Part-time Breckenridge resident and World Cup winner produces ‘Smoke in the Tunnel,’ a film about the Kaprun disaster
For more than 10 years, former professional skier Richard Schabl has been working on producing his movie, “Smoke in the Tunnel.” The film, shot in both Austria and Breckenridge, Colorado, showcases the true story of the Kaprun disaster in Austria, which killed more than 150 people after a fire broke out in a train taking skiers through a tunnel to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier on Nov. 11, 2000. For Schabl, who was at the ski resort that day and chose the gondola instead of the train, the film is a way to bring more light to a tragic event in which he lost many friends.
Schabl has lived part time in Breckenridge since winning the FIS Freestyle World Cup at Breckenridge Ski Resort at age 23. Growing up in the mountains of Germany, he won three world championships — his last was in France in 1986 — in freestyle skiing, and also invented the one-handed pole flip. He owns a world record for 22 flips in 60 seconds on a ski deck (a revolving carpet).
“Smoke in the Tunnel” will be released on Nov. 11, 2016, on the 15th anniversary of the Kaprun disaster. The movie, created with production company Succes’S IBC, has been in the works for more than 10 years with more than 8.5 million dollars in expenses. The film showcases scenery in the Austrian Alps and Rocky Mountains, along with expert skiers and riders in the industry.
Opened in 1974, the Gletscherbahn Kaprun 2 was a funicular railway in Kaprun, Austria, carrying skiers to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. The railway, modernized in 1993, had two trains on the track, one that went up while at the same time the other descended, powered by a motorized winch system. The trains did not have engines, fuel tanks or drivers — only an attendant who operated the hydraulic doors. When a fire broke out in the electric fan heater in the unattended attendant cabin at the lower end of one of the trains, there were 167 passengers and one attendant on board. The passengers had no way of contacting the attendant after the train caught fire and halted unexpectedly about 600 yards inside the tunnel. Once the conductor realized what was happening, he tried to open the hydraulically operated doors, but the system pressure loss prevented them from operating. Only 12 people in the rear of the train survived after breaking a window and escaping downwards past the fire and below the smoke. Eventually, the conductor was able to unlock the doors, but the passengers who at that point were still able to flee, went up the tunnel and away from the fire. The tunnel acted like a furnace, bringing oxygen in from the bottom and sent the smoke, heat and fire rapidly upwards, and none survived. The tunnel remains closed today.
Schabl said the production team spent almost three winter seasons in Breckenridge.
“I have step-by-step filmed the sequences showing the beauty of this historic town where I have been successfully since 1984 when I won my first World Cup Freestyle championship,” he said.
It showcases local Summit County talent, including Mark Tiezen, Fred Horvath and drone expert Cameron Sale, he said.
Schabl said highlights of the film include freestyle aerial footage with World Champion Lloyed Langois, telemark skiing stunts of Mark Tiezen and helicopter skiing in the Alps, Austria.
The film will be released in theaters in the U.S. and Europe. An e-book has also been released.
“I want to give donations to the families (that) have lost their kids and relatives and (have) not got support from anyone,” Schabl said.
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