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Fir Branches, Bison and Brooms

Nordic Weekend in Seefeld

Fir Branches, Bison and Brooms joins the drivers of snow groomer manufacturer, Prinoth, and ski jump workers in Seefeld.

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Johannes Mair / Alpsolut

The Nordic Weekend in Seefeld, with the fifth edition of the Nordic Combined Triple and two decisive World Cup cross-country competitions, is just around the corner. tagged along to get an initial impression of how to properly prepare the ski jump and cross-country ski trail and asked former Nordic Combined athlete, Mario Stecher, for his expert opinion.

Before sunrise, the slope and ski jump groomers are already hard at work in the Casino Arena in Seefeld. The cross-country ski runs and both ski jumps need to be prepared. And things need to be done quickly. Athletes from various nations who want to use the jumping facility for training will be arriving in Seefeld in just under two hours. Everything has to be perfectly prepared by then.

In winter, training sessions are held almost daily at the Casino Arena in Seefeld, as well as a number of major sporting events in the Nordic disciplines. The Nordic Weekend is a highlight in this year’s competition calendar, which takes place from 26th to 28th January. The world's best Combined athletes will convene here to compete in the Nordic Combined Triple, Triple for short, while cross-country skiers will compete in two World Cup races for the first time this year.

Winter sport at its finest:

Spectators can look forward to some exciting races and snow-covered landscapes at the Nordic Weekend in Seefeld from 26th to 28th January 2018.

The concept behind the Triple, which is a relatively young sporting event, is based on organising an event in the Nordic Combined discipline, of similarly spectacular proportions as that of the Four Hills Tournament in ski jumping. After a test run during the 2013 Summer Grand Prix in Oberstdorf in Bavaria, the format, which incorporates three competitions over three days and is part of the World Cup, celebrated its premiere in Seefeld in winter 2014.  

Ski jump preparations

This year, the Triple lures athletes to the Olympic region of Seefeld for the fifth time, where the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships will be held in winter 2019.  The Casino Arena was converted and expanded in anticipation of next year’s major event.  New additions include the snowmaking system, a functional building, tunnelling system, cross-country ski trail connections and an inclined elevator, which transports athletes to the ski jump - as well as the slope groomers, who ensure the ski jump is fit for training and competition.

230 people are on duty to ensure perfect conditions at the Nordic Weekend, including key partners who are professionals in their sector. "We usually start preparing the jumps three days before the competition," explains ski jump worker Michael Köck, who also has his hands full on this training day. "Ten to 15 workers will ensure the hill is competition ready." Köck explains how that is done: “First of all, snow is transported mechanically to the outrun area. It is then distributed manually over the inrun area, before being smoothed and watered with a track cutter, so that it ices over.

Clean-up: ski-jump workers use a leaf blower and a broom to clear new snow from the inrun track.

Once the snow is prepared, the ski jump workers keep the track clear with brooms and leaf blowers. Finally, they attached fir branches to the jump take-off area, which help ski jumpers to orientate themselves. "Thanks to the firs, the athletes know where the take-off ends and where they have to jump.  This is particularly important in poor visibility," explains Köck.

Bison from Prinoth in action

The landing slope and outrun are also integral parts of a ski jump and require careful grooming. With this in mind, Seefeld has purchased the special Bison snow groomer from Prinoth, a leading snow groomer manufacturer in South Tirol. It is a particularly manoeuvrable, compact and powerful piste machine, which was developed for the preparation of demanding facilities such as snow parks, cross-country ski trails and jumps. The latest state-of-the-art model has been on the market since winter 2015/2016. Prinoth machines are in use at Nordic centres such as Lillehammer, Kulm in Tauplitz or Bergisel in Innsbruck.

Florian Eder, trainer and demonstration driver from Prinoth, climbs into the cabin of the piste machine, which is parked next to the Small Hill during the main training and competition period in Seefeld. Florian Eder fires up the machine and drives it to the take-off area of the Normal Hill, where he commences with preparation work. “Preparing the ski jump is different from grooming a ski slope. Because there are hardly any slopes in the alpine sector that are as steep as a jump hill," explains Eder. "It is particularly important to spread the snow evenly when preparing the base of the landing surface, because the ski jumper must always maintain the same trajectory in relation to the landing slope. 

A so-called winch anchor point is mounted underneath the take-off platform, to which the driver hooks the snow groomer with a winch cable.  The winch is fixed to the loading area of ​​the snow groomer and has a pulling power of up to 4.5 tons. Without a winch, the device would quickly lose its grip on this steep slope. Eder drives the almost ten-ton machine, which is now attached to a steel cable, backwards down the slope at around five km/h. Once at the bottom, the driver uses the winch to hoist the piste machine back up the landing slope, grooming it as he goes. 

International know-how

Florian Eder is one of Prinoth's most experienced piste groomer drivers. He has acquired international experience, for example, at Whistler Mountain in Canada. Eder supervises international events, such as the FIS Skicross World Cup, and instructs prospective drivers in both theory and practice. Even as a child, Florian Eder, who grew up next to a small skiing area in the Bavarian village of Bischofswiesen, was fascinated by snow grooming machinery. It goes without saying that he enjoys both his work and workplace. “You are on the mountain. It is cold and quiet outside, but the cabin is snug and warm. All you hear is the engine and your radio in the background, nothing else,” Eder enthuses about his job. "Of course, the work gets more intense and stressful before competitions.  But that also adds a little diversity."

After five runs, the driver is finished with grooming the Normal Hill and sets off in his piste machine for the Small Hill, where he repeats the entire process. Meanwhile, the first ski jumpers have already commenced training on the freshly prepared, virgin slope.

Cross-country ski trail preparation in Seefeld with a Prinoth snow groomer.

Prinoth is one of the world's leading snow groomer manufacturers. 

The company, with headquarters in Sterzing, has been a trailblazer for innovative technologies in slope grooming for over 50 years.

The World Cup venue, however, does not rely on the expertise of the piste professionals from South Tirol for grooming their ski jumps alone. The cross-country ski trails are also groomed with a Prinoth piste machine, section by section - both the skating and classic trails. The latter is possible thanks to special track plates - the so-called Nordic Liner - which are attached to the rear of the snow groomer. The Nordic Liner is able to switch on four track plates individually and carve perfect tracks, which is an important requirement, especially at major events such as the Nordic Combined Triple. 

The cross-country ski trail was also prepared in the early hours of the morning. In the meantime, the sun has come out and Seefeld is bathed in sunshine. Athletes, tourists and locals take advantage of this fantastic winter weather and perfect conditions to sample the delights of these cross-country trails, which will be dominated by the world’s best Nordic athletes all over again at the end of January.  

Three questions to Mario Stecher

Perfect opportunities in Seefeld

Former Nordic Combined athlete, Mario Stecher, has two World Cup victories in Seefeld under his belt. He is regarded as master of his trade and therefore knows what is important from an athlete's point of view, when it comes to cross-country skiing and hill jumping

Former Nordic Combined athlete, Mario Stecher in Seefeld.

What constitutes a perfect track from an athlete's point of view? Mario Stecher: "It is important that the track is even. It shouldn’t, for example, drop away at the sides. In Seefeld we are fortunate to have almost perfect cross-country skiing opportunities, ones that also offer diversity. The trail network takes skiers through forests and past fantastic mountain scenery. As an athlete, you don't notice all of that during the competition, but for spectators on site and in front of the many TV screens, it is dreamlike. Nowadays, competition trails are professionally groomed to incredibly high standards.  However, daily grooming is also very important, in order to enjoy cross-country skiing to the fullest, every single day".  

Does grooming the tracks affect athletes’ performances? “No. The pros are trained to such a degree that it does not affect them.  What is noticeable, however, is that the skis run more smoothly on a well-prepared track. And it also depends on the snow, whether it is icy or fresh.

What is important for the athletes when preparing the hill? “Artificial refrigeration systems have been used under the inrun track for some time now, which means the conditions are more constant and the athletes ski down the ramp almost as if on rails, with practically identical conditions for every contestant. It did not use to be that way. In cases of fresh snowfall, the track is cleared with a leaf blower. Rain presents the greatest challenge. In some cases, rainwater accumulates at the take-off ramp, which in turn slows the athlete down. It is almost like aquaplaning. It is also important that the slope is evenly prepared and that there are no irregularities in the snow surface. Landing on fresh snow is difficult too, because jump skis are ground for the icy inrun track. The athletes are challenged.

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