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Topless tobogganers receive an icy reception

NUDE BATHING on public beaches and Alpine hiking in the buff may rate as everyday Teutonic pastimes, but the outraged burghers of eastern Germany's highest ski resort draw the line at the nation's latest winter sport: topless tobogganing.

The new snow discipline proved hugely popular last year when women clad in helmets, boots, bikini bottoms and little else took to the slopes of central Germany's Harz mountains for a debut competition near the town of Braunlage. The event attracted a 12,000-strong crowd.

But plans to hold a similar competition next month in the east German ski resort of Oberwiesenthal have caused a furore. "It is utterly sexist, it denigrates women by treating them as sex objects," complained Erika Zeun, a member of a local feminist group which is protesting against the event.

Mirko Ernst, 42, the town's mayor, said many of Oberwiesenthal's inhabitants also feared the event would tarnish the image of eastern Germany's most famous ski resort. The town produced the legendary East German ski jump champion and triple Olympic gold medallist Jens Weissflog. "A majority is against the naked tobogganing," he complained. "The good name of our town will be damaged."

Jochen Nöske, a Leipzig property dealer who is promoting the bare-breasted sledging, says he has considerable support for his event, which will award €100 in travel expenses for each team and a €300 prize to the winner. The town council is scheduled to vote on whether to give the go-ahead by the end of the week. "If they vote against me, I'll simply cross over to the Czech Republic and hold the event there," Mr Nöske said.