All right: tennis and Wimbledon – that would perhaps be an appropriate comparison. St. Andrews in Scotland and golf would be another. Or Monte Carlo, if you’re into rally sports. But otherwise? “Otherwise there aren’t that many you can think of,” Patrick Ortlieb says. The Olympic champion, World Cup winner and downhill world champion sits in his hotel restaurant in Oberlech and is thinking about what other names he can compare his club to. Patrick is chairman of the Ski-Club Arlberg – Austria’s oldest ski club that’s still in existence (and thus also one of the oldest in the world). Founded in 1901, with members in more than 70 countries, it’s a club of both global appeal and regional significance: the club, Patrick says, unites the Arlberg region…also with neighbouring Tyrol. “At the same time, even in Tokyo, there are enough club members for regular meetings to be organised.”
There are even enough members in Tokyo to organise regular meetings.
As is often the case with such clubs: the beginnings were modest. Six friends were skiing from St. Anton to St. Christoph on 3 January 1901. During a stop-off for lunch at the Hotel Hospiz at 1,800 metres, they came up with the idea of founding a ski club, “enchanted by nature, inspired by the sport, imbued with the necessity to create a modest meeting point on the Arlberg for the friends of this noble pursuit”, is what they wrote in the guest book. There was probably never a lunch break that was more momentous for the Arlberg region. The club already had one hundred members just two years later.
… enchanted by nature, inspired by the sport, imbued with the necessity to create a modest meeting point on the Arlberg for the friends of this noble pursuit…
Members must be skiers and must ski regularly on the Arlberg
There are around 7,800 today. All skiers, Patrick says, and this needs to be confirmed by two sponsors because otherwise applicants aren’t admitted. People interested in joining must furthermore have been skiing in the region for at least three years beforehand. The admission fee of a good € 200.00 includes the famous club sweater, which club members wear just as proudly as they do the pin with the two crossed skis and the ski pole in the centre. And visitors in need of more devotional items are able to stock up at the club store in Lech where members (and only members) may purchase the entire fashion range. That creates cohesion, the weekly club meetings at the Arlberg are always well attended. A recent meeting in Stuttgart also saw 370 club members turning up, “and, as I said,” Patrick says, “meetings could even be organised in Tokyo.”
Encouraging new talent is the club’s priority
The Ski-Club Arlberg has long been the most successful club in the world by medal count; the list of winners is epic and ranges from Rudi Matt (slalom gold in Innsbruck 1936) to Lorraine Huber, who won gold at the Freeride World Tour in 2017. But it’s still important to Patrick that the encouragement of young talent remains the club’s top priority. If you asked 17 children on the way to school in the morning if they knew the Ski-Club Arlberg, at least 15, he says, would reveal themselves as members. “Should that ever no longer be the case, then something will have gone terribly wrong.”