Thredbo’s 1990s Top-to-Bottom King: Manfred Wolscher

Manfred Wolscher was King of Thredbo’s Top-to-Bottom in the 1990s.

Thredbo’s classic race returns on August 7, after a COVID-enforced hiatus last year, supported by G.H. Mumm. It’s the bees knees of ski and board racing downunder.

We first covered Manfred’s efforts back in our 1999 issue, when he was recovering after nearly dying in the 1998 Top-to-Bottom event. That was the result of a slow diagnosis of a collapsed lung, which was the worst of his injuries from his spectacular high speed exit on the last bend that year.

Manfred sure knew how to tuck, one of the keys to winning © Wolscher family archives

As a popular and committed race coach at Thredbo, Manfred often found himself going up against his current and former pupils. He needed all the expertise acquired growing up in Austria’s super competitive racing system, where he reached Europa Cup level skiing with and against a generation of greats.

Plus he had a little bonus help in the form of skis from his racing buddy, and then leading World Cup race star, Andreas Schifferer.

Through the 90s he was virtually unstoppable, winning an unprecedented 5 Top-to-Bottoms in a row from 1993 to 1997, plus several of the gnarly no-holds-barred Dash for Cash events at Perisher, the other biggie race downunder back in the day.

But even the best laid plans can go awry at the Top-to-Bottom, which is a serious test of fitness, skill, equipment, preparation and tactics.

For openers, the starting uphill run in boots, carrying your skis or board, is a killer for most. Then it’s clip in and charge, while avoiding others in the often fairly marginal conditions that just get worse as the various categories of men’s and women’s open and over 35s boarders and skiers take their toll on the course.

Back in 1999 we asked him what went wrong.

“You were looking great going into the last bend, then blew out big time. What happened?” 

“My problem was my ski was too fast! (laughs) No, honestly I think I had been working much too hard the week before, and I was just a bit exhausted.

There was a guy Shaun Turner, I used to be his coach, and his goal was just to beat me one time, so he was a hard competitor. It was only 50 metres to the finish line, I tried to overtake him, then went into a little dip, sat back, and just couldn’t turn. It was too late, I slid off the course.”

“What was the damage?”

“Two ribs broken, a punctured lung, and a broken vertebrae.”

For those who came in late, The Dash for Cash was a Chinese Downhill style anything goes event designed for live TV viewers who might not know anything about skiing, but could appreciate mayhem. It featured uphill run/skate sections, in a mad scramble to reach the girl holding the $5,000 wad of cash atop a mound of snow. Some years the cash grab was only decided in the melee to be first to scramble up the snow mound, some skiers acting in teams to spoil others’ leading contenders. But Manfred usually got so far in front he had no problems, racking up 3 Dash for Cash Wins.

We caught up with him for an update in 2016.

“Looking back which was the hardest to win, the Dash for Cash or the Top to Bottom?”

“Dash for Cash, however by saying that both were different events with lots of excitement, in particular the Top-to-Bottom as I thought I owned this event, until I crashed.

“What was your secret to winning so many?”

“Self confidence. Fitness – I trained for it. Tactics.”

“In all the racing you did from junior days in Austria to the Europa Cup level, in an era of total legends, how does the Top-to-Bottom stack up on the relative difficulty and achievement scale?”

“Well it is yet again different in all aspects of my achievement as an athlete. Winning international – competing against Alberto Tomba, Edalini, Pramoton, Ingemar Stenmark, Armin Azinger, and to be part of the Euro Cup team was my biggest achievement for sure. However winning so many crazy events like Top-to-Bottom and Dash for Cash is certainly high up in my achievements and so I’m very proud of it.”

“You still getting much ski time in?”

“Not as much as I would like, but my contribution as a FIS Technical Delegate allows me to go to places and mingle with the skiing community. And we also go every second year as a family for 6 weeks to Austria, and we ski in Thredbo nearly every year as a family also.”

“Not tempted to go back and extend the record in the over-35s category?”

“No.”

Postscript:

Manfred took a step back from ski racing and coaching to move to Sydney to set up a successful fitness business, concentrating on workplace health programs with clients including Snowy Hydro, Mars, Ausgrid and RMS. Check them out at

www.healthstyle.net.au

Manfred Wolscher at the 1995 Top-to-Bottom race at Thredbo, which he won
5 Top-to-Bottoms in a row is pretty amazing – and almost #6 © Wolscher family archive