Rahlves keeps charging after downhill title in 2003-04
Some people drink coffee. Some people drink Red Bull.
So said Daron Rahlves, as he slid a grey stocking cap with the Red Bull logo over his surfer blond hair and sat down for a TV interview at Beaver Creek last week.
Rahlves, 30, is just one name on a long list of athletes that the Austrian-based energy-drink sponsors, but then again, the list does not include any alpine stars from Austria, the superpower of men’s downhill skiing in recent years.
No Stephan Eberharter, winner of the overall World Cup title last year. No Hermann Maier, alias the Hermanitor, who is the Michael Jordan of alpine skiing.
It might be that Red Bull, which markets to the young and active, maybe thinks Rahlves is a more attractive spokesperson than the 34-year-old Eberharter, even though the Austrian edged him out of the downhill title last year.
It might also be that the head bulls at Red Bull have conceded that the United States has a good shot at usurping the Austrian trend of alpine dominance in the upcoming years with Rahlves and American bad boy Bode Miller both finishing in the top-five in last years overall standings. National pride is important, but so is the bottom line.
“Last year was a good year for me. It was something I was looking for my entire career, just being consistent throughout the season.,” said Rahlves, who was himself surprised by the Red Bull sponsorship. “This year, I want to go out there and get better every day and have a better season than I did last year. Definitely, it’s hard when you finish second. You don’t want anything less than first.”
On paper, Rahlves is the greatest speed-event skier the U.S. has ever produced, having won four World Cup downhills in his career, including the legendary Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel last year and the World Championships super-G in 2001.
Still, aside from his win at Kitzbuhel last year, the Masters of the World Cup circuit, Rahlves has probably not gotten his due, since most of America tends to equate skiing success to Olympic medals.
There’s also the Bode Miller factor, as in the 26-year-old American who won the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, and is staking his claim to being the best skiier in the world in 2003-2004 with his no-frills, balls-out style.
Rahlves doesn’t take the bait though, when he is asked whether he is a little jealous of Miller’s recent success or the way that Miller skis well in downhill events, even though he doesn’t train for them like Rahlves.
“I hope that Bode and I can share some podiums this year,” said Rahlves. “It only helps our team more when we have good athletes like Bode who keep pushing you. I’m just trying to take it week-to-week and try and get better every day. The confidence, right now, has certainly picked up.”
Rahlves’ goals for the season are to win the overall downhill this year and to finish in the top three in the overall. He also wouldn’t mind winning at Beaver Creek this year on Dec. 6.
“That would be sweet to win here,” said Rahlves. “I want to come out this season with a top-three in super-G, downhill and have GS come back and, hopefully, be in the top three overall. That’s really the big goal of mine. Ultimately, it’s just coming off the hill having a fun experience up there, and just letting it all hang out.”
One of the biggest reason Rahlves said that he skied so well last year, and that he feels so confident this year, is because of his working relationship with his ski tech Willi Wiltz, former tech for Olympic golden boy Tommy Moe. Like a caddy in golf, the ski tech-skier relationship is a symbiotic one, a live-in, day-to-day partner who can be the difference in long season.
“I guess what really matters is if Willi’s happy, then I am happy, and things go well,” said Rahlves. “Last year was a whole new experience for me, with some guy that I can talk to and work with all the time. Before, I never really had much of a relationship with my ski tech. Now Willi and I are super close. We talk all the time. I go on the run he’s on the hill with me.
“He is a little grumpy, just because certain times, he’s spent so much time in the ski room, or like anybody else, you’re tired and your back’s a little sore and you still have got to hump skis up the hill, and get up super early in the morning when you get two hours of sleep every night. That’s just one of the things I’ve got to juggle. I’ve got to find a masseuse here and there for him.”
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via email@example.com.