Otte and Matthias are rock stars at home, dodging ski racing mad fans, posing for photos and signing autographs.
But at the Vail Beaver Creek 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Colorado, they were (seemingly at first) just two of many Austrians in attendance.
It’s true – Austrians are everywhere in Vail and Beaver Creek. Decked out in bright blue and green ski clothes, you can’t miss them. With victories in both the Women’s and Men’s Super G, along with a second in Women’s Downhill, they are arguably the strongest overall team.
So when Otte and Matthias joined us in a lift line, we were stoked. I wanted to find out all about them. I wanted to know how long they’d been ski racing, where they were from, their best events and most importantly, what they think of skiing in Colorado.
It didn’t work out that way.
“Your skis are quite different from mine,” I tried. “Yes,” Otte replied, leaving me feeling awkward.
My husband, who can charm anyone, tried next. “Is the men’s downhill training still scheduled for 1:30?”
“It’s at 2:00,” replied Matthias.
I jumped in next with both feet. “Since we’ve shared a chair with you,” I blurted, “we’re going to cheer for you. What are your names and bib numbers?”
They answered, with just their first names. They even let me take a picture.
An hour later, we discovered that we’d just met two of Austria’s elite racers, Otmar Striedinger and Matthias Mayer, the downhill gold medalist at Sochi.
Rock stars, indeed.
Ski Hard. Play Hard.
Before we went to Beaver Creek, friends told us to party with the Austrians.
Austrians follow ski racing they way we follow football, and the World Championships are the Austrian equivalent of the Super Bowl. They also hail from a country that’s known for long-into-the-night post-skiing revelry. Fueled by beer and Jagermeister, the fans go as hard as the athletes – just in different ways.
One week into the World Championships, the Austrians have the most reason to party (and indeed they’re doing it). Austrian Anna Fenninger won a gold in Ladies’ Super G, as well as a silver in downhill; while Hannes Reichelt won a gold in Men’s Super G.
Podiums and Pain
While the Austrians had the top finishes and the highest profile in Beaver Creek during week one, there were other notable triumphs and one big disappointment.
Along with Fenninger, Tina Maze of Slovenia also has two medals, with a victory in Women’s downhill and a silver in Super G.
On the men’s side, Canadian Dustin Cook came out of nowhere and a low position to win a surprise silver in Super G.
Stacey Cook, a strong U.S. contender in the speed events, crashed in training, hurting her arm and thumb, only to come back less than 24 hours later and compete in the downhill. Skiing through pain, she placed 19th out of 39 racers.
And while the enormous crowds that turned out for Lindsey Vonn were cheering for victories, her bronze in Super G and 5th in downhill (just 1.05 second behind Maze) keep her squarely in the mix for another overall World Cup title, despite recent injuries and surgery.
The best news during week one, however, came on Saturday in the Men’s Downhill. U.S. skier Travis Ganong won silver, sandwiched between Swiss skiers Patrick Kueng and Beat Feuz. Another U.S. skier Steven Nyman placed 4th and Andrew Weibrecht finished 9th.
As for the disappointment… Bode Miller, who famously coined the phrase “podium or posterior” during his two decades of elite ski racing, crashed during the Super G, severing a hamstring tendon.
Second Week Preview
Week Two has potential for the U.S. Ski Team, led by Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety. The technical events, Giant Slalom and Slalom begin on Thursday with the Ladies’ Giant Slalom and Men’s GS Qualifier. These events will continue through the weekend and close with the Men’s Slalom on Sunday.
Shiffrin, a 19-year-old with two World Cup Slalom titles, is in the unique position of staying at home with her parents during the Championships and training on her home mountain.
When asked about the pressure of being a hometown favorite, Shiffrin admitted that while she prefers to be an underdog, she’s excited to defend her slalom title.
“The past two weeks of training have been spectacular. I plan to ski the way I normally ski.”
When You Go…
If you can get to Beaver Creek this week, go. With new snow last week, the skiing is fantastic.
If you’re going to watch the races from Red Tail Finish Stadium, get moving early. The crowds are huge and the free busses are crowded. The stadium closes once it reaches capacity (around 3500 people), but there are plenty of fantastic vantage points if you’re on snow.
Best of all, the events are free (no tickets required), something that isn’t true in Europe where World Cup tickets run between 40 and 50 Euros per event.