By Sandrine Wyrich
The world’s biggest and most dangerous ski race returns next week. The competitions on Mount Hahnenkamm stand for excitement, pure energy, centrifugal forces, artistry and ability with the downhill race on the Streif slope being the jewel in the crown.
Once every year, the small town of Kitzbuhel awakes for Austria’s greatest sporting festival. Around 100,000 spectators are on-site to watch the Hahnenkamm-Races every year, 45,000 for the downhill alone, with another 1.3 million following the action on TV. The Kitzbuhel area generates revenues of around 37 million Euros during the Hahnenkamm-Races and the organisers are keen to keep the fascination and attraction alive. Barbara Thaler of Kitzbuhel Ski Club says: “Our ambitions are to develop and operate innovatively, to work foresighted with retrospect to the past. Experience, innovation, competence and passion are at the core.” Sports commentator Ian Findlay confirms the appeal of the competition: “The race is iconic in alpine skiing, it’s the Monaco Grand Prix of the Alpine World Cup. It draws the biggest crowds and it’s a party in Kitzbuhel for the race week.”
FIND the Hahnenkamm-Races homepage: https://hahnenkamm.com/en/
Entertainment and an exuberant ambiance are guaranteed for the spectators. For the athletes, the Streif is a challenge beyond compare. The sections stand iconically and are regarded with the greatest of respect. The skier leaves the start gate, ready for two miles of madness. The first section, the Mausefalle, already brutally tests him. There is no chance to build in to the race, the athlete falls right into the steepest part of the piste at 85% incline where he accelerates to about 75mph followed by an 87yds jump into the 180° Karussel. The terrain drives the skier on a direct line to the next gate, but this would take him miles off the racing line. He has to work against physics and set the momentum right, slightly drift into the banked turn and then power through to survive this section. He decelerates to 43mph on corner exit, getting ready for the next big test, the Steilhang. There is no chance to relax, it’s icy, it’s bumpy and the athlete accelerates to 68mph on the 85% incline. It takes commitment, concentration and skill, this section can make or break a run as the skier takes the speed into the most difficult right swing of the course. Brückenschuss, the strongly sloping terrain and the G-forces drive him downwards, off the racing line and into the safety net. It’s a fight against nature to stay on the track. If the athlete gets it right, he can now release the skis, get into the downhill crouch and build up speed. Every mph counts going into the gliding passage and through the flatter Gschöss section. The skier reaches the Alte Schneise. It’s a blind drop, back at 45% incline and he accelerates to 68mph, building up speed going into the Seidelalm and the Lärchenschuss. Next up, the crucial Hausbergkante. A 33yds jump into the landing zone where 3.5G impact on the athlete requires skill and bravery from the skier. He takes speed into the side hill, the Querfahrt. The bumpy terrain drops off to the right, away from the racing line, the skier has to do everything to stay high on the left and hang on to it as he shoots into the Zielschuss. It’s the fastest section of the piste, he accelerates up to 87mph, goes over the final jump and across the finish line as the crowd erupts around him.
FIND detailed descriptions and images of the Streif sections: https://hahnenkamm.com/en/racetracks/the-streif-downhill/
WATCH an interactive 360° run down the Streif narrated by former Austrian World Cup skier Hans Knauß:
No other slope demands so much from the athletes and no other slope is as awe-inspiring as the Streif. If you cross the finish line here, you are a hero. Ian points out the difficulty and prestige of the race: “All downhill tracks on the world cup tour are tough, but many have sections which are a little easier, allowing the skiers a moment of respite. The Streif doesn’t have this. Every section is tough, you can’t switch off for a moment and it just keeps coming at you. This is the race everyone wants to win as if you do, you know that everyone in the ski racing world has to respect you.”
WATCH Hannes Reichelt’s run to victory in 2014 on the ORF broadcast:
The race this year promises excitement and unpredictability with the four downhills so far this season featuring four different winners and seven different podium finishers. Ian says: “I’m always looking towards the experienced racers for this race. The Italian pair of Christof Innerhofer and Dominik Paris are in good form and have the experience. Max Franz looks to be the strongest of the Austrians and you can’t rule out Beat Feuz and Aksel Lund Svindal either.”
It remains to be seen who will come out victorious of the world’s most prestigious ski race this year but plenty of excitement is promised when the action gets underway on January 22.
FIND the alpine skiing World Cup homepage: https://www.fis-ski.com/alpine-skiing/