Racing downhill has been my lifelong passion. From my earliest memories on snow, I distinctly recall the adrenaline from speed.
My Dad recounted the story hundreds of times to his friends of a young 5-year old schussing the slopes to whoops’ of delight. Nothing was more fun than challenging a hill and trying to figure out the fastest way to the bottom.
If anything, the real task as I developed as a ski racer was to harness this unbridled enthusiasm. To move from pure passion to reasoned enjoyment. To learn the discipline of stopping in the finish and reflect thoroughly on a just completed run – examining the flaws and breakthroughs – before releasing the tap to savour the thrill of a wild run down the mountain.
From my early days learning the craft of downhill racing with my coach Mike Wiegele on the slopes of Lake Louise, to stepping up to challenge The Streif at Kitzbuhel, it was never a question of managing fear, or even nervousness.
Think of it this way: take young men, give them a secure, totally prepared track on some of the wildest mountains you can find and tell them to let loose. What on earth could be better? It’s like creating the best thrill-seeking ride and giving you the controls. How could you not think this is the greatest sport on earth?
So to hear over and over again about “nervousness” governing how to negotiate a downhill is just not reality of the sport for guys. We love downhill. The moment the run is complete, we want to get right back up there and do it again.
The Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuhel is not “fearsome”. Intimidating, yes. But not scary. Putting your neck out on the edge to try to win at Kitzbuhel pushes boundaries. This brings the edginess of competition. But never confuse butterflies with fear.
Every athlete leaving the start gate at Kitz wants to be there. This is the crowning achievement of our sport. This is our Super Bowl. We know taking risks to win is part of the equation. Knowing when and where to push the limit.
But this is why we do it. This is why we are in the Game. This is why we keep coming back year after year, run after run. We love it. We revel in it. The thrill of speed pushes us to be better, work harder and dig deep. It’s a small club of athletes that can say they have raced The Streif. We are proud of our fraternity. Winners or just having raced, we share an intimate thrill of challenging the toughest downhill in the world.
But nervous about racing downhill?
“Talent is a precious gift. Treat it with respect”.