By Ina Fassbender
When I was a child and winters were really powerful dropping one or two meters of snow, my four sisters and I used to spend every afternoon after school at the snow-covered cow meadow with our wooden, candle-waxed skis, wearing black leather ski boots with shoelaces. Parallel turn was an unknown expression and if our skis were not waxed well with candles, it was impossible to ski down the hill – one could only walk with them.
Years later when I had my first ski holidays in the Alps with modern ski gear, I did not miss my old equipment. I learned to downhill ski with elegant parallel turns and carve up the snow faster and faster. What progress!
Last Tuesday I went with my family for a day of alpine skiing at the Sauerland ski area complete with 20 lifts and the longest track of about 1200 meters. When I saw a placard announcing a ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’ in the neighboring village, I remembered my own experience with old wooden skis and asked the Berlin pictures desk for permission to go there and cover the event, expecting to get some nice winter features.
I arrived in Neuastenberg early on Sunday morning. There were so many Dutch people, that you could have an impression that Sauerland ski area was part of the Netherlands. I had a feeling I was in another country and should improve my spoken English.
I searched for the ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’, an event held there every two years since 1986, to find only modern ski schools, eight-person chair lifts, neon-colored skis and families sporting high tech ski suits. There was no nostalgia!
Then I saw the first competitor arriving, a man dressed in an old fashioned manner, with wooden skis and bamboo sticks in his hands. He wore some kind of fur on his back, looking like a poacher. He was joined by women with long black skirts, a boy with an old leather satchel, teenage girls in Bavarian leather trousers, young and old, men and women, about 40 competitors altogether. The short and not too steep racing track was like a small island, surrounded by the modern ski community. Everybody was wondering where all these strange people came from. It was a jubilee race, marking 300 years from the foundation of the small city of Neuastenberg. Most of the competitors knew each other. The youngest participant was a 7-year-old girl and the eldest was about 65 years old.
There were funny announcements made through the megaphone that everybody hoped that the only baker of the village won’t be injured in the race, or there will be no bread supplies for the next few weeks. One of the older competitors was taking part in the event with broken ribs.
All these people waited for the competition for two years. The event was a downhill race followed by a jump. Of course the injured man with the broken ribs was one of the first jumpers.
The last leg was a drive with an antique bob from the winter sports museum. Every downfall or failure was penalized by a shot of Schnapps. Actually, before starting, there was also Schnapps, to encourage them. And finally another Schnapps at the end, for the courage of taking part in the race.
Dutch people who watched the race asked where they could buy these vintage skis and if it was possible to take part in the next race in two years. I checked eBay today for a pair of old skis…