Winter Wonderland

The Prague Post

A ski race in the city, with a chance to join in

Not many world sports competitions are held in Prague. And winter sports events outside of hockey arenas are even rarer. But, during the post-Christmas lull this year, world-class skiers will be gathering here to compete in a bonafide International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup event.

This isn’t the first year for the Tour de Ski in Prague, which debuted on streets turned into ski runs near Prague Castle last year. It proved so popular that the organizers have moved it to Výstavište this year, where there’s a lot more space for both spectators and skiers. Weather isn’t a factor; if there’s not enough natural snow on the ground, the organizers plan to make it.

“The Tour de Ski is a concept based on the Tour de France,” explains Kryštof Šabacký, spokesman for E.ON Prague Ski. “There are seven races in total, which start in Germany with the final run in Italy.”

Šabacký says about 100 men and 100 women are expected to compete. What makes Tour de Ski unique is that skiers must compete in both sprint and long-distance races, so like bikers in the Tour de France, they must be able to handle their equipment under varying conditions. The big winner (in both the men’s and women’s categories) is the one with the best overall time score, who will take home a cool 131,250 Swiss francs (2.2 million Kc). In Prague, the top three winners will earn about 83,000 Kc, 50,000 Kc and 33,000 Kc, respectively.

What’s in it for you? A lot, Šabacký says.

“One interesting thing for people is that [Czech skier] Lukáš Bauer, who won last year’s competition and is the World Cup cross-country skiing champion, will be competing and is a big favorite for this race,” he says. “There will also be two big TV screens for replays, two sets of grandstands, concerts and children’s activities.”

The qualifying runs begin at 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29, with each participant taking the track alone in time trials. Women will ski 900 meters, and the men 1.5 kilometers. The fastest 30 go on to the quarterfinals, and the top two from those heats make the semis. The finals will be a sight to see, with all six racers on the track at once going for broke.

“It can change a lot in the final line, which is long, so it could be a spectacular finish,” Šabacký says.

There’s more for spectators, too. For a mere 10 Kc, you can purchase a tree-shaped car air freshener. Why would you do this? Because the organizers will match each purchase with a real tree planted in the Jizera Mountains. And, if you’d like to see how you match up against world-class skiers, you can join the Prague Ski Open Dec. 30.

“We don’t want to tear down the ski track immediately, so, on Tuesday, anyone can come out, bring their skis and participate in the Prague Ski Open,” Šabacký says.

All registered participants will have their time on the track clocked for easy comparison with the pros who raced the day before. And, since this is a Prague event, beer will be close at hand — very close.

“The track is designed so the racers go right through the refreshment tent,” Šabacký says. “You don’t even have to leave the bar to see the race.”