For the first time in a long, long time I am not in Wengen for the Lauberhorn race weekend. Events have taken me along the M6 again and it will be Wednesday night before I see Wengen. That’s a protracted absence for me. I may be taking the skiing equivalent of methadone by mid-week.
Though it is fair to say that if you have to miss one weekend of the Wengen ski season, this is probably the one to choose. Wengen has a permanent population of about 2,500, which doubles for the ski season. On the Saturday of the Lauberhorn, however, there might be 30,000 extra visitors in town. Someone once told me that the downhill is the biggest sporting event in Switzerland and I have little reason to doubt the truth of that.
Preparations begin long before the race, with a tented village being built on the tennis courts, VIP viewing areas being built at the Hundschopf and the finish line and the course itself being prepared. The foehn delayed things this year, but they seem to have got there.
The weekend before the Lauberhorn, there is a Europa Cup meeting at Wengen usually. As the course has been prepared, they might as well use it, I suppose. The Europa Cup is an essential stepping stone in a racer’s career, but in Wengen at least, unlike the big day, the spectators are usually two men and a dog. However, the dog was otherwise engaged this year, so attendance was down. It is that low key; I think one race was cancelled due to the wind, but I saw the other race being run, so I know it happened. I have no idea about the result though.
As I say, the big race weekend is different entirely. The racers begin to arrive on the previous Sunday after racing at Adelboden, just forty minutes down the road. From then until after the second run of the slalom, mid-afternoon on the Sunday, the town is agog. A decent crowd will turn up for the Combined on Friday, but it is Friday night until Sunday morning when the town really rocks.
Most Swiss over the age of fifty would regard Eastbourne in 1953 as quite wild. (That is not a criticism; I would agree entirely). However, it is the young who come to the race and they come to party as well. Many come to the village with nowhere to stay overnight. They just drink and hope for the best. If you live centrally, it is best not to leave a door open as that will give entry to some unexpected guests. It is unlikely that they would steal anything, but they would grab a quick sleep on the sofa. It is like Goldilocks and the three bears, but with more people and industrial quantities of Jagermeister.
As I write, Mrs IS has sent me a text to say that Beat Feuz has won the downhill. He is a Swiss racer, so the party will be in full swing now. He won a few years ago, but then was injured, so it is good that he is back.
Tomorrow, the surviving spectators will gather for the slalom. It will be another big crowd, but not quite like the Saturday. By early evening, everyone will be gone; the town can take a deep breath and life will return to normal.