Wagrain-Kleinarl, Austria, April 1, 2019 – After the first ever FIVB Snow Volleyball World Tour event went down in history with a bang on the slopes of the Austrian Alps in Wagrain-Kleinarl, the next stop on the tour will take place in Plan de Corones/Kronplatz, Italy from April 4 to 7. Chaka2 CEO Martin Kaswurm remembers how it all got started way before his marketing company, the biggest promoter of the sport today, was founded.
This fascinating success story starts with the idea of snow volleyball as a professional sport, which shaped up one evening at the Gipfelstadl restaurant next to the mountain station of the Flying Mozart cable car and ignited the fire inside the then-22-year-old Martin, who went on to pursue it to gradually bring snow volleyball to where it is today.
The court near the Flying Mozart mountain station where it all started ten years ago
“This was in November 2008,” Kaswurm starts his story. “As a Wagrainer, I felt we needed some new events in winter sports, outside skiing and snowboarding. A friend of mine, who knew a lot of beach volleyball players, suggested that we do something in Wagrain, so I said, why not organize a snow volleyball tournament. So we went to the Gipfelstad, which is owned by my aunt and uncle, and had a great time thinking up the first ideas - put the court here, invite some beach volleyball players, and so on… This is when and where the concept was born. At the end of that evening, somehow a spark was seeded inside of me, telling me, let’s just give it a try, there is nothing to lose…”
Martin was familiar with the story of fellow Austrian Hannes Jagerhofer. “I had heard how he started with one court and a few benches and he was giving away free beer. Then he got Niki Lauda on board and then suddenly his Klagenfurt event became huge. I was raised to always have a vision, always dream and always dream big. I thought, if this guy can do this on the sand, I am sure we can do this on the snow,” Martin continues.
After initiating the idea together with his friend, Martin took the lead in actually making it all happen. “We founded an officially licensed snow volleyball club,” he recollects. “I am still keeping the pencil drawing that I made on my own - of the centre court, with the stands and the restaurant. With this picture in my hand, it was a 50x50cm frame that said Snow Volleyball Grand Slam, I went from one local company to the next, asking for 500 euros here, 1000 there, and I ended up with around 50 thousand euros worth of sponsorship. To me this was a sign - ‘Wow! That works! Either it’s my enthusiasm, or it’s an idea with great potential.’” As it turned out, it was both.
The pencil drawing that helped young Martin promote his first snow volleyball event
They decided to hold the event on March 7, 2009. “I think we picked the worst weekend possible, because we were not familiar with the volleyball and beach volleyball calendars,” the story continues. “Still, we got some good professional beach volleyball players – four male and one female, all Austrian. Since only one girl signed up, Magdalena Jirak, we had the marketing idea to have her play alone, dressed in black, against two spectators in a show game. It was important to show that women can play this sport too. The four guys, Felix Reitsperger, Andre Hitzenbichler, Berni Strauss and Martin Streitfellner, played everybody with everybody against each other, points were counted and eventually Felix topped the rankings to become the first-ever King of the Snow and the first to receive the now internationally famous royal stag trophy, which I got from my uncle.”
The official poster of the first snow volleyball event in 2009
“The event started around 11 in the morning and lasted for about five hours. We were not lucky with the weather, it was super cold, so we had only 20 to 30 spectators, mostly friends and family. But this did not put me down, because I saw the potential. We had more budget than expected and since we had to reinvest it, we got a helicopter, a video crew, cheerleaders, the best announcers and set off a huge marketing campaign,” reminisces Kaswurm. “But it was in 2010, the second edition, when I saw the great potential. With the visuals we got in 2009, we made a huge nationwide promotion through social media and it all just exploded. We had all these sponsors coming on board, because they liked the idea of this crazy fancy new thing that came. And of course, it was the ski resort that came into play, because they saw this as an alternative to skiing.”
This incredible success story is still unfolding today. Snow volleyball has grown tremendously for the 11 seasons it has existed as a professional sport. In 2015, the CEV officially took the sport under its umbrella, setting off a number of other promoters to join in on organizing European Tour events. In 2018, as many as 17 national championships were held all over the continent as qualifying events for the first European Championships. But now with more than 40 events on its belt, including the Snow Volleyball Night exhibition at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games and the first World Tour stops, Chaka2 remains a key engine of the sport.
With the FIVB getting involved, snow volleyball looks set to charter new territories. How soon Martin Kaswurm’s dream to ultimately see snow volleyball as an Olympic sport will be accomplished remains to be seen, but it seems to be the best and the most logical culmination of this young Austrian’s success story.
“Starting a World Tour is a tremendous step, but also the logical next step, because we went through recognition by the Austrian Volleyball Federation and recognition by the European Volleyball Confederation to get to this recognition by FIVB, the International Volleyball Federation. With this massive working group involved in the development of snow volleyball, it is great to see the global growth of the sport. At the kick-off event we had teams from all five continents, which is a huge achievement and the right way to go. I am definitely looking forward to the next steps and I am very excited. In their plans, the FIVB have an exhibition at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne next year, alongside a 2020 World Tour with four to six stops, and, most importantly, the World Championships in 2021. Ten years ago, we had our vision, we had our dreams, but this is definitely beyond what we could have imagined.”
At the 2019 World Tour event in Wagrain-Kleinarl, Kaswurm in the company of athletes from all five different continents
“I do not see myself as the inventor of snow volleyball, because you can Google up some pictures or texts from the 1980s, or even earlier. But it was just for recreation. It was not a ‘product’, as I always say. I love volleyball and beach volleyball, but I never played professionally. My background is in event management and marketing for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. So I always saw snow volleyball’s potential from the marketing perspective, and eleven seasons later I am still dreaming big.”
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