Fresh snow has fallen, we are warmly wrapped up and our helmets are on. Looking down into the valley, we’re excited about the descent. But not on skis – today we’re going down on a toboggan. Quickly, everyone takes their position at the start of the Hochbifang toboggan run. “On the count of three, off we go! One, two, threeeey!!”. Turn after turn, the track winds its way through the forest. On every straight stretch we try to overtake. Until I hit the snow wall at the finish and we almost fall off the sled laughing.
In the past, sledges were mainly used as a means of travel and transportation, but today the situation is somewhat different. Just like skiing, tobogganing has become a popular winter sport. As soon as the first snow falls, young and old alike whizz down the hills and mountains. I prefer to go down the prepared toboggan runs, which are several kilometres long. As a child, I had to do a lot of convincing to get my grandfather to stomp through the snow – plus pull up the toboggan. As with any other sport, however, there are absolute professionals. Whether on the natural track or in the ice canal, the fastest wins. But how do the pros do it? I had the opportunity to talk about this and much more with the Kallan family from Eben im Pongau. Roland Kallan, former natural track luge athlete, and his son Noah, second in the overall Junior World Cup in artificial track luge 21/22, let me dive into the professional world of luge.
Gripped by tobogganing fever
Roland Kallan started his tobogganing career early. He started at the age of 6 in the bobsleigh club in Hüttau at the age of 6, competed in European and World Championships from 1992 to 2005 and was able to celebrate 5 World Cup podium finishes. Together with his brother Gerald, he finished fourth at the Junior European Championships in 1994. In 2002 he became Austrian national champion. In 2004, the natural track bobsleigh European Championships took place in Hüttau, but the track has not been in use since 2005. Until today Roland is still committed to the sport of bobsledding. He is the President of the Salzburg Bobsleigh Association and as chairman of the Bobsleigh Club Hüttau, he is always on the lookout for motivated youngsters. The club currently has 30 active members, four of whom are “youngsters” who race on the artificial track. Training mainly takes place in Innsbruck this winter, after storms damaged the track in Königsee in the summer. Roland’s wife Elfriede helps out with the “dry training” indoors and helps the young athletes to improve their physical condition and coordination.
From the toboggan run to the ice rink
Noah’s career started just as early. “I started in the club at the age of 6 and soon switched to the artificial track together with my cousin. You sort of grow up with it,” Noah looks back on his beginnings. 11 years and numerous successes later sport occupies a large place in his life. Thanks to the support of his family and his attendance at the Raiffeisen SSM, a sports school in Salzburg, he is able to balance sport, travel and school. The season lasts from October to February, and just one day after our conversation, the 17-year-old athlete went on to Winterberg. There he finished 7th in the Junior World Championships as one of the youngest.
Noah’s younger sister Gloria also regularly sits on the bobsleigh. She shows me her equipment – from the goggles to the skin-tight suit to the plastic shoes, everything is designed to be as to be as aerodynamic as possible. On the artificially iced concrete track the athletes reach speeds of more than 130 km/h and have to pay attention to curve radii, curve height and G-forces. “Top-class sport is quite another matter”, Roland smiles. The gloves are equipped with metal spikes to get as much momentum out of the start as possible – I don’t fancy a high five with them ;).
Tips from the experts
Fortunately, tobogganing does not require a special suit and metal spikes on the gloves. However, I was able to elicit a few tips for hobby sledders from the pros: ” Equipment is also very important for tobogganing and sledging – such as non-slip shoes, warm clothing, ski goggles and a helmet.” Above all, braking should be practised. When braking, sit up straight and press the whole sole against the ground. In addition, you can pull up the front of the sled or toboggan with the help of the rope to brake even better. When whizzing down, lean back and lift your legs. The more you lean back, the better you can build up speed. You dan also use your feet to steer. On a toboggan, the best way to get around a bend is to shift your weight and steer with your hands. With these tips, your next toboggan ride is sure to be “a real blast”!
photo credits: Roland Kallan, TVB Eben Angelika Pfuner, TVB Hüttau-Niedernfritz