Steely-Eyed Missile Men

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Since 1932 mad, crazy people have attached planks of wood (or these days planks of high tech carbon fibre) to their feet in order to ski for a very short distance in a straight line down a ramp on the side of a hill in the German Black Forest town of Titisee-Neustadt. After some 100m of this rather boring version of downhill skiing, by which time the skier is approaching speeds of 100km per hour (over 60mph), the ramp all of a sudden is not there. This is the point at which the 'skiing' becomes 'flying', and things get very exciting indeed.

What can now be fairly accurately described as a lycra-clad human shaped missile wearing a helmet - like that's gonna do any good in an emergency - continues its downhill journey some 6m above the earth. Gravity can only be defied for so long, though, and some 120m to 136m (130 - 150 yards) further down the hill the flying ski-man becomes just a plain old skier again as he positively clatters back down to earth with a loud 'thwack' (Alamanicus is fairly sure that each landing generates a small wobble in the earth's orbit, and that this is in fact the real cause of global warming).

The good one's got to defy death in this manner twice, and the best was a Norwegian, one Fredrik Bjerkeengen (the steely-eyed missile man of the main picture), who literally sailed past the Austrian favourite to win his first Continental Cup ski-jump competition on the day Alamanicus was there. The Greek competitor did well on his jump, and would have been in the second round had not a late fall after he had already rejoined planet earth separated him from one of his skis. Whilst the man was thankfully uninjured, the newly independent ski became airborne again until a sudden meeting with a crowd control barrier terminated its brief career as umanned aircraft in a pile of shattered carbon fibre.

Almost as impressive as these serial acts of airborne insanity in the snow were the snow cannon that were busily making snow next to the ski-jump. Alamanicus was amazed to learn that the growing pile of artificially generated snow was to be stockpiled through the summer in order to provide a contingency against poor snowfall next December, when the World Cup ski-jumping event is scheduled to take place at Titisee-Neustadt.

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Alamanicus is wandering his old Alemanni haunts, revisiting the places where once he used to drink, carouse, and beat up the odd Roman legionnaire or two. Things have moved on since his day, and the old Alemanni country now lies across south west Germany, French Alsace, and northern Switzerland. Cut through by the mighty Rhine, it is an area of great beauty, and a lot has happened there since Alamanicus last walked this land.


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Guest Sunday, 27 May 2018

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