The absence of defining features make this a sinister course, hidden in a series of blind rolls and off camber turns. PHOTO: Courtesy St. Moritz
The absence of defining features make this a sinister course, hidden in a series of blind rolls and off camber turns. PHOTO: Courtesy St. Moritz

Racers to Reach Record Speeds at World Cup’s Steepest Start

American Downhiller Marco ‘Sully’ Sullivan shares his insight on how to win at St. Moritz

As well as claiming to be the origin of skiing in the Alps, St. Moritz was the host site for the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics. Once again, St Moritz will be at the center of the ski world February 6-19 when the 44th FIS Alpine World Championships—held every two non-Olympic years—will, for the fourth time since 1934, be contested on the slopes below Piz Nair.

The 2017 FIS Championships will be the largest gathering of alpine athletes outside of the winter games with more than 600 competitors from 70-plus countries competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals in six alpine disciplines.

St. Moritz is know for it’s lavish party scene, but for the racers, it’s business as usual on the course this week. PHOTO: Courtesy St. Moritz

In stark contrast to its modern-day reputation as the place for the social elite to flaunt their glitz and glamor, St. Moritz had a more solemn genesis dating back to 1519 when summer pilgrimages were made there to take in the holy waters of Mauritius springs. Then, in 1864, a local hotel entrepreneur wagered with four British tourists that they would enjoy St. Moritz in the winter as well. That bet began the 153-year process that changed the mineral waters into fine wine creating a ski resort that, arguably, has no equal.

Among the greats from the past to medal at the Alpine World Championships for the men are Kjetil André Aamodt (NOR) with 12 medals, Marc Giradelli (LUX) and Lasse Kjus (NOR) both with 11, and for the women, Christl Cranz (GER) with a record 15 medals, and Marielle Goitschel (FRA) and Annemarie Moser-Pröll tied with 11. The top-five countries in the medal count are, Austria—228, Switzerland—157, France—100, Germany—98, and the United States—65.

Seventeen-year U.S. Ski Team veteran and American Downhiller Marco 'Sully' Sullivan raced in both the Super G and downhill in St. Moritz at the 2003 Alpine World Championships and shares his impressions and experiences of this Swiss track with POWDER.

St. Moritz was always described to me as the Aspen of Europe. Given its heritage I think it should be the other way around, but regardless, the vibe is similar. When I first raced there I was taken back by the number of fur-wearing, Maserati-driving Europeans who were lounging at the base area, but once I got on the hill it was business as usual.

The Free Fall start, added in 2003, is the steepest start on the World Cup tour. PHOTO: Courtesy St. Moritz

The main thing you notice when you first look at the race venue is the absence of defining features of any kind—no trees or rock outcroppings. That said, the racecourse does have character, but it's a bit sinister and hidden in a series of blind rolls and off camber turns.

St. Moritz is not as intimidating as Kitzbühel or Wengen, but courses like this can be the hardest ones to figure out where and how to be fast. The Swiss teams are able to train on this hill frequently, which gives them a real advantage. Because it's a tricky course with every run you get more and more comfortable and confident about where the fastest line will be.

Racers talk about getting lost their first time down this course because every blind roll looks eerily similar on this featureless landscape. This track is a regular stop on the Women's World Cup tour, but when the World Championships were last held here in 2003 the FIS felt they needed to add something big to give more drama to the course.

In 2003, a new start area was added called Free Fall, and like the name sounds, it is dramatic. Nestled into the cliff face high above the old start, it's now the steepest start on the World Cup tour with racers reaching speeds around 130 kmh (80.78 mph) in just six seconds.

Racers who are able to win on this track are the ones who really figure out the tactics of the terrain that comes later in the course. Being able to carry all the speed from Free Fall over the rolls, jumps, and blind corners is the challenge.

The Mauer Wall can make or break your race. This section begins at about one minute and 15 seconds into the track and has some very technical terrain. There's a jump leading into two completely blind turns followed by a sharp right-foot fall-away turn. Exiting the Mauer Wall there's a long flat to the finish so it's critical that racers get this combination right.

Swiss natives Beat Feuz and Lara Gut are both in good form and may be hard to beat in the speed events. For the Americans, I know that Travis Ganong has trained on this hill and been fast here in the past. And of course Lindsey Vonn is back and will be gunning for more hardware on this classic course. It's going to be exciting to watch.

US Athletes Competing in the 2017 Alpine World Championships at St. Moritz (Additional Alpine World Championship participation indicated by years)
Men
Michael Ankeny, Deephaven, MN, Buck Hill Ski Team
Bryce Bennett, Squaw Valley, CA, Squaw Valley Ski Team
Tommy Biesemeyer, Keene, NY, New York Ski Education Foundation (2013)
David Chodounksy, Crested Butte, CO, Crested Butte Ski Team (2011, 2013, 2015)
Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Starksboro, VT, Cochran's Ski Club/Mt. Mansfield Ski Club (2013)
Mark Engel, Truckee, CA, Sugar Bowl Academy
Tommy Ford, Bend, OR, Mt. Bachelor Ski Education Foundation (2011, 2015)
Travis Ganong, Squaw Valley, CA, Squaw Valley Ski Team (2011, 2013, 2015)
AJ Ginnis, Vouliagmeni, Greece, Green Mountain Valley School
Jared Goldberg, Holladay, UT, Snowbird Sports Education Foundation (2015)
Tim Jitloff, Reno, NV, Park City Ski Team (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Robby Kelley, Starksboro, VT, Cochran's Ski Club/Mt. Mansfield Ski Club (2013)
Brennan Rubie, Salt Lake City, UT, Snowbird Sports Education Foundation (2015)
Andrew Weibrecht, Lake Placid, NY, New York Ski Education Foundation (2009, 2013, 2015)

Women
Stacey Cook, Mammoth Mountain, CA, Mammoth Mountain Ski Team (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Breezy Johnson, Victor, ID, Rowmark Ski Academy*
Julia Mancuso, Squaw Valley, CA, Squaw Valley Ski Team (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Megan McJames, Park City, UT, Park City Ski Team (2009, 2011, 2015)
Laurenne Ross, Bend, OR, Mt. Bachelor Ski Education Foundation (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Mikaela Shiffrin, Eagle-Vail, CO, Burke Mountain Academy/Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (2013, 2015)
Resi Stiegler, Jackson Hole, WY, Jackson Hole Ski Club (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, Buck Hill/Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015)
Jackie Wiles, Aurora, OR, Pacific Northwest Ski Association/White Pass Ski Club (2015)

Sully's Top Picks for the Speed events
Men's DH
Beat Feuz
Travis Ganong
Hannes Reichelt

Men's Super G
Kjetil Jansrud
Beat Feuz
Carlo Janka

Women's DH
Lindsey Vonn
Lara Gut
Ilka Stuhec

Women's Super G
Lara Gut
Tina Weirather
Sofia Goggia

Sully's Top Picks for the Speed events (Additional Alpine World Championship participation indicated by years)
Men's DH
Beat Feuz (SUI): 2011, 2015
Travis Ganong (USA): 2011, 2013, 2015
Hannes Reichert (AUT): 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015

Men's Super G
Kjetil Jansryd (NOR): 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
Beat Feuz (SUI): 2011, 2015
Carlo Janka (SUI): 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015

Women’s DH
Lindsey Vonn (USA): 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
Lara Gut (SUI): 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
Ilka Stuhec (SLO): 2013, 2015

Women's Super G

Lara Gut (SUI): 2009, 2011, 2013, 2105
Tina Weirather (LIE): 2005, 2007, 2013, 2015
Sofia Goggia (ITA): 2013

Broadcast Times for Speed events (Check listings for time changes)
Women's Super G
2/7/17
5:55 am ET NBCSN

Men's Super G
2/8/17
5:55 am ET NBCSN
2/8/17
10:30 am ET NBCSN (re-air)

Women's Super Combined DH
2/10/17
4:00 am ET Streaming NBCSports.com

Women's Super Combined
2/10/17
6:30 am ET NBCSN

Men's DH
2/11/17
2:30 pm ET NBC

Women's DH
2/12/17
12:30 pm ET NBC

Men's Super Combined DH
2/13/17
4:00 am ET Steaming NBCSports.com
2/13/17
6:30 am ET NBCSN
2/13/17
11:00 am ET NBCSN (re-air)