AKSEL LUND SVINDAL / NORWAY
The 32-year-old Norwegian is currently the star of the skiing arena, a model athlete and a media darling. Yet although he seems to have a monopoly on success, Svindal is admired by friends and fans alike for his down-to-earth attitude: “In Norway, we believe that a normal family has two children, a cabin in the mountains, a pick-up and a Golden Retriever … I like that idea. ‘Normal’ doesn’t necessarily mean boring. You can be normal and still do a whole lot of exciting stuff. That’s what I try to do.”
And when it comes to generating excitement, he definitely succeeds. In spite of his everyman demeanor, Svindal is a speed freak who feels just as comfortable behind the wheel of a racing car as he does on skis. The breakthrough of his skiing career came in the 2006–07 winter season, when he won two World Championship gold medals and became the overall World Cup champion. In November 2007, however, he confronted the downside of ski racing when he crashed badly on the Golden Eagle Jump at Beaver Creek in the USA and sustained multiple broken bones in his face as well as internal injuries.
Svindal’s career seemed over; he was incapacitated for weeks and lost 17 kilograms of muscle mass. But less than a year later, he was not only back on his skis but back in World Cup competition. At his first race – right there in Beaver Creek where he’d crashed only 11 months before – he virtually soared down the Birds of Prey slope and won the race by six hundredths of a second. This victory captivated the ski world, and Svindal has since been regarded as one of the greats in his sport. In the same season he captured another World Championship and became the overall World Cup winner once again. Since then, he has won numerous titles and clinched many more top positions – but a victory on the Streif eludes him to this day.
ERIK GUAY / CANADA
Erik Guay from Mont Tremblant in Canada is a very experienced competitor, an extremely radical skier, a strong-willed person – and also one of the few downhill racers with a family. The 33-year-old with the big smile grew up in the province of Quebec, where he learned to ski from his father, his role model to this day. “My father is my hero,” Guay says, and even now, father and son sit down after important races to analyze the video footage together. Guay sees this trusting relationship as one of the pillars of his career, and in fact the Canadian comes from a family of skiers: Not only was his dad his first coach, but his mother taught him his first turns and today his brother, Stefan, is his technique trainer.
Within the tightknit downhill skiing community, Guay is regarded as a highly focused racer with the ability to concentrate extremely well on goals he defines from the beginning of each season. Year after year, the Streif is among these primary objectives. That’s the main reason why the Canadian is one of Aksel Lund Svindal’s biggest competitors, although the two get along well and regularly train together.
As a father, and as someone who has made savvy real estate investments, Guay is seen as a prime example of a modern professional who balances the rigors of being an exceptional athlete with the demands of both family and business. And it’s a balance he certainly needs to maintain, as ski racers in Canada can find it hard to live from the earnings in their sport alone. Unfortunately, Guay’s most recent injury (summer 2014) has added to his challenges. But, like many times before, the Canadian will give everything he’s got to bounce back and again be a frontrunner in the World Cup.
MAX FRANZ / AUSTRIA
A skier is drawing an impressive line at high speed over the steep flanks of a glittering ridge. He jumps over rocks and whips up a cloud of snow during a tree run. This audacious backcountry skier also happens to be a young Austrian star on the World Cup circuit, the country’s great hope for downhill skiing in the coming years. Young Max Franz, 25 years old, is evolving from a carefree ski enthusiast into a professional athlete in his own unique way.
No other ski racer puts “living on the edge” into practice quite like Franz. His youthful ambition and talent were put to the test right from the beginning of his career, as he frequently crossed the boundaries of what’s perceived as reasonable risk. On 24 November 2012, he took second place in the downhill race at Lake Louise, only to sustain a serious concussion, a nasal bone fracture and abrasions on his face a mere seven days later when he crashed during the Beaver Creek super-G. After just six weeks he made his comeback in Wengen, and his fifth place in the 2013 Streif downhill race only one week later. But Franz is a ski racer who still needs to find that fine line between brilliance and madness – by gaining as much experience as possible.
YURI DANILOCHKIN / BELARUS
Try as he might, Yuri Danilochkin will never win the Streif. The 23-year-old ski racer, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, has plenty of desire: His mother, Natali, a former ski racer herself, taught him how to ski, and he is proud to represent Belarus in the World Cup. What he lacks is funding and resources. Natali is Yuri’s trainer, physiotherapist and one-woman management and support team, accompanying her son from Minsk to the Alps, and then from one ski resort to the next. And she does his laundry as well.
Danilochkin is a talented skier, but he has to perform under totally different conditions than his competitors. While they have a virtually inexhaustible pool of skis, bindings and ski boots at their disposal, and an army of doctors, sports scientists and support staff at their beck and call, this mother-and-son team have nobody but themselves to rely on. In Minsk, Yuri trains on the streets, supported by his friends from a “street workout” gang. He hardly gets any money from the ski federation, and just a small amount from a private sponsor. Sometimes Yuri and Natali sleep in their VW Sharan because they can’t afford a hotel.
At first this unlikely pair from Belarus was regarded with amusement by the athletes from established skiing nations. But by now Yuri has earned the respect of his colleagues – because of his courage and because he keeps going at it against all odds.
HANNES REICHELT / AUSTRIA
In the great World Cup arena, which is populated with its share of extroverts and alpha males, Hannes Reichelt is an exception: a quiet outsider, a reflective and highly focused competitor who never hogs the limelight, yet is respected and esteemed by his colleagues for his achievements.
The 34-year-old Austrian – a private pilot and passionate trials rider in his free time – has had a number of top placements during the course of his career. Some of his greatest achievements are six World Cup wins and a super-G silver medal at the 2011 World Championship, as well as a super-G World Cup victory. But Reichelt celebrated his biggest success in January 2014 on the Streif – much to everyone’s surprise. The backstory: During the 2013 summer training at the Stilfser Joch, Reichelt experiences a stabbing pain in his back. After a short break, he feels well enough to continue with his training, despite constant pain. With the help of conservative treatment and painkillers, he is able to manage the pain, right until Hahnenkamm weekend is just around the corner. After the first (and only) downhill training on the Streif, his condition takes a turn for the worse. Reichelt doesn’t think he’ll be able to take part in the race, and up until the very last moment, he considers throwing in the towel. But then he decides to go for it – and wins the 2014 Streif ahead of Aksel Lund Svindal and Bode Miller. In the finish area, Reichelt tries to hide the fact that he is in excruciating pain. Two days later, the agony is so great that he visits a specialist, who gives him devastating news.
MARCEL HIRSCHER / AUSTRIA
Three-time overall World Cup winner, two-time World Champion, overall Slalom World Cup winner, overall Giant Slalom World Cup winner, three-time Junior World Champion and Austrian champion. Joined the Austrian World Cup team at the age of 19, and took part in the Olympics at 20.
After coming in 11th place in the 2011 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, Hirscher went on to win it in 2012. And in 2013, Hirscher celebrated six wins, as well as the slalom title and second place in the giant slalom – thus securing the overall victory. In these two disciplines Hirscher got a place on the podium 18 times out of 19 races. This victory made him the first ski racer to successfully defend his World Cup title since his fellow countryman Stephan Eberharter's wins in 2002 and 2003.
In 2014, he was again the overall winner of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup – for the third time in a row.
DARON RAHLVES / USA
Californian Daron Rahlves is one of the USA’s most highly decorated ski racers.
Leaving the US national ski team in 2006 has hardly slowed his lifestyle. After 13 long and successful years of alpine downhill skiing, the father of two made the transition to ski cross and big mountain.
Whoever thinks that Rahlves now has a peaceful life is mistaken. His transition to ski cross was tough. In his first season, he fell in all four final runs in this still unfamiliar discipline. The following year he had already mastered the art of ski cross and went on to win the first X Games gold medal.
The Olympic Games in Vancouver were next on his agenda. Although he didn’t win a medal there, Rahlves has since become a fixture in the sport of alpine skiing. Taking all of his disciplines into account, Daron can boast of 28 placements on the World Cup podium, 12 World Cup wins, three World Championship titles and a victory at the legendary Hahnenkamm Races. After his win on the Streif, one of the gondolas of the Hahnenkamm lift was named after him.
DIDIER CUCHE / SWITZERLAND
Didier Cuche was born on 16th of August 1974, in Le Pâquier (Neuchatel Canton). Throughout his career, which ended in March 2012, he was regarded as one of the world’s best speed skiers.
On 29 December 1993, he had his World Cup debut in Bormio, finishing only second to last. At that time, nothing pointed to the great success he would enjoy later. In December 1995, Cuche managed to collect World Cup points for the first time and he made it into the A squad the following spring. In 1997, following an injury-related hiatus, the Swiss athlete achieved his first top 10 placement. A few months later, in January 1998, Cuche surprised everyone by winning the Hahnenkamm downhill race. It took another ten years to repeat this feat; in 2008 he won again in Kitzbühel. Many wins followed, and Cuche entered the upper echelons of ski racing. In 2010 and 2011, he enjoyed his third and fourth wins in Kitzbühel, thereby tying four-time winners of Franz Klammer and Karl Schranz.
On 19 January 2012, Cuche announced that he would retire from competitive skiing. Just a few days later, on 24th of January 2012, he pulled off his fifth win on the Streif, making him the record title-holder of this prestigious event. Since his retirement, Cuche has dedicated himself to nurturing young talent, supervising top athletes and supporting various charity projects.