In his own words: Daron Rahlves describes what it’s like to win the HahnenkammHey everyone! I’m sitting here next to my Kitz trophy punching out a few e-mails. This gold trophy looks better than my bronze from 2001. … It puts a huge smile on my face when I think back to the day. The official awards were incredible. Thousands of fans yelling. The noise shook me to the core when I heard, “Hahnenkamm Sieger … from the United States of America … Daron Rahlves!” Then they played the national anthem with me holding a flag and my golden trophy. It was a feeling that will live with me forever. That’s when it finally settled in and I knew I had won the big one!

Friday, the day before the downhill, my sister Shash and I skied with Jamy, Josh and this guy Ralph that I met the day before. He grew up in Kitz and now lives in Malibu, Calif. Anyway, after a great day of skiing pow and eating a big old weinerschnitzel I headed down the gondola for town. As I was going down I read off every name on the gondolas passing by. Every winner at Kitzbuehel is honored with their own gondola. Then four blank gondolas went by and I said to myself that one of those will be mine. The next morning I woke up and had this feeling like I was destined to win here.

After inspection and getting myself ready to go we were put on hold at start time, 11 a.m. It was a long day waiting around for the fog to lift. Every 30 minutes it was pushed back. Finally at 1:45 p.m. they made a decision to lower the start and get the race off. I was disappointed because the top is a blast to ski and I’m fast up there in the first 35 seconds. What can you do? At least we were going to have the race. I felt fine about starting lower. I’ve always been competitive from there down.

Starting from the Alte Schneise (a lower start on the Hahnenkamm course), it’s a full sprint. Every turn must be nailed and a tight bull (a.k.a. bullet, bully, or tuck) is important. Not running from the top puts more guys right in the hunt close in time.

To the run: I felt good speed out of the start and through the middle. Willi (Wiltz, his ski technician) had my Atomics rolling. Into Hausberg I hit the line and ripped the turn going into the side hill traverse. I stuck the line and felt fast. This is where you make lots of speed or blow it. The light was dark and the hill was rough. I went for an early bully and then hit a bump which felt like slamming into a street curb. Instantly it sent me into a star fish position. Bad place for that. I pulled it back in and tried to take all the speed I had into the finish. Crossing the finish line all I wanted to see was the board. I started number 26 and when I saw number 1 I knew it was a good one.

But it wasn’t over yet. There still were a few strong skiers to come and I had to wait it out. It was interesting waiting for the four skiers, all Austrians, to take their shot and try to take me down. It all came down to Eberharter, who started 30th. He came across the line and landed in fourth. The massive Austrian crowd went silent. Their hero didn’t win. That was a big moment for me and a huge relief.

Willi had to walk all the way down from the start because he didn’t have his skis with him. From the top start, you take a gondola right there and then download afterwards. But since the start was moved down he had to walk. It was a long one, with plenty of time spent on his butt doing the close-to-death slide, packing it into safety fences. He didn’t care though. His boy had just won “the Buehel.” Right by his side was Pete, a.k.a. Baby Huey, our buddy from Truckee, Calif. Huey was also at the start in Wengen when I was second and eighth. They both finally made it to the finish in a steaming sweaty mess and teary eyes. Ha, ha, ha! Willi, Rudi (from Atomic) and I all hugged and tears started flowing. It was an emotional day for many. All my coaches were hooting it up. Per, Brigham, Johno, Pedro, Phil and Izzy.

Bob Beattie was very emotional in the finish. He founded the World Cup and has been at the Hahnenkamm race there since the beginning. Every year since 1964, I think. He knows what this one is all about. My sister Shannon, friends Buck, Hitcher, Jamy, LP, Betsy, Dooley, Elizabeth, Greg Murtha, Mike, Pino … kids from GMVS, the rest of the USST crew and other Americans were all going off. There was a huge Sugar Bowl banner in the finish that Murtha brought and plenty of USA flags to wave in the air.

From the podium I walked the Sieger’s (winner’s) walk into the Kitzbuehel Hahnenkammrennen tunnel of fame. Pretty much the only chance I’d have to get out of there. I think they said 40,000 showed up. It seemed like more, though.

I won’t bore you all with the media stuff, but there was a lot of it. I finally made it back to the Goldener Grief at 6:15 p.m. and had to leave for the awards at 6:45 p.m.

After the awards and a live TV show, I made it back for dinner before heading out to an Audi VIP dinner. Atomic set it up for Didier Cuche, who was second that day, Stefan Eberharter and me. I met some big guns from VW/Audi/Lamborghini, Formula 1, and Red Bull, along with many others. It was a fun scene, but not as much fun as the party at The Londoner.

Wow, where should I start with that one? The entire crew met in our hotel lobby, the Goldener Grief, at 11:30 p.m. and rallied from there. I was hoisted up on the shoulders of Johno and Pedro. Willi and Baby Huey were lead blockers pushing through the crowd and the rest of the crew was in a tight formation all the way to the door and right to the bar. Once we pushed our way in with the help of The Londoner bouncers I made it behind the bar and the celebration kicked into fifth gear. Jake Fiala, Audon Gruenvold, Daniel Mahrer, Luc Alphand, Didier Cuche and I joined The Londoner crew and served the house.

It was the party of all parties. I just wish the rest of you could have been there. Well, that’s pretty much that. Thanks for all of your support.

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