The famous Camel Jumps on the Saslong slope


„I was extremely afraid. I really thought I may be unsuccessful and must collect all my bones after the jump“.

The “Camel Hunches” are famous, notorious and ill-famed. For years, they threw off many a competitor, until some 20 years ago a courageous Tyrolian ventured to “jump” them. Insiders say that the Camel Hunches are part of the “key sites” of the World Cup Circuit. Originally, the three hunches had been named “Kangaroo Jumps” and were later on re-named by the unforgettable Gardena/Gröden TD Fis Sepp Sulzberger.

The idea hadn’t been new. Already in the seventies, right after the World Championships, the world’s leading downhillers harboured the idea of jumping the Camel Hunches. Bernard Russi, the World Champion, Werner Griessman, the Joker, Franz Klammer, later Olympic Champion, and Uli Spiess, the “nobody” from the Zillertal.
In December 1976, this “nobody”, a newcomer in the Austrian team, started for this first time in Gröden-Gardena, and right from the beginning he fell in love with the Saslong. Like courting a woman he studied if for five years, he flirted with ther until he knew her inside out. Only at this point he touched her more intensely, part by part. He stopped at her breasts which he liked most of all. 1976 he had caressed them for the first time. He conquered them with his skis in 1980.

After wining the Val d’Isère downhill, he was highly motivated and felt strong enough for conquering the “hilly lady”.

Jumping had been his big passion for years. While studying the training video analysis in his hotel, he discovered that a big jump would result in a time improvement. So he decided to take the risk and to be the first to jump into the unknown. But not right away.

Uli Spiess had accomplished a thorough preparation. In order to obtain the right feeling for “flying”, he first tried the 70 m jump at Mayrhofen. Thinking this was not far enough, he jumped the 90 m at Wörgl. He wanted to copy the jumpers’ postures and find out the impact of a long jump. What he wanted was to be able to leave the edge of the jump in a long parable in order to achieve the longest possible jump.

The test on the two austrian jumps succeeded so his mind was made up. “At course inspection friends and coaches declared me for mad when they learned about my plan”, he remembers. For me, the three jumps looked equally high as the Langkofel.
Uli Spiess, however, still wasn’t sure enough. He knew that a minimum speed of 120 km/h was essential to jump the hills. At the first training run, he was determined to jump, but ten seconds prior to the start he was radioed by his coach Charly Kahr “greetings – if I was you I won’t jump”. But Uli had already talked with his father beforehand who had encouraged him with the word “jump”. This recommendation was stronger.

He moved out of the starting device and remembers “I did the part of slope till to the camel hunches unconciously – I was extremely afraid, I really thought I may be unsuccessful and must collect all my bones after the jump.”

It was a cold December day and the slope was extremely fast. Fast enough to enable Uli to approach the jump with the necessary speed. Lots of spectators and coaches were lined up along the jumps – they had been alerted by media reports of what was going to happen that day. He arrived like a bullet, barely jumped the first hill and right at the edge of the second hill flew away in a height of 6 – 7 meters above the ground and landed after an elegant 50 m flight exactly on the projected spot after the third hunch, continuing his descent in directon of the Ciaslat meadows.

He was the first man to jump the “Camel Hunches”. “A unique feeling”, he members, winning here about 20 to 30 meters against the Canadian Ken Read, the winner of the race. He was overall fifth in the first and second in the second race and he is convinced that “without jumping the hunches I would have landed way back in the result list – I am certain the jump put me ahead of exactly one second”.

The Uli Spiess jump was later copied by other competitors. Peter Wirnsberger and Helmuth Höfklehner, for instance, did it quite successfully. Anton Steiner was less successful when in the eighties he jumped off too late and also Giorgio Piantanida was heavily injured – both had to be flown to the hospital by helicopter.

Over the years, the camel hunches were repeatedly modified and partly “defused”. One year after Spiess’s achievement, the Swiss Coach Karl Frehsner arranged to adopt a new line by laterally moving a gate pole by 3 m. Uli Spiess, however, wasn’t discouraged at all and successfully “flew” the jump nontheless, to the satisfaction and delight fo the world wide tv audience.

But not all the competitors were convinced that the jump would generate a time improvement. So, Marc Girardelli, at this debut in Gardena/Gröden in 1986, decided to choose a different line. He was sure he could stay longer in a crouch if he won’t jump and thus gain 20 m. This line has been called the “Girardelli line” up to this day.

Gernot Mussner