Passion, professionalism and perfection at this killer Austrian snowpark.
Embedded in the magnificent Kitzbühel Alps not only lies the world-famous winter sport resort, the pristine mountain ridge is also home to the highly popular and well-known Snowpark Kitzbühel.
In the middle of freestyle contests and media shootings, tourist draw and childhood dreams, there is also hard work. A specifically trained team takes care of the shaping and the maintenance of the park on a daily basis – with all the facets and challenges their business entails. Here is the story of the world surrounding the Snowpark Kitzbühel, from engineering to reservoir.
It’s still early in the morning as the chief of the Snowpark Kitzbühel, park designer Christoph Schrammel leaves his house and gets in his car to make his way to the valley station. He is meeting the technical supervisor and former park designer Franz Josef Lechner to check the Snowpark Kitzbühel in terms of quality. A heated chair lift takes them up the mountain to get further to the Hanglalmlift, which gets them to the snowpark.
“The number of times we have to perform these quality checks depends on the park. Obviously, the younger park designers tend to inspect the parks more often, whereas, in some cases, the more experienced park designers check the parks only once or twice per season. I take a look at the park as a whole and observe many different aspects such as rideability. Of course, security is our top priority, whether at the obstacle, the entry or the exit," Franz describes his work, while he examines each feature together with Christoph.
“Looks good – how do the riders like it?" he asks, looking at the hip at the upper part of the park. “Good," Christoph nods his head. “The thing with these kickers is, you sometimes just get too much speed when the weather’s sunny, but then again you can also ride the kicker line very well on average days. We just had to use the terrain beneath it."
Of course, the terrain alone is not the only important aspect of a park this size. If the snow for the park doesn’t fall by natural means, up to 30 snow guns take care of the snowmaking. The technical equipment and the controls for the snowmaking are located in the building underneath the reservoir. “For the snowpark alone about 20.000 cubic metres of water are used. This equals 40.000 cubic metres of snow," explains Jürgen Krizar, head of the snowmaking operation. “We have to produce as much snow as possible in a very short period of time, which, obviously, can be achieved with a pump station like this. It offers a maximum performance of approximately 5000 PS, so there’s quite a lot of power consumption," he chuckles.
Loads of technical instruments and various big computer screens make the room appear like a little command centre. “From here we operate the entire ski resort. Everything is controlled fully automatically. Just one person is needed to control all the pump stations and snow canons from here. All in all, there are 450 snow cannons, of which a maximum of 170 can be operated at the same time."
In the meantime, the clouds that had been wandering the otherwise clear blue sky from time to time in the morning have gone. Now, the entire beauty of the vast panorama at the top station of the Hanglalmlift reveals itself. The Upper Tauern are home of the highest mountains of Austria such as the Venediger Group. Above them towering the distinctive peak of Austria’s highest summit, the massive Grossglockner. The view from the Hanglalmlift itself may not be as impressive as the mountain massif; still from there you get a glance over all three parking areas. Plus you are able to make it up to the park again in just 4 minutes.
So that everything works out smoothly and without glitches each day, a daily maintenance is required. “We start at 8 o’ clock at the valley station. The engineer arrives at the facility and examines the motor and the gear unit after a checklist. Additionally, he goes up to the framework, the structure above the lift where everything is located, two or three times a day and checks if everything is in working order," explains Hans-Peter Breuer, assistant facility manager of the Kitzbühel railways company. In the late afternoon, when the lift does its last round, the staff go back down to the valley. “Of course, it’s also part of our job to ride down the slope after the lift is closed. It’s a sort of final inspection to make sure everything’s in order and nobody was left behind."
As the park closes for the public, the crew starts with their work. While Christoph is responsible for closing the park’s entrance with a fence, the shapers dig out the old rail, take apart its parts and further transport them piece by piece to the slope’s edge. Meanwhile two staff members are already taking care of the reshaping of the remaining features for the next day. “Quite early I have recognized that I had to turn my hobby and passion into a profession", Christoph laughingly describes his personal path to becoming a park designer. The native Carinthian emphasizes that it is equally important to him to try something different and to enjoy and express his own personality and creativity: "Jumps, for example, should of course have certain standards, but as the term ‘Freestyle’ suggests, it’s also about the creative use of the terrain. I have been inspired by skateboarding, so in my opinion, a snow park can also have transitions, the lines do not only have to be straight and may also go zigzag through the park".
In the meantime, the snow groomer, whose blade parts are lashed with tense straps for new features, manoeuvres its way through the park with a loud beeping noise. The machine stops, the driver gets out and releases the straps in order to place the rail onto the slope. Afterwards he drives off again and pushes the snow up to the jump. The crew skillfully fastens the new feature and puts it powerfully into the snow in order to carefully bury the shoveled parts again.
Christoph leans over the rail and provides the bully driver with instructions through simple hand movements, so that he knows where the snow has to be allotted. The focus is on placing the snow in the right position, which requires precision to the millimeter, so the driver has to carefully perform Christoph’s instructions. Although it is gradually getting cold and a breeze has sprung up, the last sun rays bathe the park in a warm evening light. The shape crew checks everything once again before packing up their equipment and making their way down. Snow groomers are preparing the slopes for the next day while people are leaving the ski resort on the valley run.
Comfortable enough, the slope directly leads to the parking lot without people having to remove their sports equipment. The work is done for now, but more is already waiting for Christoph and his crew on the following day: "Our work starts at 8 o’clock in the morning with the finetuning for the new feature. He further explains that the snow needs a certain time to get hard. We are repeating this process over 2 or 3 days because quality needs time. The results are nicely-shaped edges which seem to be already iced".
Being freshly prepared and offering new features, the Snowpark Kitzbühel opens as soon as the first guests arrive. All the backbreaking workshifts and efforts are forgotten now and the crew is ready to start the new season. In order to take a look behind the scenes and to learn more about the Snowpark Kitzbühel, take a look at the edit or click through the gallery.