Bernhard Russi: Olympic Downhill Designer


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Snowbasin UT, Oct. 17, 2001–Whoever assumes life after ski racing only leads to gear endorsements and coaching hasn’t heard of Bernhard Russi. The former Swiss Olympian has carved a sterling reputation as the designer of elite downhill courses. Russi’s notoriety is justified; currently his resume includes downhills at the past three Winter Olympics-Albertville, Lillehammer and Nagano, plus the upcoming Utah Games and the esteemed Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Bernhard Russi learned the nuts and bolts of speed courses as a ski racer. He specialized in downhill, claiming gold at the ’72 Sapporo Games and was second to Franz Klammer four years later. After his race career, Russi studied architectural design, before falling into course design.

“The former president of FIS ski racing’s governing body asked me to inspect the new Olympic downhill at Calgary in 1982,” the personable Swiss explains. “My report had some proposals for better lines and it has gone from there,” he casually adds.

This winter, his latest accomplishment will be showcased when the men’s and women’s Olympic downhill races are contested at Snowbasin, Utah. Completed in the summer of ’98, the starting pitch of the “Grizzly” course has a 74 per cent grade and is considered one of the world’s top downhills. When Bernhard tours this hill, he behaves like a proud papa, explaining every nuance and bend of his brood.

At last winter’s Snowbasin press conference, Russi made a deadpan observation: “We have spots where, I don’t want to say the racers are going to be scared, but they are going to be impressed…”

At age 53, Bernhard Russi is still passionate about skiing, climbing, golf, and mountain biking. When not traipsing the world creating race hills, he and his family still reside in his hometown of Andermatt, Switzerland. Ever in demand, Russi’s current projects include new course designs at St. Moritz, Val d’Isere, Lillehammer, Are (Sweden), and Korea.

Perhaps his consistent schedule stems from his natural regard for any mountain he plans to “work with.” Says Russi: “The most brilliant sections are usually the naturally difficult situations on the mountain. Places like the Golden Eagle Jump at Beaver Creek and the Flint Lock Jump at Snowbasin-they are there and will remain without my touching them.”

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