An ADL Newbie Story: Wengen Dream Trip
3:45PM Saturday (after the race)
Shit.Shit.Shit.Shit.Shiiiiiiiiiit! was all I could think when I let Kyle’s beer slip through my fingers, crashing onto his plate of meat and cheese and shattering all over his clothes. We’d met in person for the first time only hours ago. Same with Sam & Lori across the table. And AJ Kitt!?…well, as a former racer, I grew up watching AJ. IT WAS ALL GOING SO WELL UNTIL NOW! And that’s the moment Joe’s acceptance into this club experienced a swift execution. So it goes. How did this happen?
It all started back in October.
I had reached out to the ADL Ski Club to ask about their Kitzbuhel Dream Trip, because I was thinking of taking my 11 year old daughter. Kyle (rightly) advised me to wait until she was older. “I’ve never seen so many drunk people in one place,” he said. “And I’ve been to Mardi Gras!”. Good point. I’m not even a member of ADL and he’s already saving my ass.
In December I found out I was being sent to London for a week in January. January? What’s on the World Cup calendar that weekend? Turns out it’s Wengen. How much does it cost to go to Wengen from London? Surprisingly cheap. After convincing my wife I should do this (not hard) I bought the plane tickets and sent Kyle a message, “Hey, I’m coming to Wengen on my own. Any tips?”
“Hit me up when you’re there. We will line you up.”
Oh wow. Cool. I won’t have to do this alone. And I’m not even an ADL member yet. What kind of club is this? Who cares. This is going to be my first time in Switzerland, my first time skiing in Europe, and my first World Cup downhill. I’ll take all the help I can get.
6:00AM Saturday (before the race)
I thought I woke up early enough to get to Lauterbrunnen, hop on the train to Wengen, pick up my rental skis, get my tickets, and get up to the race. I was wrong. The line for the train to Wengen was an hour long. People were drinking, singing, smoking, and a band was playing. It was only 8:30am. What IS this place? I finally made it to Wengen to pick up my skis. 165 Head Worldcup Rebel i.SL RP. The Porsche 911 of skis. This will be fun.
I sent Kyle a message after getting my tickets squared away and hoping on the Tram, “Finally on the tram. Headed up. Where are you guys at?”
“Oh great! We’ll be at the start. Find us there.” He said.
Cool. I don’t put much thought into how we’ll meet up though. Aside from messaging apps, we’re strangers face to face. I could be standing next to him on the tram and wouldn’t even know it. Just roll with it.
Four lift rides later, I ski up to the start and a Swiss Air Force jet flies about 100 feet overhead at Mach 1, while an Airbus 320 flies swoops under the North Face of the Eiger. THERE’S AN AIRSHOW! The 10 year old boy in me gets really excited. I wonder where Kyle and the crew are? Also, I notice there’s no course set up from the start. Bryce Bennett skis by. Dude is taller than I ever imagined. Also, totally crushing on his ankle flexion-the foundation of all good skiing. Start time is getting near and I haven’t found Kyle and it doesn’t look like the race is starting from the actual start. All I know is I want to watch the race from Canadian Corner but I don’t know how to get there. I decide to just work my way down the course.
I descend, through 8″ of powder on slalom skis trying to avoid all the rocks. The cover is really thin and I’m feeling bad for chewing up these premium rentals. It flattens out to a small crowd and some porta-potties, at the top of the Hundschoph jump. I decided to check it out. As soon as I take my skis off and start walking toward the crowd, a guy wearing a black & red jacket announces to a small crew, “Yeah, let’s head down to Canadian Corner now.” Then I see his ADL patch.
I ask the dumbest, most obvious question ever: “Are you with the ADL Ski Club?” He turns and looks at me.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Joe Day.”
“JOE DAY! I’m Kyle!! Wow you found us! Welcome to Wengen! Let me introduce you to the crew.”
The race is about to start and I just happen to cross paths with the group I was trying to find in a crazy crowd of 30,000 people. Ullr is smiling on me.
The names are a blur (I’m horrible with names) until he gets to the last one. “And this is AJ Kitt.” Oh dear God please don’t let me say something stupid. I play it cool. “AJ Kitt. I watched you race when I was a kid.” Nancy looks at him and says, “Does that ever get old?”
Kyle says, “Let’s get down to Canadian Corner before the race starts.”
“Do you mind if I tag along?”
We head out. Halfway there, the rock sharks steal Nancy’s skis. She double ejected. The race is starting soon and her skis are buried, nowhere to be seen. Kyle is too far below to help and he looks up hoping this doesn’t turn into a one hour search for lost skis. I’m close to Nancy so I start swiping my pole side to side through the powder. Found the first ski. Phew. I move up, continuing to swipe. The second ski. YES!
Kyle says, “Joe, you’ve been here 5 minutes and you’ve already saved the day.” It feels good. Don’t mess it up, Joe! We arrive at Canadian Corner. So. Many. People. Walking through the crowd gives you a great view into Swiss culture. They’ve filled their backpacks with bottles of wine. Everyone seems to have a tiny little wine glass and plates of charcuterie. Cigarette smoke. Wow…they still smoke here? And the smell of burning raclette cheese. Burning cheese? Some folks have brought little camp stoves and are making and eating fondue in the crowd. My Swiss friend Christophe tells me later, “It’s our BBQ.” Of course it is. Switzerland rules.
The race starts.
All the big names run early, including the Americans Bryce Bennett and Steven Nyman. Bennett looks good and goes onto finish seventh, his best result of the season thus far. The rest of the American Downhillers had a great day with five guys in the top 30 – Ryan Cochrane Siegel in his first time at the Lauberhorn came in 14th, Steve Nyman 21, Jared Goldberg 22 and Travis Ganong 27th. Dominic Paris finishes in the green, but Beat Feuz is coming up. The crowd goes insane when Beat flies off of Hundschoph; confident and smooth, his hands behind his calves to minimize drag. He’s fast through the corner and comes out in the green. The Swiss crowd wave their Swiss flags and get louder. Each time he passes a split in the green, louder until he crosses the finish. The hometown hero in the green. The time holds. Feuz wins. An epic moment for the Swiss. A memorable first time at the Wengen downhill for me.
And a memorable first day skiing in Europe.
We group up and decide to ski the remainder of the afternoon. Our travels take us down the Grindewald side. AJ Kitt leads us confidently and quickly down the long narrow groomer. He cuts nice arcs over the bumpy afternoon groomer and he doesn’t like to follow – the competitor in him still demands that he be out front. He sees the Aspen Hutte coming up and suggests we stop for a beer. Great idea.
I haven’t mentioned to anybody yet that I haven’t eaten today. My morning didn’t go as planned, too much time in the train line, the rental line, getting to the start. I never stopped for food. Yeah, beer sounds great right now. I convince the crew we should order a meat & cheese plate.
The beers arrive before the food. We clink our glasses probst! and pull out our phones to take pictures of the view. The town of Grindewald is visible and everything is in the shadow of the Eigerhorn, the tallest point in Europe. AJ starts tallying the results of the club betting pool. Nancy won. The meat & cheese finally arrives and we order round 2.
The waiter arrives with five beers on a platter. He grabs the first one and hands it past me to the far side of the table to Kyle and he reaches for it but can’t quite make it. I decide to grab it and pass it to Kyle. Saving the day again Joe! Kyle’s hand makes it to the beer glass at the same time as mine and in a millisecond, we both defer to the other. The waiter assumes one of us has it and lets it go. The glass descends, shattering on the plate of meat and cheese.
Shattered glass and beer everywhere. Kyle’s face turned sour as the beer he so longed for spilled on his pants. I did not save the day. And, hilariously, What will AJ Kitt think of me!?
Kyle grimaced and turned his eyes to me with a steely sour gaze. All my morning credits seemed to have vanished in an instant. Then all tension was cut with a bellowing laugh. Tragedy averted. It was too nice a day for one spilled beer to ruin. The waiter quickly brings a replacement and some towels. I apologize as sincerely as I can muster. Everything is more or less okay, but I still feel horrible. I’m not even a member of the ADL Ski Club. Do I belong here?
We head out to the gondola. Closed. Oh shit. It’s my fault. That’s our way back to Wengen. Things are getting worse. Someone points back into town toward the train station. The train needles it’s way along the base of the Eigerhorn up to the Lauberhorn. The lifts close, but the train still runs. This is Wes Anderson stuff. I love Switzerland. We make it to the top and ski back down the other side to Wengen as the sun sets behind the Jungfrau. AJ takes us to the hotel where the US Ski Team guys are staying where we meet Luke Winters and the entire US Slalom Team who are all racing the next day. River Radmus gives Kyle a pair of US Ski Team shoes, because…well, because he’s Kyle and that’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re the ADL Commish.
Fondue initiation dinner.
We eventually make our way back down to Lauterbrunnen to the hotel where the ADL gang is staying and queue up around a table in a corner booth in the bar and start to recap the day. AJ orders this pear liquor called Williams, that is amazing. We chat about racing and technique. We agree all great skiing starts in the ankles there it is again! and eventually someone finally asks where I came from since I’m not technically part of the official trip (or the club). And so I take them back to October. Actually, I take them back to the 30 year anniversary of the Blizzard of Aahhhs at the North Bend Theater with Gregg Stump, my first introduction to ADL. After awhile, the conversation naturally moves on. Kyle looks at me, “Joe, you’re definitely ADL material and I think you might have had a pretty epic time today. Join the club already!!” Hahaha…ok.
I quietly pull out my phone and browse to adlskiclub.com and click on membership. I go through the prompts, select my t-shirt size, and when it completes I show my new friends at the table the confirmation screen.
“Hey everybody! Raise your glass to our newest ADL member. Joe Day! And the sound of 8 glasses clinked… Probst!”
And that was how I became a member of the ADL ski club. It was a day of many firsts for me: skiing in Europe, attending a men’s downhill, eating Fondue in Switzerland, and attempting to ruin founders clothing with beer and shattered glass. In the end, we all did that thing ski friends do – we crowded around a small table telling stories and being stoked to be alive with these people on this mountain in this moment. We were more than a club and I was its newest member.