After the Austrian Army and hundreds of schnapps-fueled volunteers spent a snowy night stomping and shoveling the legendary Streif to ensure that Saturday's 72nd Hahnenkamm downhill would run; after Bode Miller's rock-and-roll recovery that saw him nearly lose a ski and crash; after Swiss downhill legend Didier Cuche claimed a record-breaking fifth Hahnenkamm victory; after the awards ceremony, fireworks, and individual team celebrations, the ski racing world moved to the Londoner, a legendary pub in Kitzbühel, Austria, which becomes the pulsing center of the ski universe for one night each year.
Daron Rahlves, one of only two Americans to ever win the Hahnenkamm, once said of the Londoner, "It's a full-on gnarly party to go along with the gnarliest race on earth." In a tradition started by the Canadians in the 80s, racers, stoked to have survived the Streif--a race track that's been known to make grown men shit their pants--get behind the bar and serve up beer to legions of blottoed fans.
Come eleven o'clock Saturday night, the Londoner was packed--people shoved into every nook and cranny of that dark, dank den of sin. Dressed in my finest Tyrolean dirndl, I posted up alongside Baby Huey, the U.S. Ski Team's bodyguard, fixer, and team motivator-- that guy you hear in the start box of every race, bellowing in a booming baritone, "Go Bode Miller--you got this. You own this race."
You see, Huey's famous here too, and riding with Huey will open doors and make velvet ropes drop. Hell, Huey gets more airtime on European television than most racers. He's mobbed at bars, recognized on trains, approached by kids who see him on European streets. So, Huey moved us quickly past the massive line of drunkards fighting to get into the Londoner, straight through the front door, high-fiving Chevy, one of the doormen, on way in, and paved a path through the bar to a corner some of the American speed boys had taken over.
Midnight struck, and the king of Kitzbühel, Didier Cuche, rode into the Londoner atop the shoulders of friends, coaches and teammates. Earlier that day (and two days after announcing he would retire from ski racing following this season), Cuche snagged a record-breaking fifth Hahnenkamm downhill win, smashing a record he'd shared until Saturday with Franz Klammer. Moments after arriving, Cuche emerged behind the bar scantily clad in a skimpy bikini top and green wig.
The situation devolved rapidly--like throwing a match on a Gosser-fueled fire. American and Canadian racers joined Cuche behind the bar, slinging beers to--and mostly at--the sea of lubricated patrons. The boys pulled out buckets of beer, dipped plastic cups into the tubs, and doused the crowd, who seemed to want more--the wetter, the better. ACDC blared in the background, men ripped off their shirts, women clawed at Cuche, who gamely put on quite a show. Being a girl and dressed in my loveliest dirndl, I naively assumed I'd be safe from the racers' ire. Nope. I was battered by about thirty-five gallons of beer. By evening's end, I was slipping around in puddles in my beer-filled boots, my body soaked to the bone.
After two hours of beer battle, the boys wrapped it up, put on dry shirts, and came back to the other side of the bar. Cuche mingled with the crowd. The music cranked up--all G'n'R and American rock and roll. Beer-drenched revelers danced the night away.
Two days later and I still smell like beer. I hear its good conditioner for your hair. And that dirndl? It's been soaking in an Austrian bathtub for the past few days. A word for the wise: should you ever go to the Londoner after the Hahnenkamm downhill, do yourself a favor and bring a spare set of clothes.