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Stars in the floodlights

Night skiing with Stephan Eberharter and Markus Kröll. When two Zillertal greats and a perfect piste are in the spotlight in the Hochzillertal ski area in the Fügen-Kaltenbach holiday region, action is guaranteed.

The phone rings for a long time. Until suddenly the voice of Stephan Eberharter can be heard: “My apologies”, he says. “I was just getting my skis ready.” We have arranged a meeting for night skiing, and a real king of the slopes prepares diligently for that too. “Today I got new skis and I’m just preparing the edges for race mode.” We meet at the Hochzillertal-Kaltenbach ski region’s bottom station, near Stephan’s home town of Stumm. Starting point for a ski area with 36 lifts and 93 kilometres of pistes. Where, in addition to the extensive range of sporting activities, there is also a variety of culinary delights on offer. By day. In the evening, ski enthusiasts can expect an additional and very special attraction here. Enlightenment, as it were.

It’s 6.45 p.m. In 15 minutes the gondolas will start moving again and our night racing adventure can begin. Stephan pushes a ski into my hand and says: “Go on, feel it, but be careful ... it’s very sharp.” carefully feel the edge and he adds: “Like a razor blade. Hardly any different to the old days. I’d have skied a World Cup race at any time with these skis.” Markus Kröll is also there. The former junior world champion mountain runner has a huge grin on his face. Before he discusses the action to come with Stephan. With a lot of banter – two Zillertalers among themselves. Although “Steff”, as he is called, has an advantage. After all, the run was named after him – the Stephan Eberharter Gold Run as a sign of the greatest recognition. “Obviously I was really happy at the time when this idea came about,” he recalls during our trip to the middle station. “It’s also like being awarded a kind of medal.”

Preparation for the night spectacle

And the 53-year-old has an unusually large number of these at home. He won three World Cup golds and one silver between 1991 and 2003. And because he managed to deliver top performances in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and combined at major events, he also took gold once, silver twice and bronze once at the Olympic Games. Making it all the more wonderful to tackle the night skiing experience here with one of the most successful skiers in Austria’s history on “his” slope. And then finally this impressive sight. The piste is brightly lit from the middle station down to the valley. The view could not be any better during the day. Intensive work was done on the five-kilometre snow-covered valley run between when the slopes closed for the day and opened for the night. And this is what perfect grooming looks like to us – the piste bashers have created pure paradise for skiers.

Photographer Max is also there and accompanies Stephan and Markus as they stage their short turns in parallel. “Just look”, Steff says during a break, and the pride of the 29-time World Cup winner is palpable. Standing here now in the spotlight (which he has been used to in his career), the view down the valley to the lit-up municipalities is also a very special feeling for him. And then he and Markus conjure up the next tracks in the powder snow with extreme carving. The terrain is wonderfully varied from top to bottom with lots of crests and descents – true skiing fun. Photographer Max points the lens at the snow spraying like fountains as the Zillertal professionals ski down with an ease well worth seeing, which look like special effects in this mood lighting.

“Whoo-hoo!” shouts Stephan as he energetically pushes off again to pick up speed. The visuals – with the dynamics of a ski idol in front of the Zillertal night panorama – make you want more. In the meantime, however, Stephan’s appetite for something else has crept up on him. “I’m hungry”, he smiles. And Markus answers: “Then, let’s go eat.” And they race off swishing down the slope. What remains is the impression: It was ... a good night!

Image: Max Draeger and text: Michael Hufnagl
Zillertal magazine winter 2022/23

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