A View from the Hill

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I once believed that stopping to smell the roses had to be accomplished at a Sunday driver's pace, that the scents and sounds of our surroundings were best-viewed in Kodakchrome stillness. That was when I was four.

When I was five, my father took me skiing and my world has never been the same. From thrashing gates to launching off cliffs, I've learned that life is best experienced amid constant motion and commotion. The tingling rush of adrenaline brings the world into instantaneous resolution far sharper than the fastest shutter speed can capture.

It is in this spirit of indescribable velocity that Red Bull launched its Red Bull Copilot site in 2003.

Red Bull Copilot brings adventurous web surfers and armchair extremers inside the mindset, equipment and course specifics of three mercurial sports with their iconic athletes as guides. In Supermoto, a grueling onroad/offroad motorcycle course, Jeremy McGrath provides the commentary and exhibition; and Kirby Chambliss leads visitors on a stomach-churning acrobatic aerial ride in Air Race.In the latest Copilot installment, Downhill, Winter Olympics medal contender Daron Rahlves directs skiing enthusiasts as they experience gravity's pull on the friction-frugal slopes of Kitzbuhel, Austria and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

"The objective of the Copilot concept is awesome, says Rahlves, a former World Champion and nine-time World Cup winner. "Showing downhill through my eyes, through my experiences, lets people see the sport like it's never been seen before.

Copilot: Downhill takes users through the slick turns, sheer descents, immense speed, catapulting airs and jaw-dropping crashes that make up a downhiller's daily experience. Using cutting-edge Flash and streaming video technology, Rahlves becomes the vehicle for an alpine joyride and we are along for the journey. Telemetric gauges make up a dashboard of Rahlves' real-time speed, wind speed, lateral G-forces, slope pitch and total running time information. And thanks to a 20-person production crew and dozens of hours of footage, users can switch between five camera angles as Rahlves navigates the Mammoth Mountain U.S. Championship Downhill course.

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The Helicopter Cam offers users a perspective similar to that shown on televised World Cup races. The angle helps us understand the unbelievable fluidity and determination needed to keep skis on track at 85 miles per hour.

The Face Shot Cam demonstrates the flawless technique that makes Rahlves a serious contender for gold at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The left-footed turn dropping into Cornice Bowl make this angle one of the best available — the strain on Rahlve's face as he nears four lateral G's (meaning he feels as if he weighs four times his normal weight at the apex of the turn) is enough to keep most skiers on the bunny hill. You try being agile at 700 pounds.

The Helmet Forward cam captures Rahlves' own point of view, taking users on a bumpy ride reminiscent of Robert Redford tackling the slopes in the 1969 classic Downhill Racer. Gates streak past in meteoric flashes of red as Rahlves tears down the track.

Helmet Down presents a unique glimpse into the mechanics of downhill racing as Rahlves tries to maintain an aerodynamic "bullet posture while streaking down the slopes. Your tires might do a good job of gripping the freeway at 80 miles per hour, but could you, on uneven, icy terrain, grounded only by your own two feet?

The Chase Cam features a view from the cockpit as Rahlves hurtles past the gates that mark out his line and over various terrain features from banked turns and slight rollers to huge airs like the Hair Jump. If you want to experience the true exhilaration of downhill racing, try watching the Ski Mount cam as Rahllves' Atomic DH boards slice across the icy corduroy. The sensation is similar to sitting on the sideboard of a Formula One car as it weaves through standstill traffic.

But The Race is only one segment of the Copilot: Downhill experience. In The Course Rahlves breaks down the Mammoth Downhill course by its named segments, giving users a sense of the concentration needed to compete at an elite level. Racers must memorize every inch of the course's 2,153 feet vertical drop — cutting one turn a bit too close or sitting back on the tails of the skis at an inopportune moment could cause disqualification, serious injury, or even death.

Anyone who has ski raced or competed in an equipment-dependent sport knows that mental toughness, while a huge component of success, can only take you so far on the field of battle. The Gear takes users inside the carefully chosen equipment that makes up Rahlves' combat arsenal. Helmet, goggles, speed suits, poles, boots, bindings and skis are all hand-selected to give Rahlves the mechanical edge he needs to compete with and triumph over other elite skiers from around the world.

The Skier gives us an in-depth profile of Rahlves' competitive mentality on and off the hill. He even comments on the free skiing versus racing debate that caught fire on the pages of various ski magazines last winter. Although skiers can jib through a pipe or park on nearly every mountain in the world "no one really has a chance to run a downhill two and a half miles long, averaging 65-70 mph, says Rahlves. Racing demands "throwing the gloves off and straight up fighting compared to the meticulous style and tricks of free skiing.

While not a real-life ride on 215cm downhill boards, Copilot: Downhill, brings us as close to the exceedingly technical and perilous world of mach schnell stick sliding as most weekend warriors can stomach.

To get up close and personal with Daron Rahlves and downhill ski racing, check out RedBullCopilot.com. Have a nice flight.

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