Monday, 25 October 2010

Rave on Snow, Saalbach, Austria

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It was 4am when I cracked.  David Hasselhoff was walking towards me in his red Baywatch shorts, chatting with a giant rabbit. This was too much. Scrambling backwards through the heaving Karma club I leapt out into the freezing Austrian morning, babbling incoherently about drowning cottontails.
But where to go? For this was Rave on Snow – a 48 hour dance event which had mischievously turned the dainty and cobbled ski resort of Saalbach into an electronic music mecca.  Seventy DJ’s had taken over the town square, a lift station and even the local school – nine venues in total, the intimate and off-beat nature of each one contributing to the feeling of it being an illicit party rather than a commercialized venture.  In every direction German, Austrian and Swiss partygoers were bounding around like gleeful gremlins, racing between venues gripping cans of Red Bull, oblivious to the snow settling gently on their shoulders. By 10am that snow would transform itself into the kind of powder a person gets up early for. Ah the irony.
‘But there’s no time for snowboarding!’ yelled one confused punter, blond in the way only Dutch teenagers can be. ‘We’re here for the music.’

More fool her I thought six hours later as I clipped into my skis and shot off from the top of the Schattberg X-Press on red run five,  my already strained vision struggling to see a route obliterated by cloud. It was early December but Saalbach was enjoying its third year in a row of superb opening season snow. The resort – together with neighbouring base Hinterglemm - is nicknamed the ‘Skicircus’ because the towns sit in a ring of mountains, 200km of pistes offering powder runs, sweeping corduroy, freestyle parks and technical blacks. This particular circus clown could have been on a World Cup descent for all it mattered, lack of sleep and far, far too much caffeine mixing darkly with calf deep powder. The lifty working the absolutely deserted Schattberg Sprinter which takes skiers over to pistes leading into Hinterglemm, benevolently suggested trying one of the 40 mountain restaurants before proceeding any further. This I obediently did, clinging wildly to my skis as the Westgipfelhutte loomed out of the gloom. ‘I demand a radler and schnitzel,’ I heard a booming voice say. Curses, it was mine. Retreating into a corner I polished off the amazingly good food and began to feel more confident of my legs, of my ability to hold my poles in hands that didn’t shake. But then I heard it. A faint but persistent beat was seeping through the clouds.
Photo: Tom Humpage
DJ Paul Kalkbrenner was beginning his set at 2020 metres, controlling the decks at the top of the Schattberg gondola. It was noon. The game was on again. The scene was like something out of a twisted fairytale. People dressed as tigers and bears were lolloping around, penguins bopped, a giant lizard made its way slowly through the crowd and day-glo beanies graced the heads of impossibly beautiful girls wearing aviators despite the heavy snow falling. Everybody was dancing,  hopping from foot to foot as steaming cups of gluwein spilled left and right in time with the beat. And sweet gods what was this? David Hasselhoff again, dancing on the roof of the lift station, only this time I was able to see that it wasn’t actually the Baywatch star, but a very brave soul wearing swimming shorts - in minus10 degrees.
Some people were tempted by the deep powder on routes 2a and 4a and they were chased down the runs by empty beer bottles. Getting off the returning chairlift was carnage. Bodies piled on bodies, coordination lost in fits of giggles and yelps. When Pascal Feds took over the decks I decided it was time to make my way down, opting to ski (hey, it’s a black run and I’ve not slept – what could possibly go wrong?) only to be greeted after the third corner by the sight of three naked men sliding down the steep slope on their stomachs.
Rave on Snow started 17 years ago when  German Thomas Kleutgen wanted a crazy weekend in the snow with his friends. ‘We wanted  a bit of boarding and partying  -we honestly never thought it would grow to be this big,’ he said. ‘It’s basically the ultimate pre-Christmas party, it kicks off the season.’ You know your office Christmas party? Rave on Snow is better. The event may be big in Germany and Austria but its reputation has yet to spread very far beyond those borders so although it can boast world-class music acts, at its core it remains a fun, giddy and exuberant party among mates.
After even more schnitzel at the gloriously Austrian Kohlmastubbe restaurant where I watched a man try to lift a glass the size of his torso filled with beer (was nothing in this town normal?) I made my way to the Dorfplatz – the outdoor arena which served as ground zero for all things Rave on Snow –  at 9pm in time to catch Andre Galluzi’s set, a bonanza of lights, crazy inflatables and a lot of ice which made dancing a skill indeed.
Photo: Tom Humpage
The crowd were going nuts, people careening across the frozen dance floor like spilt marbles. This was not a time to hold back I told myself as I leapt into the fray, the heavy beat picking me up and sweeping me into the early hours of the morning via Dan Drastic’s funky tunes in the Taverne  and the superb Johnny D at Saalbach’s converted school (sorry kids.) Just when it dawned on me I was sporting three beanies and none of them were mine, I concluded it was time to take my leave and lurched out into the snow.
At 8am, as I left for the station, the party was still going strong. People were dancing outside the Castello club as Domenico D’Agnelli wrapped up proceedings. One of the rascals was wearing my beanie.

Rave on Snow ( is on 10-11 December this year. Two nights' B&B accommodation plus festival pass costs €149. Seven nights' accommodation, ski pass and festival pass is €435. Booked separately, a two-day pass costs €60; the four-star Hotel Kohlmais ( has doubles from €90 a night. Train travel from London to Salzburg costs £231 return with Rail Europe (

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