Most of past ski legends manage to remain on a successful path in the second period of their professional lives, understanding perfectly how to use their name and fame to make a good and sometimes even an excellent living.
Triple Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy is often presented as the best example of a brilliant career as businessman after signing his first contracts with IMG’s founder, the legendary Mark McCormack. The former sports icon is now an estimated member of the IOC and a recognized expert in the international sports world.
Many other former top champions too made good money after retiring from the white scene even though they decided to leave the field of sports. Kitzbühel’s celebrated slalom ace Hansi Hinterseer, considered by many as one of the most talented skiers in the history of ski racing, is now a very popular singer who's sold millions of records in the past twenty years.
Another racer from Tyrol, Klaus Heidegger, lives on a huge ranch near Malibu, California, after having been one of Ingemar Stenmark’s toughest rivals in the late 1970s. He married the daughter of an American businessman who ran a small cosmetics company in New York named “Kiehl’s”. Heidegger strongly contributed to establishing it as a frontrunner among the new brand of natural products before selling it, apparently for hundreds of millions of dollars, to the world leader “L’Oréal”.
Other former heroes sought for a more relaxed living. Switzerland’s all-time great Pirmin Zurbriggen is now happy as a normal innkeeper in Zermatt along his wife Monika and their numerous kids. Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, who retired last spring after a series of impressive wins in the speed events during his career, also wishes to take it easy now with his family in Zauchensee, south of Salzburg, where he owns a large hotel.
This is certainly not the case for former speed specialist Luc Alphand, the last French to clinch the overall World Cup trophy back in 1997 – beating Norway’s top-gun Kjetil Andre Aamodt during the Finals at Vail, Colorado.
A winner of twelve super-G and downhill races, including the grueling Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel, Alphand needed over ten years to confirm his potential after becoming junior super-G world champion in 1983. During that long decade, ‘Lucco’ was more known for his sometimes spectacular crashes on nearly each downhill course.
Victory at Paris-Dakar 2006
After retiring from the ‘White Circus’ in 1997 at the age of 32, the skier from Serre Chevalier decided, as several other skiers prior him, to try his chances in motor-racing. He soon confirmed his potential in that field in prestigious events such as Le Mans or Paris-Dakar. He even won the famous rally in 2006, and finished 2nd twice, in 2005 and 2007.
Yet he didn’t forget his roots and enjoyed attending most of the alpine medals events which he commented for a French TV channel. In the meantime, his older daughter Estelle (16) is a promising ‘junior’ in the French team, aiming for a debut on the World Cup tour.
A spectacular crash during a motorbike race nearly ended in a tragic way for Alphand in June 2009 – in fact, the French star was very lucky to survive it, avoiding being paralyzed after seriously hurting his back.
After a long reeducation, Alphand slowly came back to the sports fields yet his damaged back and insurance problems didn’t allow him continue racing and risking his life on the tracks. Looking for other exciting challenges around him, he discovered the fascinating world of sailing in 2010 and decided to learn becoming a skipper.
An adventurous activity
Together with the noted French skippers Marc Thiercelin, he started in the challenging Transat ‘Jacques Vabre’ Race last week, going from Le Havre to Puerton Limon, in Costa Rica on a 60-feet-long-Imoca sailing boat of seven tons named ‘DCNS 1000’.
He took part in a few regattas during the summer in the south of France (Giraglia Trophy) and England (Fasnet) and trained intensively with his very experienced partner. Thiercelin, an acknowledged sailor who already excelled in many major events, was astonished by Alphand’s skill in the new activity for him.
“Pretty soon he sailed with much feeling and a great sense of the right tactic, obviously his past as an excellent skier and gutsy pilot strongly helped him to soon find his marks in our sport,” he said after a few months of sailing.
“He learned quickly and I believe he will not need much time to also shine in sailing if he really enjoys it.” Thiercelin added.
Luc Alphand has learned to be patient and to take time to get at the top. For the moment, he was just very excited to be able to find another exciting activity after moving at his edges for so many years on snow, on closed circuits, on sand and dirt roads. “After my motorcycle accident, I could not keep on racing with cars, it was just too dangerous for my health so I had to look for something new which could produce as much adrenaline as my previous careers,” explained the now 46-year-old Frenchman.
A thrilling life
“Sailing certainly is one of the last adventurous activities which combine boldness, smart thinking and technical abilities,” also said Alphand whose own company is entitled ‘Luc Alphand Aventures’. “I still have a lot to accomplish and it’s too early to forbid myself any risky action. I enjoyed facing that new challenge when I was offered the possibility by the sponsor of the boat.”
“I know it sounds crazy but when you have lived such a thrilling life as mine first as a ski racer and then as a car driver, you can’t just stop aiming at entertaining and stimulating moments, you’re are looking for a risky life which brings you much momentum.”
“Car racing is pretty close to downhill racing, you have to try staying on the fastest line all the time and you need to always keep pushing yourself forward. It was a very interesting discovery for me as it’s the case now with sailing. You don’t move as fast but there are so many parameters that you need to know and control, such as managing your time onboard, your sleeping time, food, your teammates and the entire sailing community which is not easy to convince when you’re a true outsider,” Alphand added.
“It should be a very intriguing journey for me because you certainly keep learning something in that special world and also about yourself. For the moment I don’t really know how far I can go as I have to get some experience, but for sure I feel great passion for that sport – and I’m really happy I could get involved.”