Four-time world-champion speed skier Jeff Hamilton would have you believe he’s just a normal guy. Right: a normal guy who happens to ski down mountains at 150-plus miles an hour. Surely, risking life and limb to ski at race-car speeds requires some sort of preternatural jones for danger? “I keep it very compartmentalized,” explains Hamilton. “I turn it on when I speed ski, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie¿I don’t get a rush off of speed. I get a rush from being the best in the world.”
Growing up in the Tahoe foothills of Auburn, California, Hamilton was a high school racer who dreamed of hitting speeds that would make Franz Klammer look like a tree sloth. In 1990, when he was 23, he borrowed some skis, bought a speed suit, and entered a competition at Kirkwood. He placed in the top 20. “I got the bug right there,” he recalls.
The next year, Hamilton quit his job to pursue speed skiing full-time. At his third race, in Vars, France, he hit the 200-kilometer-per-hour mark (124 miles per hour) and qualified for the World Cup tour. His seventh race ever was at the 1992 Olympics at Albertville¿the sport’s only Olympic appearance so far¿where he skied away with the bronze medal.
In 1995 Hamilton became the first skier to go 150 miles per hour. Four years later, he was on pace to best a new record just set by Austrian Harry Egger (154 miles per hour) when, doing 140, he crashed and burned (literally) three-quarters of the way down the course. “Within a second, the pain was unbearable because it was so hot,” he remembers. “My suit was intact, but the transferred heat gave me third-degree burns.”
Hamilton, who now owns an eponymous ski shop in Aspen, is currently contemplating future record-breaking attempts. But the recent arrival of a junior Hamilton has thrown everything into flux. “The biggest question in my life is how to balance being a father and doing everything I can in the sport,” he says. “There’s a part of me that says I want one more record.”
Born: November 22, 1966
Hometown: Aspen, Colorado
In Brief: Four-time world speed-skiing champion; Olympic bronze medalist; held world speed-skiing record for two years (1995-97).
High-Tech Boots: “Old rear-entry Salomons that I totally modified¿I’ve had them for eight years.”
Fashion Statement: Bleaches his hair white when he goes to Europe to compete.
Uncanny Prescience: Switched out the tires on his Ford Explorer before the Firestone recall.
Extracurricular: Holds world speed record for in-line skating: 65 miles per hour.