«Hotpot instead of Hundschopf»
Bernhard Russi on the key position at the Lauberhorn Ski Races
In 1967, the first World Cup ski race took place on the Lauberhorn in Wengen. That same year, a young skier arrived on the sports scene who would go on to become a Swiss skiing legend. He can still remember his first downhill run and first jump over the legendary Hundschopf in the Bernese Oberland as if it were yesterday – even though he has now flown over this challenging spot around 100 times in the meantime. The old hand loves talking about the technical treat that is made of ice and snow.
Bernhard Russi still clearly remembers how difficult it was for skiers to cope with the Hundschopf. "The higher the speed, the sooner the skier had to shift the forces during the jump to avoid ending up in the lower, flat part. Jumping forward was my recipe. But if there wasn't enough strength behind your jump, then you'd touch down again just before the edge. Then again, if there was too much strength, or if you took off too late, then you'd go too far." It's an art in itself, because the skier wants to keep the speed up as much as possible here as well. In a certain sense, it is merely shifted, a combined and tricky movement: the flight forward, the dive over the edge and making yourself as small as possible in the air.
As Russi explains, speed is a key aspect in it all. If you were to set out the course today as you would have done 20 years ago, the Hundschopf would be impassable. Skiers would simply be too fast on modern skis. Safety is of the utmost importance at these speeds, which is why for a number of years now a small, artificial jump-off platform has been set up about ten metres before the actual jump. It helps the skiers to achieve the optimum jump almost automatically. Something that simply didn't exist in Russi's day.
Safety and action
The skiing legend generally seems to gain a lot from the thrill. "The safety aspect has become very important. Even though the run has steadily become safer over the years, the human factor remains. Good preparation and maximum concentration are still demanded of the athletes if they want to master such a demanding course," explains the former pro.
A tiny window for jumping and hardly any overview. Hair-raising speeds of up to 70-80 km/h. On what is essentially an ice rink. It sounds scary. Russi concurs. "The Hundschopf as a whole – including the bend before it and the exit to the Alpine trail – is one of the most difficult spots in the world of Alpine ski racing. But then again, once the skier is actually airborne with full control over the flight, that's a feeling that is almost beyond compare!" Not unlike a pilot gliding through the sky in a plane.
Russi sees the Hundschopf as a challenge on a section with several tricky spots. "A hotpot instead of just the Hundschopf," is his description of the section around the jump. However, he is still fascinated most by the flight through the air, especially from the technical aspect. "It's not the tightness of the jump that is difficult; it's the actual jump itself. And the respect for the fact that you could go too far." Once again, he has a trick or two in his technical box. "Aerodynamics are a constant companion. You stay as compact as possible when you're in the air, until you stretch out your legs just before landing. Just like an aircraft lowering the landing gear."