belatedly, hochfilzen.

IMGP2912A long time ago, back in December, I visited Austria. I was so busy, drowning in my thesis and also working at World Cup biathlon races while I was there. Then I flitted over to Davos to keep working, more thesis, more World Cup. I never got to write about my time in Austria.

So here it is! My thesis is handed in, I have a bit of a cold so I can’t go skiing today, and so I will write a few words about Hochfilzen. First off, it was amazing how easy the trip was. I hopped on a train in Munich and was soon floating past the Austrian Alps. We went by Kitzbühel, one of those places you hear about over and over again if you pay any attention at all to the alpine ski racing scene. It’s among the most famous destinations in the Alps and the hardest downhill courses on the World Cup. I pretty much never thought I’d go there.

Hochfilzen, my destination, is just a few stops on the train past Kitzbühel. The total travel time was just over two hours. Munich folks, get to this part of the Alps. It’s an easy trip and it’s beautiful. And, unlike much of the Alps at that time, it was snowing, big, glorious dumps of snow! The mountains were actually covered in white, which was a very welcome sight given that most ski races were being held in the middle of brown.

I checked into my little hotel, which was conveniently located just across from a trailhead for the ski tracks. So I gobbled down a sandwich for lunch and immediately headed out. It was my first time on snow all season and it was a joy! There was not so so much snow but enough for a few kilometers of a loop. As always I felt that freedom and exhiliration that comes from having glide, no longer being weighed down by friction or the pause of your feet on the pavement. Snow! What a wonderful thing.

In the next days I went for a few more skis, and Hochfilzen is truly a great place to cross-country ski. The trails connected several little village centers, so it was possible to ski back and forth up the valleys that extend in several directions. Just look at all of this. I didn’t get to explore very much of the total extent of the network. (click to enlarge)

trailmap

Often I was the only one on these trails (okay, one day it was dumping buckets of snow and the trails hadn’t been groomed, that might be why). With the mountains rising up all around me, I just felt incredible. The Tyrolian Alps aren’t particularly tall – the mountain at Kitzbühel, called Hahnenkamm, is just under 6,000 feet – but they are rocky and craggy and look very epic. You forget that you’re not at a much, much higher elevation.

Another nice thing about Austria is that it’s sort of cheap, at least compared to Munich or Switzerland. I stayed in a quite nice hotel with a wonderful breakfast – I would say the best, except these breakfasts are standard in the alps. Bread, jam, cheese, hams, yogurt and muesli, fruit, you name it. All healthy things, but such a spread that it’s hard not to smile as you get out of bread.

The town of Hochfilzen is very very small (just over 1,000 people – about the size of my hometown of Lyme, and it’s crazy to think of such a place hosting a World Cup), so there wasn’t much to do. I did go out one night for a “business meeting” which devolved into a much less formal situation. The only place we could find to eat and grab a beer was a little smoke-filled bar/restaurant. The food was good, but I left smelling of cigarette smoke.

Another highlight was the fact that I got to spend really a lot of time with my friends on the biathlon team. Hannah, Susan, and Sara were all racing, as well as Annelies and Lanny, who unlike the first three were not my teammates at Dartmouth but whom I’ve gotten to know over the last few years. Twice I went over to their hotel in the evening and just hung out. It was so great to be able to have some unscheduled time with them and just let the conversation wander wherever we wanted it to. It’s very rare that I get to see my American friends when I’m over in Europe, and it’s the same for them. I owe a big thank you to the U.S. team staff who let me waltz in on the team and spend time with them.

Finally, I worked a lot a lot a lot. They were exciting races with beautiful scenery. The only pictures I took were on the race course, but I think that is a great way to show you what this part of Austria is actually like. So, without further ado, here they are! Click any photo to enlarge (better quality!) and start a slideshow you can tab through.

the curious case of the credential in the snowbank.

Just before I left home last week, I was given something important. Realllllly, reallllllly important. My credential for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which also serve as my visa to get into the country. Sort of a big deal. I’m trying to think of anything else I’ve been given where it’s been so important that I not lose it for over a month, despite the fact that it’s a sort of flimsy piece of paper. Nothing is coming to mind.

But, oh well, I thought. No problem. I’m responsible!

Then I went to Ruhpolding.

In Ruhpolding, I was given a different credential for the weekend of World Cup racing, as I am at each venue. I am 9ABC, which basically means that as media I can access the media center, start/finish, and a certain area behind the range at a biathlon race. If I had D, I’d be a photographer, and then I’d have more special privileges like getting to nice spots on the course to take excellent photos. Usually, I just go to those spots anyway and hope that nobody notices that I have neither a “PHOTO” bib nor a “TEAM” bib. Usually, nobody cares, but every once in a while a grumpy old German course official yells at me.

The credential is also important because it lets me into the venue without having a ticket.

I went about my work the first day, reporting on the men’s relay, and then caught a ride to town with the U.S. wax techs and went for a jog with my friend Susan, who was racing, and then we had dinner together with the team and chatted in her room afterwards. She gave me a ride back to the Pichlers’ house, where I was staying, in the wax techs’ van. Bye Susan! Good luck tomorrow!

I woke up and went for a run the next morning, then started to get ready to go up to the venue for another day of reporting. I unpacked my backpack and repacked it with better clothes (the first day, my luggage still hadn’t arrived, so I didn’t have many choices). One last thing… where was my credential?

Hmm. I tore apart my little room, which is Pam’s office but she kindly put a mattress on the floor for me. I asked her and Walter if they had seen it. They were split: Pam swore I was wearing it when I came home the night before, Walter swore I wasn’t. Personally, I remembered carrying it in my hand as I left the U.S. team’s hotel and went to the van. I assumed I had left it in the van, but the wax techs had gone up to the venue long ago so I wouldn’t be able to get it until I got there. That was a problem, since I couldn’t get in without it, and how else would I get to the wax cabin to ask them about it?

Head hung low in shame, I walked down to the accreditation office, which is also where I would catch a shuttle up to the venue. I walked in and stood in front of the same woman who had given me the credential in the first place.

“This is very embarrassing, but, I think I lost my credential,” I stuttered. “Is there any way I can get a temporary one? I think I know where it is.”

“Are you Chelsea?” she asked.

Yes. Yup. That’s me.

From her desk she picked up two credentials, each with my face on them. One had clearly seen some water seep underneath its plastic lamination, because the text was turning all green and my face was sort of rainbow-colored. The other was brand new and shiny.

“Wow! Where did they find it?” I asked, wondering if the wax techs had for some reason dropped it off for me.

“In the stadium,” she said with a glare. “In a snowbank.”

She was clearly being reproachful that I didn’t value this credential, wantonly dropping it into the snow without a care in the world.

Me? I was confused. I’m still certain I had it at the hotel, so how the heck did it end up back in the stadium in the snow? When? Who?

All of this doesn’t bode well for my Sochi credential. Please, little piece of paper, stay in my notebook.

It’s funny though – besides just this credential mess, I’ve been really out of it this season when it comes to professionalism and organization. I should be a pro by now. My first World Championships was in 2011; I’ve been to two more, plus a handful of World Cup competitions, since then. I know my way around, particularly in Ruhpolding, which is the first venue I’ve visited more than once. I know where to get a shuttle and when I need to hitchhike; I’ve calculated the shortest way to run between different parts of the course; I’ve calibrated how long it takes for the winners to get to the press conference, so that I can squeeze in an extra interview in between. I can produce a story, with its feature photo, in less than an hour. I’m sort of a machine.

In Hochfilzen, though, I forgot everything: my computer charger, the cable to download photos from my camera, my headphones so I could listen to interviews on my voice recorder without pissing people off. All of it was in my hotel room. That day, I had to run, in my Sorel boots, the several kilometers to my hotel room and back, through a snowstorm, to fetch them.

And now this. Losing my credential. What, am I rookie? No way!

It’s troubling, to say the least. The next gig I have coming up on the reporting front is the Olympics, and let’s just hope I don’t make too many sloppy mistakes there. If I do, will you come fetch me out of the gulag?