Olympic downhill runs have rarely found a place among the most revered World Cup courses. "There's a reason for that," says four-time U.S. Olympic downhiller AJ Kitt. "In the Olympics you get [less-skilled] racers from all over the world who ordinarily wouldn't be in a World Cup downhill. The people who set up the courses have to control the speed for safety," Also, downhills for the Games are slaves to location; sometimes the available slope simply isn't mean or memorable. The 1994 Olympic downhill course, carved beautifully out of the woods in Kvitfjell, Norway, is one exception and remains on the World Cup circuit. The 2002 Snowbasin course could be another.
The five best downhill courses in the world.
Home of hallowed Hahnenkamm, world's most prestigious downhill race. Steep, narrow and tough, guaranteed to ferret out best and bravest racer. Enormous, roaring crowds. "If you get in the top 10 at Kitzbühel, that's huge," says 1994 downhill gold medalist Tommy Moe of the U.S., who finished in the top 10 at Kitzbühel four times.
The fastest of major downhills, holds racers at sustained high speed longer than any other. "Gnarly course," says Moe. "I was pretty intimidated the first time I saw it." Prolific course designer and 1972 downhill gold medalist Bernard Russi of Switzerland says essence of downhill is "first man from the top of the mountain to the village wins." Bormio embodies that spirit.
Val Gardena (ITALY)
More jumps than any other major downhill, highlighted by famous Kamelsprung, or camel jumps, series of three in middle of course. "Lots of turns and flows, lots of jumps," says Kitt. "Just outstanding."
At 2.7 miles in length and nearly 2½ minutes in duration, easily longest major downhill, test of not only speed and technique but also stamina. "A real leg burner," says Moe. Ultimately, course for gliders, not technical skiers.
Short course, running only one minute, 40 seconds, but precise and exacting, rewarding skilled skier, not fast wax job. Spectacular setting, with mountain rising from seemingly endless snowfields.