Dear Ski Cross. Welcome to the Olympics - Ski Mag

Dear Ski Cross. Welcome to the Olympics

The U.S. Ski Cross Team consists of two guys: Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett, both retired ski racers. We caught up with them while they were training in Telluride in preparation for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Ski Cross

What do alpine ski racers do after they’ve been to the Olympics, won World Cup races and National Championships, had a couple of kids and reached their late 30s with knees that still work? Retire? Not exactly.

Skiing celebs Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett did retire. From racing. But then a new kind of race started to gain momentum: ski cross. Sort of like a Chinese downhill, or roller derby on the snow, ski cross lured both men back into the starting gate to compete at the X Games and the Jeep King of the Mountain tour. And now that ski cross is debuting at the Winter Olympics this February in Vancouver, Puckett and Rahlves have found themselves back on the U.S. Ski Team, this time as the team’s oldest members. “I’m actually older than my coach,” laughs Puckett. “And I’m older than my ski technicians.”

It’s not just age, but experience that put Rahlves and Puckett at the front of the pack. Both athletes say that their race experience and knowing how to handle speed helps with ski cross. Rahlves says, “The first objective is to try and get out of the start as fast as you can, so you have the lead and you can run the line that’s the fastest, the optimal line.”

Looking at the course they are training on in Telluride right now, it’s hard to see any similarity between ski cross and its more genteel predecessor, alpine racing. It looks almost like an obstacle course, with impossibly-tight banked turns and menacing jumps. Four skiers race at a time, elbow to elbow, at an average speed of 65 mph and it seems inevitable that someone will crash. Sixty-five miles per hour. You’d want more than just a helmet and a bib—you’d want an airbag.

There is one thing that ski cross and alpine racing have in common: the rush. Ski cross gives Puckett and Rahlves that same feeling that alpine racing did, the headiness of going so fast that you weave in and out of control, at the absolute threshold of your ability and just outside of your safe zone. Puckett’s infamous crash last year at Grindelwald (check out the You Tube clip of that crush) is a reminder of just how steep the consequences can be, but as seasoned racers, they try to use the adrenaline buzz to their advantage. “Am I still nervous in the starting gate? Sure,” says Puckett. “You don’t want to step in the gate and not be nervous. You want to have some butterflies, but you just want to make sure they’re flying in formation.”

You can follow Rahlves and Puckett’s Olympic bid at http://www.fis-ski.com.

Related

Ski Cross

Guide to the Olympics: Ski Cross

Welcome to the throwdown, year one, also known as ski cross. A Winter X Games event since 1998, ski cross premieres this year as an event in the Winter Olympics. If you are wondering about gold, make sure to watch the two former ski racers, Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett, participating in the event.

Caitlin Ciccone in Action

Olympic Athlete to Watch: Caitlin Ciccone

A year and a half ago, American ski racer Caitlin Ciccone quit racing for good. Or so she thought. Now with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics around the corner, she’s trying to make the U.S. Women’s Ski Cross team. That is, if she can raise enough money to go to the Games.

Vancouver Bound

Olympics 2010: Ski Cross

The freeskiers who invented it don’t have to like it, but skiercross—make that ‘ski cross’—is now an official, FIS-controlled Olympic event, and former World Cup racers like Daron Rahlves are among the favorites. Burning questions remain, like how baggy should your clothes be, what exactly are the rules, and who’ll win the first gold medal.

Lindsey Vonn World Cup Crash

Making Olympic Ski Racing Safer

If charging down a super G course doesn't scare you, it should. After a rash of early season injuries, officials re-examined how race courses are designed, making the Olympic slopes safer—maybe.

Jean-Baptiste Grange

Guide to the Winter Olympics: Slalom Ski

It’s all about precision. And personality. Historically slalom racers have gone on to become racecar drivers, actors, and even personalities branded with their own perfume line. Check out our picks for racers we think might podium or have a future in Hollywood.