Lindsey Vonn becomes first woman to ski the Streif — and she did it in the dark
38-year-old was coached by Daron Rahlves and borrowed Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s skis for the high-risk ride
With Mikaela Shiffrin poised to break her all-time World Cup wins record, Lindsey Vonn had one thing to say: “hold my beer.”
The American queen of speed fulfilled a lifetime dream late Thursday evening by becoming the first woman to ski the legendary Streif in Kitzbühel, Austria.
“The Streif is literally the pinnacle of downhill. Period. It’s the hardest track in the world. People have died on this track, and it’s something that I felt for me personally, if I could make it down one time, that would be a huge accomplishment,” Vonn said after becoming the first person — man or woman — to conquer the notorious 3,312-meter downhill at night. A two-minute Red Bull video documents the feat, which set the stage for the 83rd Hahnenkamm men’s World Cup races this weekend.
“And then after my injuries, I just didn’t think that it would ever be possible. So for me to have this opportunity and actually be able to do it physically was beyond a dream come true.”
Vonn said the well-lit track brought her back to childhood after-school training runs on Buck Hill in Minnesota.
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“I think it prepared me well for this experience and also racing at night. It definitely feels like a full circle, growing up racing, training in the night and in the dark, and now being able to do the Streif at night,” she said.
Though knee issues have limited much of her post-retirement rides to powder skis, the competitive side of the four-time World Cup overall winner couldn’t resist when the opportunity was thrust her direction.
“A challenge like this is what really brings the best out of me — I love having that kind of challenge,” Vonn stated.
“It was interesting because Daron (Rahlves) saw that in me and I don’t think many people actually do see that in me. They see that I love winning, but I just love going fast. I’m a thrill seeker. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love pushing myself to the absolute limit and being on the verge of being scared.”
Daron Rahlves, himself a course winner in 2003, coached Vonn in the five-week buildup to the race. She reached speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour on borrowed skis from U.S. Olympic silver medalist Ryan Cochran-Siegle.
“To see Lindsey finally have a chance to ski on this track in this kind of situation is incredible,” Rahlves said. “This is true downhill, if you make one mistake, you can have some bad outcomes. But the way she just came out to own it was really impressive.”
Vonn, who expressed a desire to compete against the men in a downhill during her career, was never afforded the chance to race at Kitzbühel, as the race is a men’s-only event. She said she always relished training with the men, however.
“When I can visually see someone skiing dynamically and fast and pushing the line, it always motivates me to do better,” she said.
“I have always had so much respect for the men who race this downhill, but I have even more perspective now and even more respect.”
Vonn also skied for her late mother Linda Krohn, who passed away in late August 2022, a year after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“I knew she was watching me and was there as a guardian angel to help me accomplish this dream,” she said.
“Whenever I told her I was doing something insane, she never even worried. She always said, ‘you know what you’re doing. I’m right here behind you.’ And again, I thought if there’s ever a time to do it, it’s now because now I have someone extra helping me.”
Her father Alan watched from the side as the 38-year-old pushed out of the start gate into the 85 percent gradient of the Mausefalle (or Mousetrap).
“When you look out of the starting gate and it’s dark and you can’t see the Mausefalle, it looks like you’re jumping off the edge of the world and it’s very intimidating,” Vonn said. At the end of the ride, which starts at a height of 1,665 meters and includes an 860-meter vertical drop, a satisfied Vonn listed the accomplishment above everything but her Olympic gold medal.
“It’s a lifetime achievement that I’ll always be proud of,” she said.
“If you can make it down the Streif, you’re a true downhiller.”