After high school I decided to stop playing football and try to become a downhill racer, says World Cup tuner Willi Wiltz. "But I really developed a knack for making my skis too fast to keep up with—and I fell a lot.
In 1982, while laid up in a Tahoe hospital licking crash wounds, then-25-year-old Wiltz got a call from Atomic offering him a gig as a race-service technician. In the years since, he has quite simply waxed and sharpened his way to ski-tech bad-assdom: His gnarled hands have helped place the likes of Tommy Moe, Rob Boyd, and Bode Miller on the podium. Now, at 46, Wiltz is Daron Rahlves's personal tech. "Willi is the man, says Rahlves. "He puts me on skis that rip.
Analyzing each ski, Wiltz scribbles meticulous notes and records that include constant monitoring of snow and air temps and relative humidity. He keeps tabs on the age and roundness of snow crystals like an avalanche forecaster. "Everything goes by the time clocks, he says. "If something speeds up, you've got to know why.
When Wiltz hits the road, he does so lugging close to a hundred tools—vices, files, scrapers, drills, rotobrushes, sandpaper, irons—and at least 30 kinds of wax, which, alone, weigh in at 70 pounds. By season-opener time, he'll have half a dozen condition-specific skis on hand for Rahlves—some earmarked for glide races, others for especially turny courses. "Winning the Kitzbühel and Bormio downhills last season was a testament to his skills, says Rahlves. "I have total trust in him, and that's what makes the difference.
Wiltz, for his part, casually redirects the adulation. "The fastest thing that I could ever put on my skis would be the pilot—and that's the bottom line.
Born: January 10, 1957, in San Francisco, CA
Out of Character: "Willi gets so absorbed by the excitement on race day—he starts getting loud and vocal, says Rahlves. "His breathing gets heavy. It's sweet when you have someone feeling the rush as much as you.
Hired Gun: Says Wiltz, "It's like any professional sport. You're wearing a Giants hat one day, and the next day you're wearing a White Sox hat.
Second Opinion: "He's got the laid-back Tahoe vibe and a big ol' laugh, says Tommy Moe. "He's gregarious and jolly—when he's in a good mood.
Off the Clock: "Skiing has become more of a job for me. When I come home, I don't put on my ski boots. I go for a windsurf out my front door.