Updated: Sunday, 27 January 2013 04:35 | By Agence France-Presse

Fans and famous alike drawn to mecca of skiing

 Five-star Austrian glamour and glitz combine every year with raucous, drunken horn-blowing revellery in homage to the "Super Bowl" of alpine skiing, the Hahnenkamm races.


Fans and famous alike drawn to mecca of skiing

Fans and famous alike drawn to mecca of skiing

The mecca of ski racing welcomes 100,000 people for three days to watch in awe as 50 or so skiers propel themselves down the Hahnenkamm mountain at bone-rattling speeds of 140kph. Spectacular crashes are part and parcel.

While some of the fans, including the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, are well-heeled and will stay at Kitzbuehel's top-notch hotels, many more are locals who are ferried in from the surrounding region by a fleet of extra trains put on by Austrian rail authorities.

"It's the biggest thing we have to see around here," said 19-year-old Georg, an agricultural sciences student, bedecked in Austrian flag, face painted in the national red and white, eyes already glazed at 10am from the local "digestif", Jaegermeister.

Along with the flags and bonhomie comes the equivalent of the Austrian vuvuzela: the gleaming, chrome truck horn, blaring out incessantly.

The cobbled streets of quaint old Kitzbuehel are transformed into a three-day party, with the installation of hundreds of wooden sheds meeting every demand -- not only do some sell sausages, giant pretzels and beer, but others do a good business in oysters and flutes of prosecco.

Tellingly, behind the sheds are the luxury shops, jewellers and estate agents advertising swanky chalets for between one and five million euros.

Different music blasts from loudspeakers every 10 metres: retro '80s, dance, and of course "Austro pop", which proves to be very popular with the beer-swilling, sing-along apres-ski crowd.

Fur coat-clad Christa Nohe, who hails from Bad Soden in Germany but who owns a second home in Kitzbuehel, said: "The party character is greater in Kitzbuehel than other downhill races.

"There's a certain reputation associated with Kitzbuehel. That attracts a lot of people," she told AFP.

The Kitzbuehel downhill is widely considered the toughest and most dangerous downhill on the World Cup circuit.

The course has been described by the US ski team coach Sasha Rearick as the "Super Bowl of alpine skiing" and likened by Norwegian star Aksel Lund Svindal to the Monaco Formula One race - you're either on the track or in the wall.

Terry and Clare, an American couple from the Ann Arbor region of Minnesota, admitted they were on a "pilgrimage" to the Hahnenkamm, which translates as the rooster's comb and also gives some hardy fans the perfect dressing-up idea.

The keen amateur skiers were there for Saturday's 73rd running of the downhill won by Italian Dominik Paris thanks to an extravagant 35th birthday wish of Terry to actually see and ski next to the demanding Streif course.

"We've flown in for the week," he told AFP. "Detroit-Toronto-Munich and three trains to get here. We're not even thinking about the jetlag, a few Weissbiers (wheat beer) and some slope time will sort that out.

"It's always been a dream of ours to come here, it's the mecca of skiing."

At the end of a long day in brilliant sunshine in temperatures of -3 degrees centigrade, Theresa was a little fatigued in her return home to nearby Kirchberg after watching the downhill.

Like her gaggle of twenty-something friends, she was heavily made up, skinny designer jeans tucked into ski boots with a diamante-laced heel, the "faux" fur lining of her puffa jacket looking suspiciously like that of several real minx.

In keeping with the day's activities, she sought out a miniature, dark-green bottle of Jaegermeister from her Louis Vuitton handbag to swig back and pass amongst her pals before they got home and slept off another epic Hahnenkamm.

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