Summer is in full swing in Germany, which means spells of warm, humid weather, where every afternoon brings a thunderstorm, and spells of cold, wet weather, which can bring snow to the tops of the mountains. I am back in Australia now about to start skiing for the winter, although this post was written a couple of weeks ago…
I have managed to latch on to another group of the German National Team, training under Markus Hofmann and with a small group of all girls, one of whom is guaranteed to be faster if the session has anything to do with rollerskiing… but let’s not dwell on that. We have been training since the 4th of May, and in 5 weeks I have notched up a whopping 105 hours (21 a week), which is far more than my previous best of 90 hours, set during the Australian season last year. Of course it’s not all about volume, but it sure helps!
This has probably been the biggest contrast between training in Australia and training here. In Australia, as I have written about before here, one receives all manner of taunts, insults, and confused looks, with the best one being ‘take off your sister’s moonboots, f**kwit!’, yelled from the passenger window of a white ute. In the Allgäu, the only people who don’t know what rollerskiing is are the tourists, and if they sometimes look confused, they certainly don’t say anything. I haven’t had a single stupid comment from anyone here; I guess abusing strangers out of car windows isn’t a hobby in Germany like it seems to be in Australia.
The second big thing is the fact that apart from quiet, undulating roads and smooth bike paths to ski on, Oberstdorf has a 6.6km Rollerbahn, or rollerski track, which is free of the usual pedestrians, dogs, cyclists, sticks and stones that your average rollerski area in Australia has. The track is actually built on loops used for the FIS World Cup in winter, which means it has some very steep climbs and fast descents, where speeds can reach 60km/h. It sounds terrifying to many who rollerski, especially given our lack of brakes, but in fact it is easy to get used to, as you know there will be no nasty surprises, and there is no need to wash off speed.
While over here I have learnt two methods of descending hills which DO require slowing down, both of which have been practiced in the last few weeks.
- The Rollerski Train
I don’t advise use of this method, however it does make for a thrilling and nerve-wracking few minutes of training. The group of us (5 including coach) were descending through a village, and needed to make a right turn half way down a hill. Coach Markus had rollerblades with poles, which meant that he had a single heel-operated brake he could use. The procedure was so: Markus would descend with his brake on, and hold his poles out behind him. I would grab onto the end of his poles, keeping mine strapped on so that they stuck out behind me. The next person would grab onto my poles, and so on. We joined together and started the descent, Markus’ brake squealing away. Unfortunately we then started gaining speed, with the brake unable to hold our combined weight of about 330kg. The rest of us did essentially a rollerski snowplough, which is only somewhat effective. With our speed increasing, we then noticed a bus that was waiting to pull out from the bus stop, and we could only hope that it wouldn’t mow the lot of us down. We did survive, but it wasn’t the most pleasant descent I’ve done.
- Holding onto a car/bike
This method is slightly better in that your speed can be controlled, however leaning on the back of a car when it’s doing 30+km/h is probably not the safest thing in the world, although no reports of injury so far. The key is to hope the driver doesn’t drive faster than your skis will go, leaving you without a car to hold onto.
The German bergtouren is probably my favourite method of training, ever. You pick a mountain, use short XC poles to help you up, gain 1000m in 60-90 minutes, take a photo at the top while you gape at the view, then risk your ankles on the descent, hoping not to slip over in the mud. See photos.
Another excellent training method; it is again much better here than in Australia, due to several factors. The first is that while some of the roads are falling apart, they are all sealed with ‘hotmix’ which means the road is at least smooth apart from the cracks, compared to our bitumen with its large stones. This makes for a pretty rough ride sometimes.
The second factor is driver behaviour: I don’t think I’ve been on the receiving end of any anger from drivers , except one old guy who objected to my not using the bike path, despite it being full of pedestrians.
Lastly: the closed roads. Many of the valleys in the mountain areas have Alpwege running through them; these roads are often of excellent quality but are narrow and open only to authorised vehicles, plus cyclists and walkers. The can sometimes be extremely steep, but nearly always provide spectacular views. The only thing to watch out for are gates which are sometimes closed, which normally means there are cattle grazing on the side of the road, and occasionally standing on the road blocking your path. It’s all part of life in the country I guess.
This can be done at the pool, or in one of the many lakes, which are now just warm enough not to make you hyperventilate when you get in the water. The water quality seems to be good but with the number of cows in the area I’m not too keen on putting my head under, as I’m the kind of swimmer that inadvertently swallows large amounts of water as I go. One hot day, my housemate drove a group of us to the Buchenegger waterfall, where there is a local sport known as gumpenjucken (verb) which is local dialect for ‘waterhole jumping’. This area had several places to jump off into the waterhole, the lowest of which was about 7m high, the highest of which is about 20m. I felt proud enough gathering the nerves to go off the lower one, and didn’t feel the need to try anything higher…
There are actually possibilities for summer skiing: the whole team heads off to the Dachstein Glacier in late June, but as I will be in Australia by then I will not be joining them. I did however manage to get a ski in for the month of May, by hiking and then skiing up to the Gottesacker Plateau, which naturally gave breathtaking views, even if the snow was extremely soft and deep.
I was featured in the local newspaper, the Allgäuer Anzeigeblatt last week. I have attached a photo and will upload a translation once I get a better photo of the article.