Lauberhorn downhill mixes beauty with danger
Classic race is the longest, and most visually stunning, on alpine tour
Just as golf has its majors and tennis has its Grand Slams, alpine skiing has its classic downhill races.
There's the famous Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuehel and the Kandahar downhill most commonly held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but none fits the bill better than this weekend's event in the Swiss Alps, which descends the magnificent mountain known as theLauberhorn.
It is visually stunning, rich in history, and a test of skill which has few, if any, equals in the alpine world. Each year the downhill at Wengen signals the heart of the racing season on the World Cup tour.
"This is ski racing's equivalent of the Ironman [triathlon]," says Crazy Canuck Ken Read, who won the race in 1980. "There is no other downhill that's like this. It's not a 'ball buster,' but the unique features give it great character and you have to concentrate for an awfully long time."
The track, which winds down the mountain with the spectacular and iconic pyramid-like peak of the Silberhorn as the backdrop, is by far the longest on the circuit, requiring two minutes and thirty seconds of high-speed skiing.
It also traverses challenging sections known as the Russi Jump, the Kernan S, the Canadian Corner and the Austrian Hole, which have been named after accomplished skiers who found varying degrees of success and disaster throughout history.
This is not to mention the tight passageways, chicane-type turns, and even a trip through a tunnel that is a prerequisite of getting to the grandstand — which is routinely stuffed with 30,000 bell-ringing Swiss ski fanatics.
"The Lauberhorn is tradition," Read reminisces. "You never stop looking around and saying to yourself that this is such a beautiful place. But then you find yourself in the start hut and you have to remind yourself that you must focus on the task at hand."
The Lauberhorn races — which include slalom and combined events as well as the downhill — have been running annually since 1930, making them the longest standing ski races involved with the World Cup. Not even World War II interrupted their schedule.
Canadians have been on the podium five times at the Lauberhorn. Most recently, Manuel Osborne-Paradis won silver in 2010. He's one of six Canadians entered in Saturday's men's downhill, a list that includes three-time World Cup downhill winner Erik Guay.
CBC Sports' live coverage of the Lauberhorn races begins with the men's combined Friday at 4:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca. On Saturday, watch the iconic men's downhill live at 6:30 a.m. ET and catch more coverage of the race on our Road to the Olympic Games show at 3 p.m. ET on CBC-TV and CBCSports.ca. Sunday's men's slalom begins at 4:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca.