How it all began
When I was small, like all children, I was very energetic, loved to move around and discover lots of new things.
From a young age, I was very athletic, and practiced many different sports.
When I was three years old, my parents gave me my first wooden skis with leather bindings for Christmas. That was how I discovered my passion for skiing. Every day, after school, I would ski until dark on the slope near my home in Skoczow, in the Polish region of Silesia. When I was six years old, I also started playing soccer at my hometown club, Beskid Skoczow. This sport became my other big passion.
As a child, I always wanted to become a world champion in alpine skiing and a professional soccer player. My soccer career took me all the way to the second highest Polish league, and I was picked for the U18 national team.
My skiing career, on the other hand, ended when I was 16. At that time, I was very successful in my age group and ran in many national youth races, winning all but two of them.
For me to be able to pursue my much-desired international skiing career, however, my parents would have had to invest a lot of money. We were living in communist times, and my parents’ financial resources were limited. And this is how my international skiing career ended before it had even begun. This was a bitter pill to swallow, and I was devastated and deeply saddened.
One evening, during a very snowy winter, my parents sat down with me and we had a constructive crisis talk.
My father told me that in our area (the Beskid Mountains), nearly every state-owned company had a skibob club. Every weekend, employees, workers and family members could ride a free company bus to the ski area and practice skibobbing. The firms would also let each person use a company skibob and foot skis for free. At that point, I was moderately enthusiastic. My parents offered to bring home a skibob so I could try it out.
I was on board with that. A few days later, on a Friday, an old Fritzmeier skibob was waiting for me at home. All evening long, I was looking at this “strange device” with skepticism. The next day, I had to get up early and make it to my first skibobbing practice. I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep. Very early the next morning, I walked to the company where my father worked. The first challenge was to make it to the meeting point while carrying 80 pounds on my back and in my hands. (By way of comparison, nowadays, a skibob weighs about 15 pounds!)
With about 50 people on the bus and 50 skibobs on the roof, we drove to the ski area. As usual, the ski lift wasn’t working, and we had to schlep our skibobs up 1,700 feet on unprepared snow. During the climb, we went into the forest and cut sticks to build the gates. We set up the gates, the accompanying staff took their stopwatches, established radio connection, and the first racers started their training runs. I waited in vain at the starting point, hoping a coach would give me some tips and instructions regarding the technique. Eventually, I shyly asked one of the racers if he could explain the technique to me. He answered: “Just sit down on the skibob and ride down the slope, passing through the gates.” What an informative introduction to skibobbing technique! So I sat down on my old skibob, and, going last, without any idea of what I was doing, I embarked on my first training run. I had always been very goal-oriented and determined, so I zoomed down the slope at top speed, getting from gate to gate without fear, trying to apply my skiing technique to skibobbing.
Each training run would be timed by the coaches. After crossing the finish line, I was eager to find out my time, and asked the coach. I made the second best time of all participants. However, the coaches were certain that there had been a mistake in timing. Among the other people practicing with me were international skibob racers competing in the highest division. That was why they couldn’t believe my time was accurate. On that day, we did a total of five runs. On each run, I improved and beat my previous personal record, achieving the best runtime four out of the five times. The coaches were gobsmacked. They couldn’t, or perhaps weren’t willing to, imagine that a complete beginner was beating seasoned racers on his first try.
Exhausted but proud, I went home. On that day in 1978, my passion for skibobbing was born.
picture: World Cup Race in the 80s in Szczyrk, Silesia, Poland with my nephew Raphal and my father Boleslaw.
The next day, my father asked me if I wanted to join the Beskid Skoczow skibob club and compete in the national championships in Ustron the week after. Ecstatic, I said yes, and one week later, I was a triple vice national champion in the youth category.
picture: An international slalom race in the late 70s.
The next Tuesday, I found out in the paper that I had been picked for the national youth team. One week later, I competed in the European Youth Championships in what was then Czechoslovakia. I made it into the top ten in four disciplines. The following week, I was allowed to take part in the Junior World Championships in Piesendorf, Austria. I took third place in the slalom, but was later disqualified without any explanation. It was like having the rug pulled out from under me. This disappointment gave me the motivation to become a world skibob champion.
I returned home, and started practicing meticulously every single day.
As a young skibobber, however, I could soon tell that the coaches and other staff did not know enough about skibobbing technique and equipment to further our development as burgeoning skibobbers. I did appreciate their dedication and their passion for the sport of skibobbing, but felt I had to set off on a quest for additional sources of information. There was no literature on the subject, and back then, there was no Internet either. After searching far and wide, I came to the conclusion that there was no learning material whatsoever. The only way I could learn more about the technique of skibobbing was by observing and analyzing the world’s best skibobbers. I wanted to understand why they were faster than the others, and above all, why they were faster than me. My observations and thorough analyses soon bore fruit. I started training even harder and more professionally, and gradually improved my speed and confidence. However, my tireless work and my improved skibobbing technique were not enough to take on the world’s best.
There was still another major problem to be solved. My skibobbing gear was very old, and absolutely not competitive.
My club did not have any professional-grade skibobs, and my parents couldn’t afford one. But I found a solution to this problem: “I’ll just build my own skibob in the basement!” Build a skibob? Easier said than done! I knew nothing about skibob geometry or anything related to it. “LEARNING BY DOING” became my new motto.
For many years, I worked meticulously on the skibob I was trying to develop, and experienced countless setbacks. Yet I never gave up!
Every time I altered my skibob, I had to test it on the snow, too. However, my parents didn’t have a car, so I had to ride the bus to take my self-built skibob to the ski lift. I packed my 80-pound bag (the skibob itself weighed 55 pounds), and walked 30 minutes to the bus stop. One hour later, the bus had brought me closer to my destination. I still had to walk another 45 minutes from the bus stop to the ski lift. Along the way, I was anxious: Would the ski lift be working, or would I have to push the skibob 1,700 feet up the slope again? When I was unlucky and the lift was out of order, I could at least set up the gates using sticks on my way up.
picture: On my way to practice in Brenna, Silesia, Poland, in the late 70s
picture: After practice in Brenna, Silesia, Poland, in the late 70s
Unfortunately, many times, my skibob fell apart after just a few trial runs. When I was really unlucky, it would break on the very first run. After each failed attempt, I was very disappointed and walking home was even more cumbersome.
But over time, I pulled off more and more successful tests and was able to continuously improve my skibob over the years. I worked on it for thousands of hours, accumulating a world’s worth of knowledge and lots of experience.
From a young age, I wanted to live in Austria, the land of my ancestors. Early on, this beautiful country with its many mountains was fascinating to me, and so was its language.
This fascination was sparked by my grandfather’s tales. In German, he told me about the mountains in Austria, and brought me closer to Austrian culture.
In the early 80s, I visited a romantic village in Austria called Dorfgastein, where the opening of the Skibob World Cup would take place every year.
Five years in a row, I stayed over on a farm owned by the Strobl family, and over time, we became friends.
When I decided to leave socialist Poland, which was quite an adventure at the time, I fled to Austria with my entire savings in my pocket: 500 Austrian schillings (about $40), and set up quarters at the Strobls’ in Dorfgastein.
I was extremely lucky: they let me live in a small room in their old wooden house free of charge. As a token of appreciation for their hospitality, I was always ready to give a helping hand in the cowshed, which was located near my room. Not even one week into my new life, the Strobls helped me find a job as a physical therapist and sports scientist at a spa hotel.
And when I knocked on the door of the Skibob Klub Bad Hofgastein and asked if I could become a member, they gave me a warm welcome. I trained hard, and soon got a chance to practice with the Austrian national skibob team in Innerkrems. I was overjoyed that I could train with the best of the best! The national team’s athletes and staff were very welcoming, and I fit in well.
I went through the accelerated procedure to obtain Austrian citizenship, and my dream of becoming an Austrian came true.
My skibobbing kept improving, and I eventually got an opportunity to transfer to a different club. My new club, Skibob Union Linz, and Gerhard Hauer, the club’s president at the time, helped me with organizational and financial support. I was all set to compete in national and international races.
In 1992, I started my own company in Saalfelden, Austria. Until 1996, in addition to working, I practiced five days a week, mostly during lunch break and in the evening. At the World Skibob Championships in Semmering, Austria and Mals, Italy, I became a four-time world skibob champion in my category.
During the 1995/96 season, for work-related reasons, I decided to end my career after the World Cup finals in Destne, Czech Republic. My very last run was during the parallel slalom final. My opponent was Markus Moser, who was to become the most successful skibobber of all time over the course of his career. Halfway through the race, I had a comfortable lead, and nothing was going to stop me from achieving my last career win. Yet at the last jump, four gates away from victory, my left foot ski got caught in a deep hole in the snow, and I took a severe fall. As a consequence, I had to undergo a four-hour knee operation.
After retiring as a racer, I was appointed head national coach by the Austrian Skibob Association (ÖSBV) for five years in a row, and, to my satisfaction, my protégés were extremely successful.
Then, I was sports director at the International Skibob Federation (FISB) for eight years,
and in parallel, I helped set up the American SkiBike Association as well as the U.S. national team. During this time, I made my comeback as a skibob racer on American snow, and won many victories at skibike races.
Since 1992, I have been developing and building skibobs for both recreational and competitive riders, as well as for people with disabilities. I have my own Skibob Academy, where I give courses for skibobbers and train people to become “skibob instructors” and “skibob instructors for people with disabilities.”
From my first skibobbing practice on the slope near my house until today, my passion for skibobbing has remained unchanged: I am a true enthusiast of this sport. I still enjoy every second spent riding my skibob and, deep down inside, still feel like the young boy with his skibobbing dreams.
picture: My cousin Janusz (right) and I in the early 80s
picture: An international race in Brenna, Silesia, Poland – helmets were not mandatory yet – in the late 70s on my self-built skibob
picture: International RTL race in the late 70s
picture: My first World Cup participation in the early 80s
picture: International Super-G race in the early 80s, with home-made skiing gloves
picture: World Cup finals in Szczyrk, Silesia, Poland, in the 80s
picture: The Austrian national team at the World Cup finals in Grächen, Switzerland, in the 90s (Stalmach at the top right, back row)
picture: Course inspection with the Austrian national team at a World Championships event in the 2000s (Stalmach to the far right)