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On track again

With Rainer Wörndl in his pisten bully, the track-maker in the cross-country skiing resort of Faistenau

Rainer Wörndl does not sleep well in the winter:  in the middle of the night the 46 year old organic farmer steals out of bed to take a look out of the window, once at mid-night and later again at about 3 a.m.  His interest is to see what the weather is up to: is the sky clear, when will it start to snow, how much has the temperature fallen?

Early in the morning, the Faistenauer leaves his house, leaving the work on the dairy farm and the 22 milk cows in the capable hands of his wife Elisabeth, and makes his way to his place of work in the wintery world.  At five in the morning when hardly anyone is about, the bright red pisten bully “Johannes” is parked in front of the old Fire Station in the idyllic village of Faistenau.  The five ton heavy machine is Rainer Wörndl´s reliable partner during the winter months.  And it starts, even when the temperatures are way below minus.  During the night it had snowed a good 10 centimetres, and a couple of rabbit and fox tracks are imprinted in the fresh snow.  When in a couple of hours the sun rises over the mountains, the first sportsmen will be on the tracks of Rainer and “Johannes”.  Until then the trails for skaters and cross-country skiers will be in tip top condition, the snow crunching under the edges of their skis.

Lost in the “Whiteout”

Rainer Wörndl needs about five hours for the network of 54 km. of trails in Faistenau.  The 4.8 km village trail, the 10 km. long skating trail, the 19.2 km. Tiefbrunnau trail, the Oberascher trail, the night trail, the trail in the Bramsau as well as the well-favoured winter walking paths.  In his fifth winter the mechanic knows the perils of the land and meanwhile he has become a real specialist.  Two hundred wooden stakes show him the way in the new snow and in the darkness.  Some of these he has himself hammered into the ground in the autumn.  Under the keen eye of a senior friend from the village who himself is a cross-country skier and knows the trail off by heart, Rainer is helped in the staking out of the trail for the winter.  “The worst visibility is when it is snowing hard.  Then you have no contrast”, says Rainer Wörndl, who does not even own a pair of cross-country skis.  “Then I can only follow the furrows at the side of the trail and look for the next snow pole”.   Once in five years he lost his way.  There he was with his pisten bully somewhere in the” Whiteout”.  Fortunately no one saw him.

An exhausting challenge

As you can imagine, the work of hours of track-making in a loud pisten bully is quite tiring.  For those who have sat in the 100 horse power machine know:  this is not for cowards.  When the underground is icy, then the journey is even more uncomfortable and the whole body is shaken up.  Rainer Wörndl laughs:  “After five hours you are all-in”.  In his cabin however he has heating, a radio and ear plugs for when the bully is too loud.

On this morning the molder glided well over the new snow and left a perfect 3 ½ metre wide trail.  Rainer Wörndl can accelerate a little and almost reaches the maximum speed of 10 kmh.  This helps actually as he freshly tracked the trail the evening before so that it could freeze over-night.  This mass of new snow was a surprise and meant a couple of hours extra work.

 

Rainers feeling for snow

Not only is the making of the trail part of Rainer Wörndl´s work but also the setting of the snow poles as well as placing 200 sign posts, the shoveling of the humps where the trail crosses the road and the preparation prior to events are all part of his duties.  In the winter with normal snow conditions Rainer Wörndl sits between 200 and 300 hours in his pisten bully:  early mornings, sometimes during the day or of an afternoon – up to seven hours on some days.  “The making of the cross-country trails is very much a matter of feeling and has a lot to do with the weather, the snow, the underground and the temperature.  I watch the trail during the day and if a skater sinks into the snow too much, then I do another round in the afternoon in order to bind the melted snow on the surface with the frozen snow below”.  The trail master, who takes his work very seriously, explains that the skating trail is newly drawn every morning.

 

Millimetre work that is rewarded

The feedback from the cross-country skiers and skaters is transmitted to Rainer Wörndl when  on the trails they let him know that conditions are tip top with a show of a thumbs-up sign. “But there are also others” he says, “for some I drive too slowly and for the others too fast.  One never gets it right!”  Fortunately Rainer Wörndl has an easy-going nature and does not take it personally.  “Trail making is a very exact job and a science in itself.  All in all it is millimetre work.  To drive a caterpillar machine of this size, at the optimal speed and the right drive is not easy.  On downhill stretches the molder digs in too deep, rubber chains are better for the fields and for the underground on steep slopes here one needs metal chains and when there is a lot of snow then 100 horse power is not enough”.

At wise comments the Faistenauer can only laugh.  And between you and me: the trail master does his work not only conscientiously but in fact perfectly.  For Faistenau is known as an absolute Eldorado for cross-country skiers and skaters.  Nowhere can a skier flit over the trails as here.