Daron Rahlves, a retired World Cup ski racer, visited the U.S. Alpine Championships this week at Sun Valley Resort. His stop included some pre-sunrise skiing, a screening of the documentary “Streif: One Hell of a Ride” and skiing the super-G courses with four GoPros strapped to him (front-facing and rear-facing on the helmet, plus one each on his chest and a leg) to provide racer point-of-view video to the NBC broadcast (10:30 a.m. Saturday).
Rahlves won seven U.S. national titles, 12 World Cup races and three world championship medals in his career. He won the downhill (2003) and super G (2004) on the Hahnenkamm mountain near Kitzbuhel, Austria, the subject of the “Streif” film. He also finished on the podium seven times in five years in Kitzbuhel. For an idea how harsh the Streif course is, read this.
I caught up with Rahlves this week for a quick Q&A. Here’s what he said:
Q: You said you were on the lift before the sun came up (Wednesday). How was the skiing?
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A: “It was phenomenal. We call this the arc park — you’re just arcing turns for such huge vertical. These runs are so long and the snow is so good.”
Q: What’s your role with “Streif”?
A: (His sponsor, Red Bull, is one of the producers of the film). “It’s a documentary on the most insane downhill on the World Cup circuit. For downhillers, it’s bigger than the Olympics. It reveals what it’s about to train and prepare yourself for it. They follow five current racers from the World Cup. It’s really cool to get a behind-the-scenes look at what the Hahnenkamm is all about. It’s just a big party scene — imagine a ski race with 60,000 people. There’s a lot of energy there. It’s a special race for me. I actually narrate in the film and have a little part in there as well.”
Q: What is that course like? What separates it?
A: “It’s physically tough, like all the other World Cup downhills are. What separates it are just the consequences and the risk it takes to win there. Mentally, it’s the most challenging course on the World Cup circuit. It’s the Super Bowl of skiing.”
Q: Watching the trailer, it didn’t look pretty ...
A: “They’re showing what it’s really like. They’re not trying to hide anything. Crashes are something that people come out for — they’re spectacular — but you want to see a crash where someone gets right back up on their feet and skis away. And that hill, what definitely separates it more, is there’s more career-ending crashes there than any other race hill. There’s a lot of glory to be made there but a lot on the line, risking your life.”
Q: Did you have any bad crashes there?
A: “In 2001, I got third. I was like, ‘I’m coming out to win this thing’ the next year. In ’02, I went a little too aggressive in the upper section and hit the fence hard. Other than that, I had a good run there — seven podiums in five years in downhill and super G. I just kind of stepped to another level there.”
Q: What does it mean to you to have been successful at a place with that reputation?
A: “I take a lot of pride in that. That was the one ski race that you spend a lot of time visualizing, just running the course through your head. That was the one I put through my head a lot during the summer and the fall going into the season.”
Q: You won a bunch of national titles. What is the significance of this week’s event?
A: “It’s more like a relaxing time for a top World Cup skier. You’ve been going through the grind of the whole season. They just finished World Cup finals over in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It’s always nice to take a national title win and I was always gunning for it. You have a chance to meet the young kids. This is the biggest race in the U.S. for the younger kids who are trying to step onto the U.S. Ski Team. There’s some money on the line, too. It’s good for your sponsors, having that exposure. The biggest thing is you want to be known as the best skier in the U.S., so this is the place to prove it. You do it on the World Cup and this is another chance.”
Q: What do you think of the race courses here?
A: “The snow preparation is amazing. This is like World Cup-level preparation — something you’d find in Beaver Creek (in Colorado), which is our biggest race (a World Cup event). This (super G) hill is really tough. It’s unique in the fact that you have this wall, almost a traverse, through there, which is really sweet and this pitch, it’s relentless. It’s steep. You’ve got to be pretty careful. It’s pretty stacked up, so there’s not a lot of swooping, big speed turns. You’re just on and off the edges and really trying to manage your speed on the whole pitch.”