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Schladming, Austria - In the olden days, Schladming was all about silver. But during the upcoming World Alpine Ski Championships, the focus in the former Austrian mining town will be on gold.
Michael Tritscher, a former world-class Alpine skier from Schladming, is getting into fever pitch not only because of the gold medals which will be decided on the Planai slope that ends in the middle of the town.
Like many of the other locals, the former slalom star hopes the world championships will trigger a sustained boom for Schladming.
Though it is a favourite resort for skiers from the Austrian capital Vienna, some 200 kilometres to the east, and is the largest winter sports centre in the province of Styria, Schladming is less well-known to skiers outside of Austria than many other winter sports places in the provinces of Tyrol and Salzburger Land.
Some 400 million euros have been invested to give the town a new sparkle when it hosts the skiing competitors and vacationers.
With the February 4-17 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships - the second to be hosted by Schladming since 1982 - the entire region with its many ski runs hopes to gain international acclaim as an ultra-modern skiing area.
“Ski runs were widened, lifts were expanded, artificial snow facilities were completed, and the entire mountain here has been outfitted for W-LAN access which is completely free of charge,” notes Karl Hoeflehner, the technical director of the Planai mountain ski lift.
About 99 percent of the 232 kilometres of ski runs between the rugged southern slopes of the Dachstein range and the tamer Schladming Tauern range can now be coated with artificial snow.
“Under normal conditions, you can even ski all the way down into the valley here as late as April,” says Hermann Gruber, managing director of the Schladming-Dachstein Tourism Association.
A favourable micro-climate ensures that Schladming, at 745 metres elevation, can have a winter just as cold and snowy as higher-elevation towns elsewhere.
Gruber feels that the world championships are a lucky break for the region. New hotels have been built near the new Planai ski lift station with its futuristic glass facade. A five-star hotel is not among them, reflecting how down-to-earth Schladming remains.
In the past, the entire region made its living from copper and silver mining. Nor are there any gourmet restaurants - but people can still dine very well on the hearty local Alpine fare.
During the world championships, visitors can watch the racers while training up on the Reiteralm slope, while viewing the actual races on a large video screen in the skiing area.
Even more impressive would be to watch the events from the seats in the world championship arena in the finish line area.
For most Schladming vacationers the day of skiing ends early, so that lively partying can then take over. During the high season it seems that half of Vienna is on hand in the après-ski spots in Schladming.
The three-story Hohenhaus Tenne is said to be the largest après-ski location in the entire Alps. For those who like things quieter, directly across the street is the Platzhirsch Alm inn with its Arnold-Schwarzenegger room.
The previous owner of the Platzhirsch Alm, Charly Kahr - who had trained such skiing stars as 1970s Olympic champion Franz Klammer - has covered the walls with pictures of “Arnie.” The “Terminator” himself is friends with Bahr and often used to come to Schladming to ski.
Schwarzenegger, a native of Styria, will be coming to watch the upcoming world ski championships. It remains to be seen whether the former governor of California will recognise Schladming after its sparkling makeover. - Sapa-dpa