White knuckle ride

Skiing's fast and furious flock to the Madloch descent, writes Rob McFarland.

According to Patrick Ortlieb, the four-kilometre-long Madloch descent "is a tougher proposition than many a World Cup downhill race".

And he should know because he's won four of them, not to mention a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.

The descent is one component of the White Ring, a 22-kilometre-long ski circuit that squirms its way up and over the mountains of the Arlberg region in Austria.

It was the brainchild of Sepp Bildstein, an Austrian ski pioneer who started installing lifts in the 1940s to allow people to ski between the towns of Lech, Zurs and Zug. Since 2006, it's also been the venue for one of the world's longest ski races.

Every January a thousand skiers assemble at the top of the Rufikopf chairlift for a white-knuckle sprint around the circuit. Competitors are released in groups of 20-30 and have to follow the ring's designated ski runs and chairlifts. After tearing down the initial Steinmannle red run, participants have a chance to catch their breath on the Schuttboden drag lift before two more dashes into the town of Zurs.

From here it's an 800-metre ascent via two lifts to the summit of Madloch-Joch before the thigh-testing four-kilometre-long descent into Zug. The Zugerberg and Balmengrat lifts provide one last respite before the final hurtle towards the finishing line in Lech.

The race record, which includes the time spent on the six lifts, is a staggeringly quick 44 minutes, 35 seconds. Unsurprisingly, the holder is Ortlieb, who set it during the race's inaugural run in 2006.

Fog and high winds hampered this year's event so the organisers were forced to award everyone the same time of 22:22:22 for the Madloch descent.


Not that this stopped Pepi Strobl's dominance of the men's category (he won it for the third year running) or loosened local girl Angelika Kaufmann's grip on the women's (she won it for the fourth year in a row).

The appeal of the circuit is that it's comprised entirely of beginner and intermediate runs. Allow yourself two to three hours and it's a wonderful way to take in the splendour of the region. Ortlieb no longer competes in the race but still raves about the circuit: "Even for former Olympic and World Cup champions the White Ring is a fascinating skiing experience."

The writer was a guest of Austria Tourism.


Emirates flies from Sydney to Zurich through Dubai, see emirates.com/au.

The Arlberg Express bus service runs between Zurich and the Arlberg and takes about two hours, see arlbergexpress.com.


The Arlberg region contains five villages: St Anton, Lech, Zurs, St Christoph and Stuben, see arlberg.net. A good choice in Lech is the Hotel Kristberg, run by former Olympic gold medallist skier Egon Zimmermann, see hotel-kristberg.at.

In St Christoph, check out the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, an exclusive property with a 600-year-old wine cellar and its own art collection, see arlberghospiz.at.


The Ski Arlberg Pass allows you to ski all five Arlberg resorts and includes access to a free shuttle bus, see skiarlberg.at.

This year's race will be held on Saturday.



austria.info/au; derweissering.at.