Austria keeps draft so military can prepare ski slopes
Two weeks after voting to keep the military draft, neutral Austria has discovered why it needs an army: not for defence but to prepare the ski races so beloved in this alpine country.
Some 70 recruits were mobilised overnight to help combat severe snowfall on the courses of the World Ski Championships in Schladming, which kicked off officially on Monday.
After the famed Hahnenkamm races in Kitzbuehel a week ago, troops in brown could be seen dotted along the icy steep slopes, on skis or armed with large shovels, frantically digging up the protective race nets.
With close to a dozen World Cup events held in this small country every winter — from alpine skiing to ski jumping and nordic combined — the army has often been recruited to clear snow and prepare courses.
At Monday’s glitzy opening ceremony in Schladming — which featured ski acrobatics, lederhosen-clad dancers and the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger — a small troupe of soldiers marched forward to raise the Austrian and International Ski Federation flags.
“Ah, so that’s what we need an army for!,” exclaimed Gerhard, one of the 10,000 spectators in the large arena, to nods and laughs from his neighbours.
Austrians voted in a referendum on January 20 to maintain the current conscription system rather than switch to a professional, more specialised army, bucking a European trend since the end of the Cold War of scrapping the draft.