Skicross features familiar faces at Olympics

Skicross was added to the Olympic program following the overwhelming popularity of snowboardcross, which made a splash at the 2006 Turin Games. The men race on Sunday, with the women hitting Cypress Mountain on Tuesday.

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia  _ Even after a decade spent blistering down the slopes in the downhill, Daron Rahlves still gets scared by the relatively pedestrian speeds of skicross.

Maybe it’s because in downhill, it’s just you and the mountain. In skicross it’s you, the mountain, a couple dozen twists and turns and three other racers determined to beat you to the finish line.

“You never know what’s going to happen in front of you and you need to be prepared for that and to adjust very quickly,” Rahlves said.

The sport was added to the Olympic program following the overwhelming popularity of snowboardcross, which made a splash at the 2006 Turin Games. The men race on Sunday, with the women hitting Cypress Mountain on Tuesday.

Yet there is a decided difference between the two, from the age of the average competitors to the uniform.

Snowboardcross is populated by mostly 20ish riders who dash down the hill in baggy snowpants and are known to drop in a funky board grab or two to spice things up.

In skicross, not so much.

Many of the top racers are like the 36-year-old Rahlves, former Alpiners who moved to skicross in part because they were on the back end of their careers or were simply lured in by the new opportunities skicross provides.

Including Rahlves and teammate Casey Puckett, six of the world’s top 12 ranked men in skicross are former downhill skiers in their 30s.

The women’s side is a little younger, but not much. Ashleigh McIvor, a 26-year-old Canadian, 20-year-old teammate Kelsey Serwa and 33-year-old Ophelie David of France are considered the top contenders.

While Alpine success can certainly help in skicross, it doesn’t guarantee a thing because skicross adds banked turns, blind jumps and racing near a competitor.

“There’s not that many guys that are good at this,” said Stanley Hayer of Canada, who is 36. “It takes a totally different skill set. You can be a great giant slalom skier and totally (stink) at skicross.”

Rahlves won 12 World Cup races between 2000 and 2006, but that success has never translated to the Olympics. He went 0-for-7 between Nagano, Salt Lake City and Turin, failing to crack the top five in any event.

He hopes to change that Sunday, and the unpredictable nature of skicross means anyone in the field can walk away with gold if they mix some good fortune with a whole lot of daring.

“I’m a scrapper,” he said. “I like to fight for it. I always like more challenge, when it’s harder and it’s more risky.”

Leave a Reply