Hop onto your sledge and off you go!
The best tips for a fun and, more important, safe toboggan ride
Today I’m going to meet with Christian. He is chairman of the Hopfgarten toboggan club and he is going to share the most important tips and tricks about sledging with me. Christian has been sledging all of his life and has been successfully participating in professional toboggan competitions again and again. In anticipation of a great day I drive my car from Hopfgarten up the road to Penningberg, to my destination, Haagalm. The parking area is easy to find – just straight ahead until the end of the road. There is the start of the natural toboggan run and Christian is already there waiting for me.
I get my sledge out of the car, take my backpack and off we go! Christian carries the sledge lightly over his shoulders – it is the way pros do, he explains to me. This way the waxed and grinded sledge runners are protected and it is ensured that the gear is in perfect condition for the downhill ride. So, I shoulder my sledge too, and – what a surprise – it’s quite comfortable this way.
Then we set off. About 400 metres of altitude lie ahead of us. Christian tells me to stay at the wayside, if possible, to walk in single file, because this way we would not obstruct the sledge riders coming down. In the beginning the trail is winding through a forest, past the quirky Kühbrandalm and then in more bends further uphill. After a long straight bit through the forest, the most amazing panorama stretches before us and grants direct view of the Hohe Salve. What a great photo spot! Of course, I have to stop to take a couple of pictures. Then we continue, knowing we are almost there. Soon I see the stables of the Haag Alpe alpine dairy and right behind them the mountain inn Haagalm.
After about 1 hour and 15 minutes we are finally there. Happy, we take a seat on the sun terrace. I have to admit that the climb had made me rather hungry. So I’m thrilled to find the menu bursting with Tyrolean delicacies. While we enjoy our lunch, we let the sun kiss our faces. Life is great, I think. But the real adventure is just about to get started.
We pack up and put on our helmets and gloves. Christian shows me the ideal posture on a sledge: you should sit upright for a good overview, have one hand on the strap and – crucially – put the legs parallel to the sledge. By shifting one’s weight the toboggan becomes steerable.
In order to get all set for our downhill ride we practice how to ride bends. “It is very important to slow down before the bend “, Christian tells me. “To take a left-handed bend you simply shift your weight to the left and stretch your left arm backward. Simultaneously, you pull the rope upward to the left with your right hand. In right-hand bends it works exactly the other way round. This way you manage even the tightest bends without any problem.”
Whenever you have to break it is very important to take a look across your shoulder in order to avoid a collision. Place both feet flat on the ground right next to the sledge runners. Good sturdy shoes are therefore a must. Professional riders even wear shoes with spikes. Christian reveals a tip to me: screw small nails into the shoe soles.
Finally, we talk about the most exciting thing – acceleration 😉. In order to pick up speed you lean backwards, put your feet next to the sledge and try to be as streamlined as possible. Of course, your posture should not affect your field of view.
Perfectly prepared I know take a seat on my toboggan. “Ready?”, Christian asks and I nod. Ready, steady and gooooo. Following Christian’s instructions, I’m gliding round the bends and have a lot of fun. The natural toboggan track is in perfect condition and secured by high snow walls and fences. Far too fast but incredibly happy and full of adrenalin we reach the parking area. I’d love to walk back up there again right from the spot, but it would be too much for me today. However, the Haagalm toboggan track will see me again very soon. Because in order to ride a toboggan like a pro I’ll have some more training runs ahead of me...
By the way: right next to the Haagalm toboggan track there is a racing and training track where you can meet professionals such as Christian prepare for competitions. Next year, for instance, it will be the venue for the world championships, an absolute top event and I’m definitely going to be there among the spectators. On the one hand, to cheer up our local team and on the other hand to learn some tricks by watching the professionals. 😋
And to make sure that you’ll enjoy your toboggan ride just as much as I did, I have made a list of the best tips:
The ultimate sledging check-list for you
- gear: Winter clothing, helmet, goggles, gloves, sturdy shoes, backpack with a change of clothes, water bottle, first-aid kit, head lamp in case of night runs.
- toboggan: manouvrable wooden sledge with steel rails and steering rope
- ascent: show consideration for down-riding sledges, walk in single file and take bends from outside
- posture on the sledge: upright posture (slightly leaning backwards), rope in hand, legs parallel to the sledge
- riding bends: shift your weight towards the desired direction, stretch the inner hand backwards and pull the steering rope in the same direction
- acceleration: shift your weight to the back and lift your legs
- braking: look behind you before you brake, then place both feet flat on the ground right next to the runners. Simutaniously, you can slightly lift the bars.
- descent: be ready to brake in spots hidden from view and show consideration for people who walk uphill. adjust your tobogganing speed to your skills, the weather and the prevailing conditions on the run.