Legendary Ski Runs by Legendary Skiers

A Note about the skiers and runs on this List… This is not a list of the fastest, hardest, or finest skiing form. These are simply the ski runs that people will continue to talk about for years to come…

Vinko Bogataj • International Ski Flying Championships, 1970 This jumping competition was nearing its conclusion when snow started falling…heavier and heavier. Visibility was nil; conditions were dismal. This set the stage for an unpronouncable Yugoslavian ski jumper to tumble off the ramp on an aborted attempt. Bogataj was dazed and bruised, but otherwise unhurt. The next skier made a flawless jump, then fell heavily during a skidding stop in the runoff area. He was hurt badly, and the competition was called off. Bogataj retired a few years later to a quiet life of farming, having virtually no clue that he was immortalized as “the agony of defeat guy” seen on ABC’s Wide World of Sports opening sequence. The footage is still shown over three decades later, and it is still chilling. Bogataj learned of his fame in the late 1970s, and perhaps because he was only superficially hurt in his pinwheeling crash, could never really understand why Americans were so captivated by it. Maybe if he heard Jim McKay’s voice-over…

Franz Klammer • Olympic Downhill, Patscherkofel (Innsbruck) 1976 Prior to this run, if you had asked anyone with even a casual interest in skiing to describe a ski racer, they would’ve used words like “finesse” and “precision” and “ballet on snow,” etc. Klammer’s edge-of-disaster blast for the gold changed everything. Swiss Bernhard Russi paced the field with a time that withstood run after run. Klammer, the “Austrian Express” came in at 1:45.73, .33 quicker than Russi and grabbed the gold. But it wasn’t the medal that made this run spectacular, it was Klammer’s style — or lack thereof — that left viewers speechless and on the edge of their seats. He couldn’t possibly ski this way! How’s he staying on the course? He’s going to get killed…Klammer himself admitted that he thought he was sure to crash during his crazy flight. Anyone who saw his run will put it at the top of this list. Downhill was forever changed, and the image of the out-of-control skier in the yellow suit will never fade.

The Austrian Astronaut

Toni Matt • 1939 Inferno Race, Mt. Washington, NH Tuckerman Ravine’s summit-to-valley Inferno race began in the 1930s. Dick Durrance won the second event with a record time of 12:35 in 1934. The third Inferno was not held until 1939. That race witnessed what is easily the most legendary run ever made in the Western Hemisphere. Austrian Toni Matt, age 19, erred in his calculated turns and made the blunder of skiing straight over the lip of the headwall with a 60 mph wind at his back. Matt skied down the headwall like a rocket sled on rails, shot through the ravine, and on down the mountain. His time of 6:29 slashed the record. For decades, this run was recalled whenever Matt raced, indeed whenever his name was mentioned. Rather than fade from memory, Matt’s run is still spoken of in hushed, reverent tones.

Hermann Maier • Giant Slalom, Flachau 1996 Local bricklayer and Schladming Ski Academy dropout Maier had repeatedly been told “don’t call us, we’ll call you” by the almighty Austrian national team, despite his status as regional champ in Salzburg.   That all changed when the World Cup rolled into Flachau in January 1996 and one of the forerunners  blistered the course, laying down a time that was better than all but 11 of the best GS skiers on the planet.  Austrian coaches took notice, especially since his time was better than high profile skiers including Austrian great Josef Strobl, Norwegian Olympic champ Kjetil Andre Aamodt, and Hahnenkamm winner Daron Rahlves of the USA. Forerunners aren’t supposed to do this…and so the bricklayer was in his first World Cup competition a month later.
Olympic Downhill, Nagano, 1998 “Das Monster” was a favorite at Nagano until his run went wrong…way wrong. His edges failed to bite on an icy left hander, and he rocketed off the course at over 70 mph. Maier’s speed combined with high winds to launch him sideways like a runaway kite. He blew through a couple of catch fences like they were made of paper before finally augering into the snow. If the tumble didn’t kill him, surely the catch fences snapped his neck? Maier got up and collected himself, and will be forever after known as “The Hermanator.” He shook off a sprained knee and a sore shoulder to win Gold in Giant Slalom and Super G over the following days. He dominated the World Cup scene in the ensuing years — even returning from a near-fatal motorcycle accident — but the legendary Nagano Downhill sealed his legend.

Das Monster crashes and arises as The Hermanator

Nancy Greene • World Championships, Portillo, 1966 Greene’s 1966 downhill run was aerial, seat-of-the-pants insanity on a course that was both snowy and frozen. Catching a rut after landing a jump, Greene somersaulted three times, losing her helmet and nearly her head. At that point she slammed into the catch fence, which in 1966 was only a fence in theory. It was a wall of ice blocks set along the course to prevent runaways skiers from sliding into an abyss. BAM. Greene hit the ice wall and nearly blacked out. She returned a day later to finish 4th in the Giant Slalom. A year later Greene would be crowned the first overall ladies champion, and she repeated the feat in 1967-68. She would also go on to claim the Giant Slalom gold in Grenoble.

Hurtling toward the ice wall

Alberto Tomba • Olympic Giant Slalom, Calgary, 1988 Tomba would hardly fit anyone’s image of a highly disciplined slalom skier. Rather uh, large in stature, known for partying, womanizing, and generally acting like a rock star, he may be better known for his activities off the slopes. But his career includes 5 Olympic medals, 50 World Cup race victories, and the 1995 overall World Cup Title, so “La Bomba” is certainly one of the all-time greats. Yet it was in 1988 at Calgary, when he won the gold medal in both the slalom and the giant slalom, that he made his reputation. Tomba slammed his way through the gates and onto the world stage. He was also the first Alpine skier in eight years to win two gold medals, and he did it with a dominating run in the GS and a personal flamboyance that seems only to grow larger in memory.

Jean-Claude Killy • Alpine sweep, Grenoble, 1968 Killy’s 1968 sweep was the first since Austria’s Toni Sailer in 1956, and last to this point. Interestingly enough, Killy’s sweep was set against the backdrop of growing pains for a young skiing and ski racing industry. Two skiers beat Killy in the slalom, but were disqualified for missing gates, which at the time was not as cut-and-dry as it is today. In addition, Killy had company trademarks on his equipment that he displayed conspicuously while being photographed. Killy allegedly received payoffs for this, which was definitely at odds with the amateur status so keenly required in 1960s Olympic competition. Whatever went on behind-the-scenes, the dashing young Frenchman was an overnight worldwide sensation, and deserves far more credit for his role in popularizing the sport of skiing. While Killy didn’t last as a major competitive force like an Ingemar Stenmark or Hermann Maier, he was certainly skiing’s greatest goodwill ambassador. And the entire ski industry benefitted from his Triple Gold.

Todd Brooker • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbuhel 1987 Brooker was one of the self-proclaimed “Crazy Canucks” of the early 1980s. With a team-oriented, go-for-broke approach, the young Canadians scored some surprising victories in big World Cup events. Brooker won downhills in Aspen CO and Furano Japan, and most importantly, the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel in 1983. But what “the buhel” giveth, it just as easily taketh. During a training run in January 1987, Brooker lost a ski to an odd pre-release as he was rocketing down the Zielschuss. This created a high-speed cartwheel that seemed never to end. Brooker tumbled like a rag doll, bouncing off his extremities, which were forced into rather unnatural positions. The crash ended his career, and is still shown on highlight features every time the World Cup circus rolls into Kitzbuhel.

Brooker doing the starfish at Kitzbuehl

Eric Keck • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbuhel 1991 and Bill Hudson • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbuhel 1991, a few minutes later World Cup Downhill is arguably the world’s nastiest, most dangerous organized mainstream sporting event. The Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel, Austria is the world’s nastiest, most dangerous course on the circuit — no argument there. Possibly the nastiest section of the Hahnenkamm is the Mausfalle (mouse trap), a canted combination turn/jump/cliff where the careers of a few world cup skiers ended in the catch fence. But not Vermont’s Eric Keck…on his first ever trip down the Hahnenkamm, he jumped clear over the fence and sailed airborne into the forest. Rescuers rushed to the fallen Kecker, who eventually rose — bleeding and rumpled — whooping and wielding a mangled ski as if he had just scored a goal. Although no skier had ever cleared the fence in the history of Hahnenkamm downhill, Keck’s feat was eclipsed a few minutes later when the somewhat less indestructible Olympian Bill Hudson duplicated the fence flight but bettered the distance. Hudson was lucky to be alive; he spent months in recovery and was never the same skier.

Spider Sabich • Shower, Aspen 1976 Olympic slalom specialist skier/playboy Spider Sabich was the biggest US name in the sport in the early 1970s, winning one world cup race, a handful of podiums, and a couple of championships in a defunct dual slalom tour. In March 1976 Spider entered the bathroom of his Aspen home to take a shower after a day of skiing. His live-in girlfriend, French singer/actress Claudine Longet, estranged wife of entertainer Andy Williams, asked Sabich how to use his .22-caliber pistol. Longet claims that Sabich postponed his shower to demonstrate use of the weapon, which accidentally discharged a couple of rounds into him. Throughout the trial and ensuing media circus, Williams stood steadfastly by his lovely wife. It’s a shame that the guy who gave us Born Free and Moon River was such a cuckold. Anyway, the cops bungled the investigation, and lovely Claudine spent 30 days incarcerated in a tastefully appointed apartment set up just for her in the Aspen courthouse. The happy ending to this sordid tale is that Williams eventually came to his senses, divorced Longet, remarried, and assumed his rightful place as one of the all-time legends of American entertainment prior to his passing in 2012. What makes Williams so totally cool is that he was an excellent skier. Longet lives in obscurity. Sabich did not survive the shower.

spider-claudineSpider Sabich and Claudine Longet in happier times

Bode Miller • World Cup Downhills, Bormio 2005 and Kitzbuhel 2008 Bode Miller found a groove early in the 2004-2005 World Cup Season and never really looked back. He made it close by crashing out of a few as the season wore on, aggravating US Ski Team coaches with his “go for victory at all costs” style, when a conservative approach would’ve secured Miller the crystal trophy much sooner. He tooled around the continent in mid-sized RV with a couple of friends straight out of a Chevy Chase Vacation film. By the time Miller reached Italy in early February, it was clear that he was winning over the European fans with his unique combination of hard charging on the hill and easy-going personality off the slopes. He won them over completely when he lost a ski 15 seconds into the downhill at Bormio. The fact that he didn’t crash was solely due to his incredible strength. And he kept skiing. Although there was no point in continuing on one ski, Miller did it anyway. While the US coaches fumed, officials merely shrugged. And the run went on. European TV announcers went from being confused, to bemused, to angry. The crowd went bonkers, and even the announcers started to cheer the amazing feat. Miller went on down the hill, through the gates, occasionally feigning a tuck, until his leg turned to jelly. He stumbled then pulled out before the final jump, both the crowd and the play-by-play announcers groaned in disappointment. But it didn’t matter; during a season in which Miller won numerous races and the overall championship, the incomplete run on one ski will ironically be forever remembered as the highlight.
Fast forward to 2008, the second time Miller won the World Cup mens overall title. The annual frightfest on the Streif course was underway in Kitzbuhel. Miller hit the Steilhang on the edge of disaster, and seemed as if he was going to ski right over the fence. Instead Bode held the turn — somehow — and skied on the fence for about 30 feet. Bode merely shrugged this off and finished second to the irrepressible Didier Cuche. To this day Europeans on ski holiday make their children slide down to the spot and pose in front of the fence “where Bode Miller skied on the curtains.”

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.