18 January 2017 — Following a weather wash out of the classic Lauberhorn Downhill in Wengen, the men’s speedsters have moved into the center of the ski racing universe, Kitzbuehel. First, a quick primer for those unaware of, or confused by, the various terms that will be tossed around this week:
- Kitzbuehel is the name of the village.
- Hahnenkamm is the name of the mountain.
- Hahnenkammrennen is the name of the event that began in 1931, now a series of three World Cup races; Downhill, Super G, and Slalom. Most people just call it “the Hahnenkamm,” and they are referring to the DH race.
- Streif is the name of the Downhill course. Think of this as a series of connected trails going down the mountain.
- Mausefalle, Alteschneise, Zielschuss and so on are well known turns, jumps, drop offs, etc. that comprise the Streif. There are at least 17 such named locations, probably more. If you’d like to see the official list with specs and brief descriptions, click here for an official pdf file.
- Streifalm is a partially separate Super G course that joins the Streif below the Alteschneise section, which is more or less half way down. This isn’t nearly as important as the Streif, no need to remember this.
- Ganslernhang is a separate course used for the Slalom next to the lowest portion of the Streif. This is even less important than the Streifalm.
What you really need to know is that the 77th Hahnenkamm will be held on the Streif in Kitzbuehel this weekend, with a super-g on Friday, followed by the downhill on Saturday and the slalom on Sunday. The big deal is of course the downhill — that’s where legends are made and bones are shattered. If you win the downhill you are forever a champion. Regret that nobody usually remembers the slalom winner, sorry Mr. Stenmark.
The only Americans to win the Hahnenkamm (again, the downhill) are Daron Rahlves and Buddy Werner. Werner did it back in the 1960s prior to his death in an avalanche. Although he never won a title nor an Olympic event, his victory on the Streif made Werner the first internationally recognized great American male ski racer, and by the way Steamboat Resort is on Mount Werner. Rahlves did it on a shortened course, so he sort of gets a Roger Maris asterisk, but he still got his name on one of the gondy cabins in Kitzbuehel.
Everything’s bigger in the ‘buehel, everything’s crazy. The slowest downhiller hears only slightly less cowbell and screaming than the fastest. Even the slalom draw ceremony draws a crowd of drunken revelers. To give you some idea, when a young Bode Miller finished his first race on the Streif — well above 30th place — he celebrated as if he’d won the super bowl. Although he’s won a few times on the Super G course, Aksel Lund Svindal has yet to win the downhill. At this point in his career he’d probably prefer winning the Hahnenkamm to winning the overall.
Anyway, it’s on the docket for this weekend. Unless you want to fool around with the NBC Sports App for live coverage, I recommend you avoid looking at the headlines and tune in to taped coverage on NBCSN Saturday at 4:30 PM. The other events, as well as the ladies’ competition in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, will also be covered on Universal HD and other NBC channels throughout the weekend. The complete schedule can be viewed here.
Now none of the above is meant to slight the gals competition in Garmisch, which is part of the annual Kandahar, or Kandahar rennen. This year’s version of the Kandahar is a combination of competitions in Sestriere and Garmisch. Last year it was a combination of events — and this is both mens and womens — in Garmisch, Chamonix, and St. Anton. The Kandahar race began in St. Anton in 1928, an event cooked up by Arnold Lunn of Great Britain’s Kandahar Ski Club and Hannes Schneider of the Arlberg Club. If there were a Mt. Rushmore of skiing history, these two guys would be on it. Beyond that, the Kandahar is rather vague and confusing, so I won’t get into details as I did for the Hahnenkamm, and it’s not really the same type of thing.
Now let’s talk about the past weekend, with much anticipation for the scheduled returns of Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso. Well the weather in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee was such that Mancuso bagged the event, and Lindsey Vonn skied cautiously by Lindsey Vonn standards. I am NOT taking anything away from Ms. Vonn with that statement. Let’s face it, she couldn’t move her hand two months ago, and now she’s screaming down an icy slope at 70 mph. The rest of us would still be sitting on the couch watching, which is where we were anyway. The fact that Lindsey skied at all is remarkable, and the fact that she finished 13th among the best in the world is incredible.
The actual podium for the Zauchensee DH was quite surprising, Austria’s Christine Scheyer took top spot, followed by Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein and 24-year-old Jacqueline Wiles of team USA. Wiles hails from Washington State (White Pass Ski Club) and this is her first World Cup podium. These three were followed by a couple of names that were expected to be on the podium, but fell short, including Lara Gut and Ilka Stuhec.
The men meanwhile were in Wengen for the annual Lauberhorn — that’s another legendary event, contested in the shadow of the Eiger, Moench, and Jungfrau — but sadly the downhill was cancelled due to unsafe storm conditions. Although you’d seldom expect a slalom race to make up for a downhill, Sunday’s was a nail-biter and the competition was tremendous. Kudos to whoever set up the television coverage — it was probably the best I’ve ever seen for a ski race. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen edged Marcel Hirscher, with Felix Neureuther in third. On the overall boards we’ve still got Shiffrin ahead of Gut, Hirscher ahead of Kristoffersen, and the margins in both are right around 300.
Back to Kitzbuehel, where training sessions are underway. Yesterday’s efforts were cancelled; training today saw USA’s Steven Nyman clock the fastest time. Recent winners Peter Fill and Kjetil Jansrud turned in more measured runs, clocking in among the top 20. The ladies are back on the piste tomorrow for a training run in Garmisch, Vonn has bib number 13 while Mancuso is not entered.
We’ll be back tomorrow with another slightly different feature than our usual news roundup, call it “throwback Thursday.” Think snow!
Photo above: Mountain ops and race officials work around the clock to ensure optimum conditions on the Streif.