Who was The Boot Skier?
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See Florian Szwebel boot ski the Birds of Prey slalom course here: Boot Skier Florian Szwebel
SUPPORT THE BOOT SKIER
Florian Szwebel dreams of making the U.S. Ski Team one day. He has a tough road ahead of him, and it will take more than just the talent we saw on display at the World Championships. You can support Florian Szwebel by visiting his Rally Me page at http://ussa.rallyme.com/rallies/1471/florianrallyme.
BEAVER CREEK — When Colorado native Florian Szwebel started down the slalom course during the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Feb. 15, he never expected the run could make him a worldwide sensation.
He also didn’t expect he would lose both of his skis — the “double ejection” — on his run, an early cruise down the course the world’s best would be skiing a few minutes later. Szwebel, a senior at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, was the third forerunner for the men’s slalom at the World Championships on Feb. 15, sent down the course to check the conditions for the pros.
It was an opportunity that almost never came to be, as Szwebel got the call to forerun just one day prior to the race, after it became apparent that the U.S. Ski Team skiers who were previously expected to forerun weren’t available.
“I’ve worked before with the development team coaches for the U.S. Ski Team; they didn’t have anyone to forerun because all their boys had left already, so the coach called me and asked me if I wanted to run,” Szwebel said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to forerun the course.’”
The slalom is a two-run affair, so Szwebel was to take early runs before both slalom rounds that day.
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“The first one was probably the hardest course and conditions I’ve ever skied,” Szwebel said. “The course was so icy and so turny, super turny.”
In between runs, it started snowing — hard.
“On the second run, the fresh snow actually really helped get the course a little more grippy,” he said. “The first run I was a little nervous, and I didn’t ski very well, so the second run I was like ‘I just gotta go and ski like I always do.’ I was trying to get a little speed in those flats into the straight section, and I guess I took it a little too straight.”
‘YOU GOTTA CLAIM IT’
Szwebel hit the flush — a section where the gates run vertically in a line — with a lot of speed, and the snow was a little icy underneath. He made the first gate, but his tips hit the second gate, a double gate with two gates in one, and the collision was a hard one. The skis immediately popped off.
“But I expected to make the gate,” Szwebel said. “So I was still kinda moving forward down the hill with my body and staying balanced.”
With his weight forward in a nice skier’s position, Szwebel didn’t need the skis, deciding to ride it out on balance alone.
“Next thing I knew, I was boot skiing down the course,” he said. “All those coaches standing on the side of the hill started cheering, so I thought ‘OK, you gotta claim it, there’s nothing else to do.’ So I threw my hands in the air and started celebrating.”
The moment was what the forefathers of television sports broadcasting had in mind when they created the instant replay. It was, after all, live all around the globe, and the viewers wanted to see it again. And again. And again. Finnish national television station Yle Urheilu quickly got the clip up on Facebook. It has since received more than 2 million views and some hilarious comments.
“The boot wax was fast, but probably contributed to pre-release,” wrote Harold Burbank, of Canton, Connecticut.
Some of the comments have come from the top echelons of the sport. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, probably the fastest skier in the world at the moment, gave Szwebel a shout out via Twitter right after it happened.
“That forerunner,” Jansrud wrote to his 42,500 followers. “Give him/her a special medal. That was unbelievable!”
On Instagram, in the legendary @SlalomTokyoDrift feed, German slalom skier Felix Neureuther echoed Jansrud’s statement.
“Hahahaha he deserved a medal,” Neureuther wrote after receiving a medal himself in that race that day.
A FOND MEMORY
Szwebel will not receive a medal. But the exposure could be enough for the nice young man who goes to high school in Minturn to take his skiing career to the next level.
His goal is to make the U.S. Ski Team’s development team, where many of his expenses will not be covered, but he will have the opportunity to train with the nation’s best. He has a page set up (http://ussa.rallyme.com/rallies/1471/florianrallyme) where you can give him donations and support.
In 1999, a young ski racer by the name of Lindsey Kildow was also given an opportunity similar to Szwebel. We now know her as Lindsey Vonn, the best female World Cup skier in history. When she thinks back on the 1999 World Championships, slipping down the course before the racers attacked it are among the first memories that come to mind.
“I remember watching Marco Buechel get a silver medal in the GS,” she said. “I was slipping right behind him, and I remember watching his style and thinking how amazing it was. It was a beautiful, typical sunny Vail day, the crowds were going crazy, and I just thought how amazing it would be to be able to have this experience.”
Now up racing North America Cup events in Canada, Szwebel hopes to look back fondly on his moment at the World Championships.
“I think I’ll probably tell my kids stories about it,” he said. “I’ll tell them on the last day, last forerun of World Championships, I came out of both of my skis in front of the whole world.”