First up, the Hahnenkammrennen
Here’s a quick primer for those unaware of, or confused by, the various terms that will be tossed around during the annual Hahnenkamm in mid-January.
- 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.
- Hahnenkammsieger or just Sieger is the winner. Although a sieger is listed for each discipline, the downhill winner is The Sieger, the big dog. Once a sieger, always a sieger.
- 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. The image below is a good intro to the key sections of the Streif.
- 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.
- Ganslernhang is a separate course used for the Slalom next to the lowest portion of the Streif. Unless you are one of the crazed fans at the event, Austrian, or Marcel Hirscher, the slalom doesn’t have nearly the significance of the downhill. But it has been run on the same course since the late 1930s, and among slalom races it is arguably the most prestigious.
What you really need to know is that the Hahnenkamm is held on the Streif in Kitzbuehel. The schedule usually begins with a couple of training runs during the week, then all hell breaks loose 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.
Ein Sieger! Ein Sieger!
The only Americans to win the Hahnenkamm (again, the downhill) are Daron Rahlves, Buddy Werner, and one we’ll save for later. 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.
There is one more — we’ll get back to that. Save the best for last.
Other Americans? Billy Kidd finished third in 1966 before signing his contract with Steamboat a few years later. Vermont’s Bob Cochran finished in the top ten a few times in the 1970s, including one podium when he was a couple tenths faster than the up-and-coming Franz Klammer in 1973. He also won the Kombined in 1973, making him one of the few Americans who can claim victory in Kitz. Bode Miller and Phil Mahre both won the Kombined twice, although victory in the downhill eluded them. AJ Kitt managed a surprising second place finish in 1992, while Olympic champ Tommy Moe nailed a couple top tens in the same decade.
As for gauging the most successful American at Kitzbuhel, we have to turn the clock back to when the “Damen” also competed in the Hahnenkammrennen. And that brings us to Andrea Mead-Lawrence, who in 1951 won a clean sweep of the downhill, the slalom, and the kombi. Only 14 people have claimed the triple crown in the Hahnenkammrennen. With three wins, Mead-Lawrence tops the Americanisher Siegerliste. Take that, boys…
International names include a who’s who of ski racing. Klammer garnered his first win in 1975, and then seemed to keep winning. Jean-Claude Killy won the triple crown in 1967, followed up with a 2nd place DH and kombi win in 1968. Pirmin Zurbriggen won with regularity in the 1980s. Swiss great Didier Cuche flipped his first podium ski at the Hahnenkamm in 1998 and finally won ten years later, with Bode Miller in second by 0.27 seconds. Cuche and Miller finished 1-2 again in 2011. Cuche and Klammer are the top all-time downhill winners, with five and four respectively. The most successful skiers at Kitzbuhel all-time are Christian Pravda and Marc Girardelli, with seven victories each. Pravda had two downhill wins, Girardelli one.
The Crazy Canucks
The dozen years prior to 1980 were dominated by Austrians (mostly Klammer), with a couple of Swiss and German victories sprinkled in. The era ended with a shock when Ken Read bounced down the Streif faster than anyone else in 1980, the first Canadian to win anything at the Hahnenkamm since Lucille Wheeler was on Siegerliste Damen in 1957. This was followed by a pair of downhill victories for Canada’s Steve Podborski in 1981 and 1982, and Todd Brooker in 1983. The four consecutive wins stunned the Europeans, especially since the Canadians had a habit of spectacular crashes when they weren’t winning. Most spectacular of all was Brooker’s 1987 tumble down the Streif, which not only ended his career but seemingly the run of the “Crazy Canucks.”
The Superbowl of Skiing
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 anything else at all.
Now none of the above is meant to slight the womens competition in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is part of the annual Kandahar, or Kandahar rennen. The annual Kandahar is usually a combination of competitions. Last year it was in Sestriere and Garmisch, while a year prior it was a combination of runs 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.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.