The Hahnenkamm-Rennen is a race where you get to see winners turning into heroes and skiers turning into modern gladiators. From an alpine skiing fan or a spectators view, this coming weekend is the most spectacular and entertaining weekend of the entire year. There are no official world champion titles given out; there are no olympic medals to be won; however, this weekend its all about the fame, money and glory.
I guess most of you who read this article already are familiar with this race. So instead of telling everybody what you already know, like how difficult and sometimes dangerous this track can be, I thought I’d take you through the event from a racers point of view.
This race is just the same as any other downhill race, yet its very different. It all starts when you enter the gondola going up to the start. The lift person closes the doors behind you so that no one gets in except you. So the ride up to the start is very silent, its just you and possibly a fellow racer in the gondola.
In a "normal" downhill race, ski fans cheer and wish you loud and clear good luck as soon as they see you. But walking the 150m through the crowd to the start in Kitzbühel, people are not as loud and cheerful as on the other places, they are pretty quiet and just look at you as if you were some kind of alien from outer space!
When entering the Redbull energy station located just next to the adrenaline box (the start house), you walk into a pretty loud area with all the ski technicians, Dr’s etc… But going upstairs to the "riders lounge" there is a very calm and yet again a silent place. The attitude up here is very humble. Everybody knows that there is no point in telling your opponents how tough and brave you are, because that will clearly be proven in the next 30 min or so. Racers are gathering in front of one of the many big flatscreen TV’s as bib nr 1 enters the start gate. No one is criticizing or talking bad about another racer and his skiing. The respect between us downhill skiers is a very rare thing I would say. In this race its not only a race against the clock, it’s also a battle between yourself and “die Streif “ (the nickname of the hill).
It’s your turn, you are entering the legendary start house of die Streif. The walls are white as the snow, there are a few cameras and about 10-15 people in here. Five of those are racers. At all other downhills its a common thing that a couple of jokes are flying around in the start house. But here its silence, absolutely silence! If someone talks it’s probably a racer telling his physio that he wants a sip of water.
While entering the start gate, you are all alone and guess what, its all quiet! You can here yourself breathe, all of your senses fully awake, everything fits perfectly , the suit , the boots, the gloves the helmet, you are ready!!!
Beeeep.. thats the 10s mark. You take a deep breath and throw yourself as hard as you possibly can out of the gate and its on!
Bang, accelerating like a rock falling through the atmosphere, 2 big turns and its take-off time at the Mausefalle! Flying 40 sometimes 50m; landing on ice; speed increases rapidly; heavy compression; icey conditions; entering a 180 degree power turn (U kurfe); fighting G forces your body is under extreme pressure; your legs together with the skis are trying to absorb all the bumps and working with the terrain.
Entering Steilhang, stay cool, don’t panic, follow your plan and stay on that outside ski, look for the exit onto the road, stay high , stay high, yes you made it.
Now everything gets silent again, you just skied through the most intense 30 seconds of what ski racing has to offer and now you are on a dead flat road and the only thing you can hear is your own mind going, faster faster faster…
Coming off the road you fly normally 30m into the "Alte schneiSe" which is a dark, fast and very bumpy section. This fast pitch really sucks energy out of your legs, it takes a lot of power to maintain your position and stay in control.
After that it follows a few big turns before you enter the crucially important LerkenschuS! Carrying good speed out of this section is a matter of life and death in this competition. the next 25 seconds is dead flat and there is a lot of time lying around in this section.
Your legs are burning, your mind and senses are almost overheated and the Hausberg Kante is coming up! Now at the Hausberg Kante you can either choose to go left or right. If you go left you better know what you are doing, after flying about 30m, landing in a very steep pitch and by going left, you are now on a very aggressive and straight line, if you can manage to stay on this line and come into the traverse pretty high, this is the winning option. But lets say you take a left and you get low on the entrance of the traverse, you better get a lawyer because you are in trouble!!
Coming across the the traverse things are starting to move again, speeds up to 145 km/h has been measured here. It’s a true drag race down that last pitch and everything is just shaking in your body and you are dead tired. The last thing remaining is the finnish jump, sometimes this can be huge, we have seen Daron Ralvhes flying 70-75m on this sucker. When you land, you just tuck and reach for the finish line.
After finishing the most intense run of your life, your hands are shaking and legs are burning but you feel great; you feel amazing; you feel alive!