Hot Heels 11
For the eleventh time Hot Heels took place in the Kaunertal, a valley in the Austrian alps that leads to the Kauner Glazier. Continental Europeans camped out at the finish line, while everyone else slept in the hotels in Fiechten. While there are several villages in the valley, Fiechten is home to the Kiwi, unofficial HQ's of the Americans. The town has one grocery, open only a few hours a day, a dairy, a bakery, a church, and about a dozen hotels!
The Kauner Glazier has year round skiing, and several ski teams from around the world practice here during the summer. The road to the Glazier has 29 hairpins, the first few years of Hot Heels the race was held further up on the road. The last few years the race started just below the dam and traversed the last four hairpins. The start line is just below the dam, near 3092 m.
The course starts with about a quarter mile straight with speeds reaching 60 mph. The first hairpin
is probably the tightest. There isn't much of a straight before the second hairpin.
A shorter straight leads to the third hairpin.
A slightly longer straight builds some speed for a right left chicane.
The exit of the chicane brings you to the fourth and final hairpin, turn #29.
The Carousel is the biggest hairpin, and would be tight on any other course, but here it feels like a sweeper.
There is a huge drop through the Carousel that allows you to pick up speed through the turn, shooting you out onto the last straight.
This straight, over a quarter mile, allows the speeds to once again reach into the 60's and you approach one of the most intimidating chicanes in the sport, Hells Gate. The entrance to Hells Gate is a right left chicane, and you only see a wall of hay.
(picture taken day after the race, the hay was already gone) On the other side of the hay is a 20 foot drop.
On the right side of the road is a rock cliff.
The entrance is scary, but that's not really the issue. The exit pulls you out, as there is one more drop in the road. Knowing the exit is like this, makes the entrance even more terrifying, not to mention that the exit has several large boulders, and a tombstone on the side of the road.
Finally the course ends with a huge right hand sweeper.
One thing I love about this valley are the beautiful purple flowers that are just everyway, I couldn't get enough pictures of them.
Monday, July 8
After the Swiss race many people headed straight to Austria to start riding this morning. I wanted to do some site seeing, so I spent the night in Luzern, and had an early lunch in Lichtenstein. I got to Kaunertal around noon,
giving me time to check into my room,
(the flowers on the second floor) and head up to the course. I barely had time to get on the first bus ride of the afternoon.
The valley was even more beautiful than I remembered, and the weather was gorgeous.
Hot Heels closes the road in increments, after we run the road is open to allow traffic to pass. Each time up, we would pass a guy on a wheel chair, who was pedaling his way up, he got further each time. When he finally got to the top he asked us to take a picture with him.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous today, sunny and in the mid 80's. Its going to be a hot week.
Tuesday, July 9
Camp started sometime after 10:00 am. We had a bus to take us to the top,
the bus had room on the outside for boards, as well as underneath.
The bus also picked up people in Feichten on its way to the course.
I got up earlier enough to wander around and visit some familiar sites. Last year all the winners were given trees to plant. The trees have gotten much bigger, and they are hard to see, but here is Hot Heels 10's forest.
We got about a half dozen runs in before breaking for a late lunch, Richard and I drove into town, Richard wanted to get some shoes. I popped into the Kiwi to grab a drink, it was another hot day. I just grabbed a glass of water with ice, but I explained one thing I didn't like about Europe was no one put ice in their drinks.
After another another half dozen runs for the evening session we began to wrap things up. Gerhard decided to build a new buttboard.
For dinner several of us headed back to the Kiwi, where I order a glass of Coke. The bartender remembered my story from lunch, found the largest glass in the bar, filled it with ice, and then poured a liter of Coke in it.
It almost filled the glass!
After dinner we went back up to the campsite to hang out with everyone, Gerhard was still working on his board.
A big bonfire was going on outside, and a few of the guys were practicing fire breathing. The party pretty much ended when the bugs showed up.
Wednesday, July 10
Today would be the last day of camp, and the last day to sleep in. I took the opportunity to get some shots around town. This year the town was decorated with a bunch of scarecrows.
About 10:30 we headed to the top for the morning session, it was going to be another nice day.
Apparently a couple people got wild, we got a stern talking to and our morning session ended early.
It was another hot day, some of the campers rested in style.
Last year a water pipe was installed, so the camp had all the fresh water it could use. These guys hauled the water across the road a bucket at a time!
We ended up getting about a dozen runs in a day for the three days of camp! Close to twenty miles of riding a day on one of the best courses in the world. And to top it off the weather was fabulous.
After another dinner at the Kiwi we headed back to the camp for the mandatory Riders Meeting.
Marcus and Gerhard said a few words,
and then everyone attacked the stack of Red Bull.
After the meeting the fun began. A couple of the South Africans
taped a bench to two buttboards.
But when they tried the mass luge it was a bit hard to manuever.
Richard took our bartenders up and gave them an introduction to the luge.
Thursday, July 11
Today was the first office day of Hot Heels, so we had to get up early. I don't know if it was like this all week, as this was the earliest I got up but there were low lying clouds to welcome us.
Marcus was running the tech inspection.
In general the boards were in much better shape than they were last year. Marcus also made sure helmets couldn't easily come off.
Much like earlier in the week we got another half dozen runs in before lunch. During lunch I wandered through camp to meet some of the new guys. Quite a few people were work on their equipment.
While others were just having fun.
I never did manage to get a group shot of the bakers dozen of South Africans, but I did find their home base.
The afternoon session went without a hitch, another half dozen rides. After dinner a slalom course was set up.
With the lights on we could have fun fairly late. The dirt surfers demoed their product,
and even Wagner joined the fun.
Of course there was another riders meeting
to discuss tomorrow's qualifying.
After the meeting, another bonfire was lit outside. This time they outdid themselves.
We left everyone to huddle around the fire while we went back to our warm beds in town.
Friday, July 12
Today is qualifying day, and it looks like its going to be another nice day. When I got to the course, I found what have to be Eliot's shoes.
The glacier at the end of the road is a popular tourist attraction, the claim is you can see three countries from the top of the mountain. Each time we close the road, about 50 cars pile up, waiting for the trip up. Most of them got out to watch.
Each year Hot Heels hires a team to run the qualifying. They bring some good equipment. There is a display that will post the riders number and time,
there is also a speed trap at the finish line, with the speed displayed.
At the start line they had gear set up to radio the start down to the finish.
broke his leg at GSI #1, and was in Europe on a business trip. He decided he had to race at the World Championship, even though his leg wasn't fully healed. Bob took one practice run, and one qualifying run. He figured he would take one race run.
We also had a new entry in Hot Heels this year, Extreme Downhill Bus Driving.
We actually timed his run, I don't remember what it was, but I remember it was impressive. I wish we had him at Scotland earlier this year.
I missed most of the standup guys, but streetluge was taking a practice run when
Inliners and the lone Gravity Bike went.
Tom Mason managed to snag bib #1 since Dave Rogers, last years buttboard winner didn't show. So he was the first off the starting line.
We had about 30 riders, not quite enough to get everyone in one road closure. A few of us had to hang around at the top for several minutes to let traffic clear.
In our second qualifying run, one of the junior ski teams was just coming off the mountain. The kids poured out of the bus to watch us start.
It was finally time for the reason of Hot Heels existence, buttboard. Werner usually yells at me for trying to get group shots, but he sure looks happy here.
During a break in the action, the film crew that was filming the race did some interviews. They interviewed Frank, who was running the start, from an interesting angle.
Another fine day of riding and gorgeous weather was coming to an end. I found Oliver Wagner, last weeks Swiss Championship winter resting up.
This was his second race after returning from surgery on both knees.
The film crew was looking for a special shot for their video. They collected some of the more colorful lugers and assembled us for this shot made famous by surfers.
After cleaning up and another wonderful dinner at the Kiwi we headed back to the campsite for the Friday party with live bands.
I was amazed at the variety in the bands.
In the back of the tent I got hooked on this weird sport involved a bench. The goal was to lay on top of the bench, and then swing your body underneath the bench, and back around the other side. Without tipping it over.
It took a good amount of balance, and some muscles to do it. I just wasn't strong enough to pull myself back up the other side. I tried not to stay to late, as tomorrow is race day, but the party was still going strong when I left.
Saturday, July 12
Today would be the ninth day in a row I would ride. And with the exception of the second day the weather was amazingly beautiful. I woke to the last thing I wanted to see on race day, rain.
I had my hopes up, as the gravity biker
ran the course was drying up. But as the lugers got ready to run, things didn't look good.
The decision was to hold off on standup as the course wasn't completely dry.
The lugers got a dry run in before racing started. The course was mostly dry for the first round of racing. I ended up in Swartz heat, we started somewhere in the middle of the back and got red flagged just as we got to the carousel. Swartz had a hard time stopping with one foot. The van picked us up and took us back to the top. We started again, this time making it to the second turn before being red flagged.
When we started for the third time the fog was starting to set. The road was getting more damp, with sprinkles near at the finish line. While the course was mostly dry, the carousel was still damp, two of the riders wiped out. In the second round the rain started and the course was soaked. I wrecked in the first turn, I thought it was no big deal as I was quite a bit out in front. But my boom had gotten wrapped in the twine. The last rider passed me before I could free my board. Oliver Wagner won his second race in less than a week!
The weather got worse for the buttboard race.
The course was wet for our practice run
but things would only get wetter.
They began to leave the bus
at the top so we can get out of the elements. There was more than one way to use the bus.
Tom used the materials at hand.
The rain was pouring at the bottom.
The road was so think with water we were throwing up rooster tails.
In fact there was so much water, a lot of people took it easy at the end.
I made it to the consolation round. In my first heat I was second entering Hell's Gate, I slammed on the brakes hard to make it through the chicane. Gerhard passed me. In my semi final round I was in third entering the gate. Once again Gerhard was behind me. This time I took the chicane faster, I had to, to stay ahead of Gerhard. Instead I slammed into the wall of hay before at the entrance of the chicane. I jumped up ready to leap in the air, as Tom Mason was coming. This is a shot I wish I had a camera, I'll never forget it though. It was very gray as it was foggy, and Tom Mason was coming straight at me through the fog! Tom missed me, but managed to sneak into third!
We took a short break before the finals, the TV crew wanted to set some things up. We all huddle in the tents to warm up a bit.
A few of the guys clustered around a heat vent
trying to dry out.
In my consolation run I was drafting someone into Hell's Gate. I was so close behind him, riding in the rooster tail he was throwing up, the only think I could see was his white helmet and his silver trucks. I made the decision to pass him on the right, just as I did that he went left, exiting Hell's Gate. Once again I hit the hay, I managed to stay on my board, but not before Gerhard passed me right at the finish!
The final was well contested, almost three across.
Leander Lacey, one of the South Africans, prevailed for the World Championship. Some boards barely weathered the race.
Due to the fact that the course never dried out, and it rained most of the day, the stand up race was not run. Qualifying times decided the race.
I was freezing cold, my leathers were completely soaked. I was ready for a HOT shower. And what do you know, the cows were going home too.
After a nice long hot shower, it was time for a celebratory dinner at the Kiwi. Tonight IGSA's Buttboarding World Champion got the large glass.
It was back to the campsite for the award's ceremony and some more partying. There was a live band playing when we got there.
And the partying had already begun.
Donovan Le Cok
Ladurner, Labarthe, Peer
Wagner, Sahli, Lacey
Labarthe, Bradburn, Tournissac
Lacey, Bucherl, Eliot
Things did get a bit wild for the ceremony,
as the winners were doused in champagne. A few people were thanked, and the vice major of Feichten spoke.
Leander ended up with two trophies.
And then the partying really began. The fire breathing was a blast.
I even got involved! Red Bull is pretty good at washing down the aftertaste. A few more live bands played, and some liquor was imbibed.
Sometime earlier Sunday morning they ran out of Jagermeister.
Hot Heels is about riding, its one of the best courses in the world. Its about racing, it has one of the largest racer turnouts. And finally its about the partying. I think there was a total of seven live bands over the last two nights. I finally called it quits in the wee hours of Sunday morning, in the hopes of getting some sleep for the night.
Sunday, July 13
The race is over, and people were heading home. Most of the campers were picking up there camp and heading out. I wanted to head up to the ski resort, and check out the glacier. I picked up a couple guys who wanted to ride the road down.
All 29 hair pins. It was foggy at the top,
I think they were nuts for heading out.
I couldn't even see across the parking lot.
I headed for the top of the mountain. I'm not sure why because I couldn't see anything. The chairlift was eerie. There was this one section where the lift was attached to the side of a cliff, and you couldn't see anything but the chair in front of you.
I had hoped that we were higher than the clouds at the top, but we weren't. After lunch the clouds lift a bit.
The valley is a gorgeous valley, remember the course starts just below the dam.
For the past few years the race has been held in earlier July. The rest of the year the camp is a cow pasture. The cows go on vacation, just above the lake a few weeks out of the year.
Turn 25 is just above the lake.
The lake is about a mile and a half long, and its pretty flat. I'm not sure how the guys got passed this point. Skateboarded I guess.
I got back to a mostly empty campsite
most of the guys left were actually helping to pick things up. I pitched in a bit,
I was amazed at how much infrastructure was set up to support the race. For me Sunday was a relaxing time, time to let me suit dry before heading back to America tomorrow.
I can take pictures all day long,
telling you how beautiful the valley is, or how great the course is,
But nothing I can say can really do it justice. There are waterfalls all over the valley, above the course
and below the course.
Its peaceful, and the food is good. The village is adorable.
With the amount of money that Red Bull has poured into DHX, and with 20,000 plus spectators. DHX is probably the biggest international event to attend. But Hot Heels is something else. Especially if you throw in the Swiss Champs the week before, practice time before the event, live bands, cheap room and board, and one helluva race course.
This year we had two major injuries, both happening during the camp session. One standup cracked his head and was airlifted out, and another broke his arm. Despite the rain the race went without a hitch.