Monday, November 02, 2009

Three Weeks 'Til Downhill Season

Three weeks till the World Cup DH season kicks off in Lake Louise, Alberta. Winter doesn't even start for 7 weeks, but I'm sure The Sled Dogs will pull the races off. The Sled Dogs are a hard-working, hard-partying, loose confederation of course workers (most of whom are volunteers) who have been together since the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. They work their asses off literally around the clock to prepare the DH and SuperG pistes at LL.

A lot of people dread downhill season - the interminable weather delays, the changing snow conditions, innumerable course holds, the monstrous courses requiring huge infrastructure and setup. I, for one, love downhill season. You will not find a more entertaining display of athletic prowess, presented in a better natural venue. In short, downhill is the ultimate in sport theatre, at least as far as I'm concerned. As a fan, I simply dig downhill.

Another reason to love downhill season is, well, downhillers. To wit, they are (as a group) not screwed down too tight. Excepting the mostly straight-laced Austrians, your Kristian Ghedinas, your Tommy Moes, and your Todd Brookers are a batshit-crazy bunch.

Let's have a look at the basic concept. Go to the steepest, iciest, most dangerous mountain you can find. Snap a pair of devices to your feet, devices designed not to arrest your momentum, but to maximize it. Point the slippery devices straight down the hill. Shove off. Go like hell. Try to go faster than all the other guys, without killing yourself.

Perhaps now you can understand why downhillers aren't screwed down too tight.

My favorite ski racer currently competing on the World Cup tour is a guy named Rainer Schoenfelder, whom I've never met, but who became my favorite skier after I saw a video of him blasting through a slalom training run at Wengen last year buck naked. On a bet. Anybody that wacked has got to be a cool guy.

One of the best ski racers in the world, the defending World Cup Overall champion in fact, is a Norwegian named Aksel Lund Svindal. I've met him briefly a few times, and he didn't seem to have much personality. Just goes to show you.....first impressions can be deceiving.

Check out this video of the Norwegian DH team, shot at Portillo this past summer, about three weeks after I skied there.

And that's just one of many reasons why I love downhill.

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