Interview with Ben Bildstein
In the interview, Austrian Olympic Sailor Ben Bildstein tells us about a rather different break from sailing, one that no one is likely to imitate in the near future. He reveals how his love of snow grooming and, in particular, the LEITWOLF came about.
How have you, as a professional sailor, decided to replace your sailboat with a snow groomer?
It all started in childhood, when I fell ill on a skiing vacation with my family and couldn't go skiing. My father felt sorry for me and organized a ride in an LH500 snow groomer through the ski resort's manager. This was when my passion for snow grooming began. Next to my sports career, I often groomed the slopes at the small ski resort Schneiderkopf in Austria the evenings. But then I was attracted to operate the really big, modern machines in high alpine terrain, which is why I now work in Lech am Arlberg in Vorarlberg, Austria.
Are there similarities between the two activities?
There are quite a few parallels. The first is, of course, that you're steering a sailboat there and a snow groomer here, but it's always about this precise steering and giving your best, which also means preparing the best possible slope. I only finish when I am 100 percent satisfied with the result. The biggest difference is that in the sailing competition you have to perform on time, whereas in snow grooming you can take your time until you achieve the perfect result. Both areas are constantly changing. Sailing as well as slope preparation is continuously developing and changing. Also you need to maintain both a machine and a boat and replace parts to keep them performing at their best.
What do you like most about working as a snow groomer operator?
What I like best is moving large amounts of snow and grooming crucial areas, as well as building new slopes or widening them. What I also like a lot is the power of the snow groomer.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
There is actually no such thing as a normal working day, because the different snow conditions tend to change the daily routine. A standard day for me looks something like this: I get up at 8 a.m., have breakfast and work out until lunchtime (a ski tour or skiing and weight training), then I eat and take a power nap. At 4:30 p.m., I have a briefing with the other operators about who is going to groom which slopes and what additional work needs to be done. At 5 p.m. I start preparing the slopes, which ends at 3 a.m. at the latest, unless of course there is snowfall.
Do you plan to take time off from sailing on a more frequent basis in the future to drive snow groomers?
What I did this year was relatively special - taking five months off as a top athlete. Normally, I would train all the way through. But until 2024, it won't be possible to spend a full winter on the snow groomer again, because our focus is now on the next Olympic Games, as we want to win a medal there.
How do you balance professional sports with your work as a snow groomer operator? Is there still time for friends and family?
Time is the main problem. The lack of time when you're managing two jobs at once. 24 hours are not enough if you want to train and keep fit in winter and drive a snow groomer for nine hours. Especially sleep suffers from that. From a social point of view, it has worked out quite well since I am lucky that my friends are sporty and also come to visit me on the Arlberg and go skiing with me. I then also spend my free evening with friends. One challenge was the sharp time structure, which could only be handled with a lot of discipline. But all in all, it worked out well.
You mainly operate the LEITWOLF. What do you see to be the special features of this model?
I must say that the LEITWOLF is my favorite model. I extremely appreciate the driver position and also the PRINOTH steering system. In fact, I rather drive the snow groomer than my own car, because the steering comfort is simply greater. I also get along well with the tiller, as it makes it relatively easy to prepare a good slope. So PRINOTH does a good job with the tiller, too.
Have you had the opportunity to test the new LEITWOLF?
Unfortunately not, we don't have a new LEITWOLF in Lech yet, but Oberlech has one. The idea of operating it is really appealing to me. It seems very powerful and definitely leaves a really good slope. According to my observations, PRINOTH has taken another step forward with the new LEITWOLF.