Legendary ski race on the Arlberg: Suzuki in the white intoxication
On today's Easter Sunday 555 skiers jump at the cult race "Weisser Rausch". One of them is Hideki Suzuki. The Japanese ski fanatic is already a legend on the Arlberg.
After 19 minutes and 10 seconds Hideki Suzuki staggers over the finish line. Although the skier plays no role in the podium finals, the 57-year-old shines like a world champion and explains in bumpy English: "I'm happy to have survived the ordeal injury free."
That was on April 21, 2018, and the Japanese just made the "White intoxication". Yet again. Suzuki finished 74th in his "Ü50" class and 391st overall. Florian Holzinger, a multi-racer from Bavaria, completed the course in 9.06 minutes.
For insiders, the Weisse Rausch, which takes place on Easter Sunday for the 22nd time, has long been a fixed date in the sports calendar. The legendary race is the highlight and the end of the season in the Arlberg ski area. 555 athletes rush at 17 o'clock at the same time from the 2665-meter-high Vallugagrat over a nine-kilometer, extended runway. Everyone can participate - whether on normal skis, telemark skis, mono skis or snowboards.
Party music and cheerleaders greet the athletes in the finish area. Behind the finish line they sink completely exhausted to the ground. Thousands of spectators make a pilgrimage to the finish area in St. Anton after the lift is closed, where the run is broadcast on a big screen and presented as a World Cup race. Thousands of people around the world follow the race via the livestream on the Internet.
12 picturesKultrennen am Arlberg: 555 athletes in the inferno race
Hideki Suzuki will again be one of the starters this year. To participate in the inferno race, the ski fanatic from Nikko, 150 kilometers north of Tokyo, will travel to Tyrol for a weekend. Suzuki loves St. Anton since his first visit in 1991. By now he has been skiing more than 30 times on the Arlberg, participating in the White Rush for the tenth time in 2019. Once he crashed in the race and broke his foot. "That was bitter, but no reason not to start again."
"Being there is everything!", Suzuki said on the eve of the race in 2018. "I have many friends here." To the meeting point he appears - sporty stature, slim, about 1.65 meters tall - over punctual. A headband conceals his thick black hair, under his jacket he wears a long sleeve shirt with the inscription "The White Rush". Polite presented Suzuki Japanese tea and melon bread biscuits as a gift and tells with hands and feet, English linguistics and much laughter of his passion.
He works in his home country as a ventilation technician and lives with his family, father and sister, under one roof. There he dedicated a room to skiing - with a hodgepodge of memories like bibs, trophies, discarded skis, caps, posters. You can not chat with him undisturbed. In the pedestrian zone passers-by constantly stop, greet the regular guest from the distance. Suzuki has brought 50 presents. Everyone is presented with presents - from the mayor to waitresses in the favorite restaurant to friendly freeride guides.
A trial run, a show of strength
"Standing still is not an option," advises Suzuki for the trial under race conditions, which takes place two hours before the start. After about 20 seconds of shooting from the top station of the Vallugabahn 1 , the semicircular starting kettle opens in a funnel shape into a narrow sliding piece. If 555 athletes start at the same time, body contact is not excluded. Alone on the track, as a good skier, you can easily master the first passage in a deep squat.
At the Valfagehrjoch, however, there is an exhausting, 150-meter long ascent right at the beginning. Insiders call him the "pain mountain". "The ascent separates amateur athletes from experts, and those who want to get on the podium must go full throttle", Stefan Häusl explained during the route inspection the day before. "All the others are plaguing themselves with their skis off on skis."
The 42-year-old freeski professional lives with his family in St. Anton and can judge the challenges well. In 2006 Häusl won the furious race. Is he proud of it? "Of course," says Häusler, "the White Thrill is not enough to be an excellent skier, the physical component is insanity." For example, the mirror-smooth, dreaded Streif in Kitzbühel is 3.5 kilometers long. If you want to master the Valluga downhill in late spring, the condition for nine kilometers and 1300 vertical meters must be enough.
After the ascent only a quick breather helps - before you drive completely acidic in the downhill squat to Ulmer Hütte . Long before a knee high Sulzschneebuckel expect after driving through the Steißbachtal on the last third, the thighs burn like crazy. In order to master the exhausted spring snow slope as energy-saving as possible, in the end everything is done with the use of ski technique, which is a thing of the past for good skiers: plow and stem bows, upright cross-drives. The desired goal is reached after 20 minutes.
A show of strength. Therefore, the well-trained endurance athletes, including former ski stars, well-skiing triathletes and ambitious ski mountaineers, also land on the winners' podium. The rest? Join in, in order to proudly claim to have mastered the White Noise one or more times.
Arlberg ski pioneer came in the thirties to Japan
The final race is named after a film classic by director Arnold Fanck from 1931. Shooting location: St. Anton. Leading actors: Leni Riefenstahl and Hannes Schneider. Born in Stuben, the ski pioneer spent all his free time on two boards. With him, the telemark style was adopted, the natural talent slipped - without the lunge - over mere shift of weight around the curve. Schneider also squatted the shot-down.
As a 17-year-old, Schneider taught winter guests in St. Anton for the first time. In 1921 Schneider founded the first ski school in Austria. In "Der Weisse Rausch" the ski hero and heartthrob finally took on a movie role. The pictures of the "Arlberg Way of Skiing" went around the world and made it suddenly famous.
Schneider's reputation clearly reached Japan. "Everyone who is interested in skiing," says Hideki Suzuki, "knows Schneider." In the thirties he was invited by Prince Chichibu Yasuhito to travel to Japan. For three months, the ski instructor from St. Anton toured Japan, gave lectures and gave numerous ski courses on site.
Strictly speaking, the Arlberg pioneer provided development aid and initiated ski tourism in Japan. "Ultimately, this explains my love for St. Anton. Without Hannes Schneider I would not have become a skier, in his honor I am here."
Johanna Stöckl is a freelance writer for SPIEGEL ONLINE. This trip was supported by the Tourist Board of St. Anton.