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Athlete Profile: Daron Rahlves

The decorated ski racer-turned-freeskier on sunny Tahoe days, charging steeps, and co-teaching SKI's new online education course, "Find Your Line: How to Ski Trees."

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It’s not often you’ll find an athlete who’s transformed their career and dipped into as many things as Daron Rahlves. As we talk on the phone, it’s summer in Truckee, Calif., but the melted snow hasn’t stopped Rahlves. He’s taken time to play in the water and the dirt: mountain biking and water skiing. 

As a kid in Northern California, Rahlves would jet ski in the summer and ski in the winter—and now, at 47, he still seems to be a kid at heart. Rahlves finds great adventure in his Tahoe home, in the winter giving much love to Sugar Bowl resort as a ski ambassador and scoping out backcountry lines in some of his buddies’ airplanes.

But in the late ’80s and early 2000s, Rahlves spent months on the road as a professional ski racer. He’s a four-time Olympian, has 12 World Cup victories under his belt, three world championship medals, seven US National Titles, and is one of two U.S. racers to have won the infamous Hahnenkamm Downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria.

Then in 2006, Rahlves, who is still considered one of the most decorated U.S. ski racers in history, decided to retire from racing. “I was married a couple years at the end of my career and my wife and I were thinking about starting a family and I didn’t want to be on the road,” says Rahlves. “It got to a point where I wanted to walk away from ski racing on my own terms and at the height of my career and not be forced out by an injury.”

Most around Rahlves thought he was crazy to leave at what seemed to be the peak of his career. In his final season, Rahlves had three World Cup downhill wins with podiums in Giant Slalom and super–G. But Rahlves “retirement” from racing lead to a shift in challenges and adventure. He ventured off the traditional racecourse, competing in ski cross. Within his second year, in 2008, Rahlves won the X Games and in 2010 represented the U.S. in the Olympics for the discipline, finishing in 24th.

Rahlves in the glades at Fernie, B.C.Photo credit: Alton Richardson

While much of Rahlves experience and early fame came from ski racing, he finds it joyful and exhilarating to “choose your own adventure.” Some of his favorite skiing is just good terrain and trees. “I’ve considered myself a skier, not a ski racer. In any chance I had I was freeskiing,” says Rahlves of his ski racing days. He recalls a trip where it was too stormy to ski Kitzbuhel. Other members of the U.S. Ski Team wouldn’t join him for a powder day, fearful of what it would do to their racing. So Rahlves joined fellow World Cup competitor Didier Cuche for the day instead.

On skiing with others Rahlves admits, “I could be happy skiing by myself. Just because of the pure feeling and like freedom,” but “to share it with friends and family and have that stoke, you know, just to take you to another level. If somebody else is fired up on what you’re doing what they’re doing, you get inspired, you get pushed a little more and I really love and cherish those moments.”

Rahlves stays out on slopes too for “the opportunity to go out, be outside, ski in the mountains, and explore,” especially in the backcountry. Still, his competitive racer spirit does not rest. Even on easy days, Rahlves will probably find a way to challenge himself. “If I’m not skiing something tough, I’m gonna bust trail. I’m leading the skin, just trying to plow through thigh-deep fresh snow. That’s my challenge of the day.”

Some of Rahlves all-time highlights of exploring? “My best trip ever was Haines, Alaska,” he says. And Rahlves has ripped there quite a few times, sending epic lines of AK blower pow while filming with Matchstick Productions, TGR, RedBull among others. 

Ultimately, though, for Rahlves it comes back home: “I think, my favorite place is Donner Summit, just backside of Sugarbowl.” There he skis a run they call “The Bubbles” with big, sneaky pillow lines.

He may not be on a racecourse much anymore, but Rahlves seems to have ski life dialed—sun, snow, ski, repeat.

WATCH: Tree Skiing Safety Tips from Daron Rahlves

Find Your Line: How to Ski Trees is a five-part eLearning series designed to provide tips, tricks, and techniques for gaining confidence in the glades. Through video instruction, exercises you can do on your own, risk-management advice, and more, you can learn to not only ski trees safely, but with confidence and joy, as well. The course goes live Nov. 16, 2020. Check it out now.