“Are you completely mad?” is one of the kinder comments in response to our plan to traverse all major Alpine passes in four days. But what else can you do when you’re hopelessly smitten with the mountains and time is limited? Now it’s time to compile the ultimate tour of countless roads, passes and traverses that drivers can undertake on just one long weekend. After all, life can become boring if you don’t have new goals. And while Reinhold Messner conquered merely “Seven Summits”, in our post-adolescent exuberance, we decide to tackle 14 Alpine passes plus one dead-end. The Mille Miglia of the Alps, so to speak. With a lot of corners. And not a lot of sleep. What is it exactly that keeps luring a designer and photographer like Stefan Bogner and a journalist like me to the mountains? What do we think we might discover up there above the tree line, between barren rocks and glaciers, mountain lakes and Alpine meadows?
The story begins with a massive, geological pile-up. It wasn’t even 30 million years ago that the continental plates of Europe and Africa collided, as it were, at full speed. Enormous masses of rock were heaved from the ocean floor into the air, in some places stretching thousands of metres skywards. The Alps were born. Even today, evidence of this mighty crash is still evident – although the forces of water, wind and sun endeavour everyday to wear away the peaks and restore geological order. For a long time, the Alps posed a hurdle for mankind, an obstacle that had to be overcome. Whether it was prehistoric hunters, Roman soldiers, or medieval traders with their wares – they were all relieved to have survived the dangerous mountain crossing once again. But over the centuries, the folk in the valleys become bored, they yearn for new adventures – and they suddenly see the mountains in a different light.
From the mid-19th century, travellers flock to the mountains. At first it is just brave climbers and spa guests hoping that the high altitude air would help alleviate their ailments from the rigors of civilisation. But with the advent of the automobile in the cities, the Alpine passes are upgraded for the new visitors. Ingenious constructors and engineers defy all odds to build elaborate roads over yawning gorges and steep slopes. The new roads not only link valleys, cantons, countries and cultures – with their adventurous curves, they also attract a completely new kind of traveller: the sporty driver. At Alpine competitions, like the Klausen Pass race, death-defying gentlemen in their hurtling machines surrender completely to the thrill of acceleration, literally pushing themselves to the edge of the abyss.
Moviemakers quickly discover the Alpine passes as a monumental backdrop: The high mountain switchbacks in films like “Goldfinger” and “The Italian Job” entice ambitious motorists. With their topography, the pass roads offer a truly cinematic experience to those who tackle them: The fast ups and downs seem to accelerate perception, the serpentines provoke hard cuts, perspectives change at lightning speed – and when the vista suddenly opens up after negotiating several tight corner combinations or exiting a dark tunnel, and the sun sparkles on the snow-capped peaks of the three-thousanders on the horizon, then even the best Hollywood movie is no match. The fact that the driver in this road movie not only shoots the images, but is also the conductor of centrifugal forces under steering, braking and accelerating, ultimately makes the Alpine tour one mighty spectacle.
It is the passion for this wild rollercoaster ride – on masterpieces of road construction and through some of the most stunning scenery in the world – that links Stefan Bogner and me. And this is precisely what brought us together for this book. It’s why we pore over maps and travel guides, study altitude profiles and corner radii, we browse though libraries and archives, letting ourselves once again get carried away by our love of the mountains, a devotion that many before us have succumbed to – until we eventually work out our final route. Fourteen passes, four days, a tour we highly recommend to replicate. One can undertake this Alpine journey, of course, in any vehicle, or on motorbike. Or even, if you’re extremely intrepid and have thighs of steel, on a bicycle. However, the perfect interface between man and serpentine – and we are both in agreement on this – is at the wheel of a well setup, not too heavy sports car from Porsche.
It is probably no coincidence that the inventor of the Porsche comes from the Austrian Alps and not from the Lüneburg Heath. The experiences and successes at many hill-climb races – such as the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, “home turf” for the Porsche family – continues to influence the sporting quality of the cars today. I became addicted to the Alpine passes at the wheel of his very first classic Porsche 911, and during my journeys for “Curves” i met many other enthusiastic Porsche drivers. (Stefan Bogner, Jan Baedeker)