This year’s night slalom at Madonna di Campiglio was a celebration of all-time champions with Marcel Hischer taking gold and surprising everyone once again – himself included. Alberto Tomba, who was present to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first win at the slalom of Madonna di Campiglio was also astonished at the feat. Hirscher put down some superhero-like sections after two large mistakes in the second run, in a way that only he could pull off. Hirscher, Switzerland’s Luca Aerni and Henrik Kristoffersenshare the podium and were separated by a mere five hundredths of a second, treating fans to a tight and dramatic battle.

At its 64th edition, the 3Tre race hill in Madonna is already in the books as one of the most thrilling slaloms of the circuit and it has a distinctive Italian flair. There is the long and steady section of pitch that gives no room for hesitation, the initial and final flat that can change the outcome of the race, the lights and the spectators cheering all along the course until the theatrical finish, right in town, and the parties to follow all night long. Historically, winners of the Madonna slalom embody talent, attitude, style and inspiration. It’s not surprising to see some of the ever-best champions populating the boards of Campiglio’s slalom. Ingemar Stenmark, Alberto Tomba, Bode Miller, Ivica Kostelic, are a few. Fast forward to the Kristoffersen-Hirscher battle of the last couple years. Kristoffersen took first in 2015 and 2016, followed by Hirscher in second both times. After this year though, Kristoffersen said he will be  busy during Christmas. “I am going home to think about how to beat this guy,” he joked of Hirscher after the race.

Gustav Thoeni and Alberto Tomba // Image Credit: Photo Bisti

Seventeen thousand people came to the Dolomite location from all over Italy and the world to experience what is more than a World Cup stop, but a night event that blends in with the regal streets and history of downtown. “Madonna di Campiglio tells great stories,” Hirscher told Ski Racing after the race.

Image Credit: GEPA / Andreas Pranter

LEGENDS OF YESTERDAY, HEROES OF TODAY.
Many people also came to Campiglio to join the celebration of legend Alberto Tomba, who won his first gold at the 3Tre in 1987, when his career was just about to take off. He wore shaded glasses at the finish and donned a presence that both fans and athletes feel from afar. “Many years have gone by, but the warmth of Campiglio is still there,” Tomba said to Italy’s newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. “I get emotional when I see the photos of my days. What to say? Thanks for everything.” He added. Tomba’s legacy doesn’t get old: adult and kids remember him for his unique way of performing, like that time he cheered before crossing the finish line. He was a phenomenal skier, a strong athlete and had an outrageous charisma that drew the world’s attention to alpine skiing. His attitude and flair simply changed the sport from those moments forward. Tomba collected 50 World Cup wins, 35 of them were in slalom and 15 were in giant slalom. With his last gold, Hirscher is up to 49. “He is an E.T.” said Tomba about the Austrian. “He has got an edge over the others.”

Image Credit: Pentaphoto/Alessandro Trovati

Setting the scene:
The record number of spectators this year spread all along the race hill’s pitch and welcomed each skier at they came into view from the finish like gladiators in the arena. There was special thunder for the Italian team athletes and the athletes who put on a show with the crowd—it was like an early Christmas present for the many kids who came to cheer. “What’s special is the atmosphere. It is very cozy and familiar also for the guests who come here to experience the event,” explained Giorgio Rocca, former Italian medalist and winner of Campiglio’s 2005 race. “The sport factor is the most important thing of the night, but the whole city transforms to make ski-enthusiasts have the best time. It’s history, as the locationhas  hosted the second highest number of World Cups, and it’s so cool, ” he said. Rocca took a private group of guests down the race hill during inspection and told them the tricks of the hill. After, he foreran the first run. For Italian Riccardo Tonetti, who didn’t finish his first run, Campiglio’s race is always a strong emotion.

“You feel that it is not a race as all the others, first because of all the spectators that come out to watch, but also for the nighttime atmosphere and the great hill. It is something special, and of course you also try to do a good race. This setting excites me,” admitted Tonetti, who grew up around the area. “I have never felt pressured from it, rather it pushes me and motivates me to do better.”

This year’s upgrade was a temporary  gym built right by the top of 3Tre course and connected to the start by an all-glass tunnel.

Bode Miller spent a lot of time in the greater Madonna di Campiglio area while he was an active racer. His training base was in Andalo, right on the other side of the mountain. “To win in Campiglio is to cast out nines: only champions do it,” Miller said to Gazzetta dello Sport. Bode did it after crashing his car into a tree, back in 2001.

Image Credit: Pentaphoto/Alessandro Trovati

The Celebration:
After the last racer crosses the line, the night is still young in Madonna di Campiglio. In fact, it feels like the town is just waking up as spectators and athletes flood the streets from the finish arena for the last celebration before Christmas. People can choose from all sorts of fun, from a staged DJ set in the plaza, to breweries and uptight cocktail bars, or simply street food.

Image Credit: Francesca Curtolo

Only few people seem to go home right after the race. Piano 54 has become a hotspot for celebrations. With its mountain chalet atmosphere, it gathers the skiing community around the dance floor. It wouldn’t be surprising to see athletes enjoying a night out after the race, as the upcoming Christmas gives them a short break. Athletes from different countries come together after the on-snow fight. Italian Giuliano Razzoli, Manfred Moelgg, Stefano Gross and French skier Julien Lizeroux were among the athletes who partied at Piano 54 after the race, taking selfies here and there with fans. In the ski racing world, dominated by earlier-than-dawn alarms, late-night parties are rare exceptions. Campiglio is the exception. Save the date as Dec. 22 will host the World Cup spectacular for years to come. 

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Francesca Curtolo
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Francesca Curtolo grew up in the Italian Dolomites and moved to the U.S. thanks to a ski scholarship at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. She started writing for the sports section of the college paper and now contributes to Ski Racing Media to spread the word of the sport she loves. Apart from skiing in the snow, she also enjoys skiing in the water.
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