the same way as conventional skiers do, so riders need to be in control of their ski-bikes at all times. As with any other snow sport, having the correct equipment is very important. Ideally, when sitting on the ski-bike, the upper part of the rider’s body should be parallel to the position of the lower legs with knees lower than the hip joint. Feet are attached to short skis and riders should grip the saddle with their knees, keeping the short skis, or ‘gliders’ close to the ski-bike. Instructors will demonstrate turns and stopping, ensuring the new ski-biker is competent and confident before heading for the slopes.
Because ski-biking is still a relatively new and unusual sport, it may be viewed with some mistrust by others on the ski slopes. So, as ambassadors of the sport, it is essential that ski-bikers are courteous and follow slope rules to the letter. For more information on ski-biking in North America, visit the American SkiBike Association website.
Held in Koenigsee, Berchtesgadener Land, Bavaria, the 2014 wok racing championships – WOK WM 2014 – took place on March 8, with the gold medal going to Joey Kelly, silver to Georg Hackl and bronze to Armin Zöggeler. The team event was won by Otelo team with the four-member team from Jamaica comprised of Hanukkah Wallace, Marvin Dixon, Seldwyn Morgan and Wayne Blackwood. Georg Hackl’s speed record of 88.2 km/h set in 2012 remains unbroken. The four-person-woksled speed record of 97 km/h was set in 2006 by FROSTA team.
Wok racing is exactly what the name suggests – competitors seated in a Chinese cooking wok, racing down a bobsleigh track. Initiated by German entertainer and television host Stefan Raab, the wok racing championship has taken place annually since 2003, when Raab won the gold medal at the host venue in Winterberg. It should come as no surprise that the most enthusiastic supporters of wok racing are skilled lugers who are accustomed to hurtling down tracks at breakneck speed, at times reaching speeds of 140 km/h. The highest recorded speed of a luger was 154 km/h, set by Manuel Pfister of Austria at Canada‘s Whistler track. Of the three 2014 winners, both Georg Hackl and Armin Zöggeler are Olympic champions, while Kelly participates in a number of challenging sports including multi-discipline endurance events.
High-quality Chinese cooking woks are used in wok racing, with modifications being epoxy reinforcement of the bottom and polyurethane foam along the edges to prevent injury. Team woksleds consist of two pairs of woks held together by a frame, and the two pairs connected by a coupling. Much as in luge events, steering of the wok is done with shifting weight and body movements. Competitors wear well-padded protective gear and full-face helmets. To reduce friction competitors wear ladles under their feet, and woks are sometimes heated underneath with a blowtorch to enhance performance.
While it’s unlikely wok racing will become a winter Olympics sport anytime soon, it is a whole lot of fun for both competitors and spectators.