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30th Anniversary of the 1991 Alpine Ski World Championships

Special Exhibition at the historic Homestead and Ski Museums in Saalbach

The Homestead and Ski Museums in Saalbach have opened a new special exhibition to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary “Sunshine Ski World Championships” in November 2021. Running under the motto “30 Jahre Ski WM 1991”, the exhibition features exclusive insights and historic artifacts from the 1991 Alpine Ski World Championships, a documentary of the event by Austria’s public broadcaster ORF as well as informative display panels and a number of personal accounts by the protagonists of the time. The exhibition is accompanied by a foray into the culture of the 90s as well as artwork by the late Austrian painter, graphic artist, stage designer, singer and poet Arik Brauer – just like in 1991.

A trip back to the 90s

The tour through the exhibition starts with a quote which appeared in the newspaper ‘Salzburger Nachrichten’ on January 21, 1991:

“The World Championships were the stage for a perfect ski circus.
A highlight that illuminates the future.”

The quote is an homage to the years of planning and hard work that culminated in the “Sunshine Ski World Championships” which thrilled the world with perfect, sunny conditions and close, hard-fought battles on the slopes of Saalbach. Simultaneously, the quote foreshadows the road ahead and shows the author’s understanding of the impact this event would have on the future and reputation of this small village.

Next up is a summary of the races including all results and podiums before the exhibition travels all the way back to the very beginning – the 36th FIS Congress in Istanbul that saw the selection of Saalbach as host.

The next section is a proper throwback to the 90s. Hit songs like Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No. 5’ provide the backing track and transport visitors back in time whilst national and international milestones of the history of the time encourage you to relive personal memories from the 90s. One of the memories that are brought up show how world politics and events can sometimes have an impact on sports as well. A prime example of such a case being the planned grand opening ceremony of the 1991 Alpine Ski World Champions which was overshadowed by the start of the Second Gulf War and thus cancelled. Many locals still think back to that day as the students at the local schools had spent months rehearsing acts and choreographies for the ceremony that never was.

Next to displays showcasing the fashion, world events and zeitgeist of the 90s, the room features three different models of the ‘Ski Arena Schattberg’. The original plans had included the Schattberg mountain as one of the venues but were scrapped at a later point.

The entrance to the next room of the exhibition is decorated with images showcasing the many emotions that made the event so special. The official mascots, the clowns, entertaining the crowds during breaks, the young mother Ulli Maier in the finish area shortly after her run to victory, the passionate and excited crowds and the sheer relief of Josef ‘Jo’ Schmid after a successful race run without mistakes show a unique perspective of the many emotional layers that an event of such magnitude entices. 

The following room shows impactful photos taken by fans and staff as well as descriptions and memories of interactions with stars like Stephan Eberharter, Marc Girardelli, Petra Kronberger, Helmut Höflehner, Rudi Nierlich and Ulli Maier.

Moving up one floor, the exhibition shows sketches and original plans by American René Lagler. The event organizers managed to get in contact with Lagler, who was involved in the production of the legendary film ‘The Sound of Music’, and who then supported the preparations for the event by creating a variety of sketches and plans.

Visitors then make their way to the Ski Museum which is housed in an original building that was constructed in 1698 and then carefully de-constructed and rebuilt next to the Homestead Museum in 1994.

The first room of the second part of the exhibition features a detailed documentary of the reporting on the Ski World Championships by Austrian broadcast network ORF. Original interviews and reports on the event provide a glimpse of how the event was seen by people all around the world and are accompanied by Arik Brauer’s song ‘Schattberglied’, which was written and composed with the originally planned location of the Downhill events in mind.

Even back then, the organizers knew of the importance of integrating art and culture into such a large sporting event which is why the next room features the two paintings, ‘Der Schwung’ (The Turn) and ‘Der Sprung’ (The Jump), which Arik Brauer, who sadly passed away in 2021, created for the event. Next to the paintings, the room features a closer look at the life and work of the famous artist, who had a personal connection to the town and valley through renowned Saalbach artist Evi Festerer.

The exhibition then continues on the second floor of the Ski Museum with a snapshot of the winter sports fashion of the time. Ski suits, signed ski boots, a collection of original merchandising articles and an original starting number as well as pieces of the original outfits of the staff and volunteers are displayed next to 200 further historical items that illustrate the history of skiing in Saalbach.

The exhibition truly brings back memories. Next to interested guests, the exhibition is visited by many people from the region who helped with the event in one way or another back in 1991. Many use the opportunity to tell their story – how they worked as drivers, how they rehearsed for the opening ceremony as school children or how they followed the spectacle from the stands. Some have even brought personal memorabilia from the time with them, which in some cases ended up being added to the exhibition itself.

During the event, every house in town received the “WM-Zeitung” (World Championship Newspaper) daily. As the distribution for the special newspaper wasn’t possible via post, the Bakery Umberger included the paper with their morning bread roll deliveries to distributed it all across town. Thanks to the amazing support by Ulrike Hofer, who acted as deputy to general secretary Hannes Fürstauer during the event, these one-of-a-kind newspapers could be reprinted and are now available to be collected at the Homestead Museum.

When the Second Gulf War began, it wasn’t clear whether the Ski World Championships would be cancelled over security concerns, which is why the opening ceremony was shortened to a bare minimum.

History has now repeated itself somewhat as the grand opening of the exhibition was affected heavily by the pandemic. Instead of a grand celebration featuring former athletes, journalists, members of the organizing committee and volunteers as well as the family of the late Arik Brauer, the lockdown in the fall of 2021 restricted the opening of the exhibition to a casual ‘open house’-style event.

Maria Mitterer, Chairwoman of the Homestead Museum, summarizes:

“A special thank you to Heinz Bayer who has been a big supporter of the exhibition from the very beginning. His commitment to the exhibition and the countless photos from his collection have been an invaluable contribution. Furthermore, I want to thank the Hinterglemmer Bergbahnen and especially Peter Mitterer and ski school owner and former ski racer Bascht Gensbichler whose accounts of the event have been instrumental in creating this exhibition. A big thank you also goes out to the Tourismusverband Saalbach and the Saalbacher Bergbahnen, whose dedication and support have allowed us to put this exhibition together in such a short amount of time.

Next to memorabilia and artifacts from the ‘Sunshine Ski World Championships’, the current exhibition also features first sketches, details and plans for the upcoming 2025 Alpine Ski World Championships in Saalbach. Maria Mitterer is hopeful that the event will once again unite the people of the region to put on an unforgettable event that shines bright into the future. The way the local people rallied together in 1991 is still one of the fondest memories created by the event and serves as an inspiration to this day.

The Homestead and Ski Museums in Saalbach are seen as the cultural heart of the Glemmtal Valley. Changing exhibitions by local, national and international artitsts fill the histroic rooms with new life, year after year. The special ehibition ‘30 Jahre Ski WM 1991’ will be on display throughout 2022 as well as the 2022/2023 season and will continue to provide inspiration and cultural grounding for the preparations of the 2025 Alpine Ski World Championships in Saalbach Hinterglemm.

The opening times of the Homestead and Ski Museums can be found here.