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Our favourite ski races from the World Cup circuit...

Flag   1. Kitzbuhel (Austria): Hahnenkamm Streif Downhill.

Snowkings favourite ski race is probably the best known in the world. The Hahnenkamm is the name of the mountain on which the downhill course, the Streif, is held. And it's a brute of a course. Skiers who've raced there have said that it's not a course for pretty skiing, it's just pure survival all the way down, hanging in there and hoping you can hold on to a decent line.

Best known for the enormous Zielschuss jumps at the foot of the course, it's actually some of the features higher up the course that make it so hard - the Mausefalle (mousetrap) jump kicks things off immediately, hurtling the skiers through the air just seconds into the race. Immediately following this there are a number of incredible turns and compression sections to get to grips with, areas of poor visibility and several demanding gliding sections. Just making it to the bottom can be considered a result, let alone winning the damned thing, which is why it often favours more experienced skiers who have raced on it over a number of years.

As with the other classics of the ski racing calendar, the days leading up to the race has made it a real social event too, with thousands of people visiting the town for the race (an incredible 50,000 people sometimes attend the downhill), which almost has the status of a national holiday in Austria. Nowadays the race is normally held in January, usually the weekend after the other major classic downhill, the Lauberhorn, with the downhill being held on the Saturday, sandwiched between a Super-G on the Friday and a slalom on the Sunday.

Flag   2. Wengen (Switzerland): Lauberhorn Downhill.

The longest downhill race in the FIS World Cup calendar is also the most beautiful. With a backdrop featuring the north face of the Eiger, the Monch and Jungfrau, this is one race the organisers don't have to try too hard to sell. At just over 2 and three quarter miles in length, it takes nearly two and a half minutes for the top racers to get down, dropping like a stone 1000m vertically and at speeds approaching the Ski Federations maximum limit of 150 km/h (yes, that's over 90 mile per hour !). The race is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the first running of it in 1930. Since then it's grown and grown and now attracts about 35,000 spectators for the actual race. The course features many famous sections such as the Hundschopf jump (where the racers appear to be jumping off a cliff face !); the Kernen-S where the skier hurtles into a 90 degree turn onto a small bridge and then into another 90 degree turn; the Wasserstation where the skier goes under the mountain railway in a tunnel, and the infamous Haneggschuss, where the top speeds can approach the 150km/h mark. Spectators who fancy there chances at emulating the professionals can actually ski the course after the race has finished - which is a bit like a football fan getting to have a kick around at Wembley after the FA Cup final !

The Iconic Sections of Wengen's Lauberhorn Downhill Course

  • Russisprung - the Russi Jump The upper part of the course, overlooked by the Eiger. Named after Swiss skier Bernhard Russi.
  • Hundschopf - the Dog's Head The most iconic jump in downhill ski racing, straight through the rock faces.
  • Minsch-Kante - the Minsch Ledge Named after swiss skier Josef Minsch, who fell there in 1965.
  • Canadian Corner Named after Dave Irwin and Ken Read (two Canadian skiers who along with Dave Murray and Steve Podborski were affectionately referred to as the Crazy Canucks), who in the 1976 race aggressively attacked this section of the Lauberhorn but subsequently fell during the race. This is a long sweeping curve that heads into the extremely tight Alpweg trail (only 3m wide!), before leading the Kernen-S.
  • Kernen S Extremely tight right bend followed immediately by a small bridge and a left bend. Used to be called the Bruggli-S but was renamed after Bruno Kernen following his 2006 crash there.
  • Wasserstation - the Water Station Iconic dash down into the tunnel underneath the mountain railway (the Wengernalpbahn), sometimes with the train passing overhead.
  • Langentrajen Long, much flatter section of course, more suited to the gliders.
  • Haneggschuss After the (relatively) flat section comes the much steeper Haneggschuss, this is the fastest section on the Lauberhorn and where in 2013 Johan Clarey became the first skier to break the 100mph barrier in a downhill race.
  • Silberhornsprung - the Silberhorn Jump Another iconic jump, introduced relatively recently in 2003 and named after the Silberhorn mountain that appears in the background when the TV shots show the skiers coming over the jump.
  • Osterreicherloch - the Austrian Hole Named following the 1954 race when almost all of the top Austrian skiers fell at that section, even the legendary Toni Sailer.
  • Ziel-S - The Finish-S Leg and thigh-burning final section before the finish. The approach to the Ziel-S was changed following the tragic events of the 1991 race, when Austrian skier Gernot Reinstadler was killed as this section as he crashed off the slope into the netting.

Flag   3. Schladming (Austria): Night Slalom.

This race is like the skiing equivalent of an English Premiership team travelling to Turkey for a European Champions League match against Galatassary - absolutely mental ! The legendary atmosphere at this race has turned it into one of the biggest sporting events in Austria, with over 50,000 people cramming onto the side of the floodlit slopes of the Planai mountain to watch the night-time slalom race and literally scream on the world's top slalom skiers. Even people like ourselves who prefer the downhill to the slalom cant help to be drawn into the incredible atmosphere that this race conjures up. You do get a lot of fans travelling to it from the other neighbouring alpine nations, but the majority are Austrian and they make the race quite partisan in favour of their skiers, as you'd expect, with the decibel level almost deafening if one of their own go down the course and take the lead. Giant flags, red flares (no, not trousers, but the kind you wave around dangerously in the air) and air horns are not what you'd normally associate with a world cup ski competition, but then this is no ordinary event. The race itself is actually part of a three day party bonanza, with lots of live acts, DJs and shows now involved in the lead up to it, giving it one hell of a reputation. If you never get the chance to get out there then consider watching it live on Eurosport, the atmosphere really comes across - I'll never forget the first time I came across it, wondering how on earth they'd managed to get what looked like Liverpool's Kop set into the gradient of a ski slope ! But if you can arrange your annual pilgrimage to the slopes around the Styria area of Austia and fancy seeing how much noise 50,000 drunken Europeans can make on a wintry night in January, then get yourself over there, it's an experience you'll never forget.

Flag   4. Adelboden (Switzerland): Giant Slalom.

It might not be the more popular downhill or slalom, but the giant slalom at Adelboden is still one of the 'classic' ski races on the annual calendar, with the Chuenisbaergli slope a real favourite amongst racers and fans alike. The race's position on an early weekend in January is now seen as the opening classic race, quickly followed by the likes of Wengen and Kitzbuhel.

Flag   5. Solden (Austria): Season-opening Giant Slalom.

The FIS has dabbled with a few different locations to kick off the start of it's season, Las Lenas in Argentina got the nod a few times in the 1980's, and they even tried Australia as well. However, the problem with a location in the southern hemisphere is that it meant racing in August, and you then had a long gap until the next race. So in recent years the FIS has settled on Solden as the venue for it's traditional curtain raiser. And why not ! Since hosting the event back in 1993, the Rettenbach Glacier above Solden has been in a decent enough state to host the women's and men's giant slaloms. Ok, there have been a few years when fog or high wind has led to one of the races being cancelled but you get that at some point with every venue on the circuit anyway. You only need to look at the list of names who have won the event to see how seriously the skiers take it - nearly all of the winners have been the big names in the sport over the last 20 years. The venue is now well established and proved a real success so let;s hope that the FIS continue to kick off it's season at Solden.

The race is also the traditional venue for the AIJS (International Association of Ski Journalists) to name the winner of their Skieur d'Or Award.



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