Stars of the sport come and go and athletes retire at the end of every ski season but 2019 proved to be one for the books with over a dozen well-known World Cup athletes choosing to hang up the race skis for good to pursue other passions in life.
Speed superstars, American Lindsey Vonn and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, headlined the list of this season’s retirees, stepping away from the sport with career accolades almost too long to list. With Svindal taking silver and Vonn bronze in their respective farewell races, two of the sport’s biggest names over the last 10-plus years were able to walk away from ski racing on top.
With the 2019 season ending a three-year World Championship and Olympic cycle that saw the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics sandwiched between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Are, Sweden, many other well-known names on the World Cup tour saw this season as an opportune time to bow out and hand over the reins to the next generation of World Cup stars.
At the time of publication, by Ski Racing Media’s count, four World Cup women and a staggering 11 men have announced their retirements from the sport either during this past winter or shortly after.
Lindsey Vonn (USA) – At the beginning of the 2019 winter, only one thing was on Lindsey Vonn’s mind: 86. The American was only four wins shy of reaching the all-time World Cup wins record of 86, held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark since 1989. Vonn had won five races the season prior and was poised to take over the mantle of winningest skier of all time before a pre-season training crash left her with a torn LCL. After sitting out the first half of her final season, Vonn returned to the World Cup in Cortina, Italy, in January but realized that she could not keep pace with the field and announced that she would retire at the end of World Championships in Are. After a hair-raising crash in the super-G, the American bounced back to win bronze in the downhill, capping off her illustrious career with another World Championship medal. Vonn finished her career with 82 World Cup victories, three Olympic medals, eight World Championship medals, four Overall World Cup titles, and 16 discipline crystal globes.
Frida Hansdotter (SWE) – 33-year-old Swedish slalom ace Frida Hansdotter’s career spanned the reigns of two of the greatest slalom skiers the sport has ever seen. Hansdotter went head-to-head with both Austria’s Marlies Schild and American star Mikaela Shiffrin during her 14-year World Cup career, standing on the podium with both slalom legends. In total, Hansdotter stood on the World Cup podium 35 times, 18 times in second place, often to either Schild or Shiffrin. Hansdotter managed to win a World Cup slalom title of her own in 2016 and has four career World Cup slalom wins to her name. Her career highlight, however, came at PyeongChang 2018 when the Swede won gold in the slalom, besting her fiercest rivals in one of the most breathtaking women’s races in recent memory. Hansdotter announced her retirement last month at World Cup Finals in Andorra.
Chiara Costazza (ITA) – Italian slalom veteran Chiara Costazza’s World Cup career started all the way back in 2002. Among the top women’s slalom skiers in the world since the 2006 season, Costazza has one World Cup win to her name, the 2007 slalom in Lienz, Austria, and a third-place finish in the Reiteralm slalom that same season. Unfortunate injuries kept her at home for many World Championship and Olympic events, with the Italian only competing in the 2006 and 2018 Games. Known for her attacking style, Costazza was a regular in the top-10 of women’s slalom for over a decade. Costazza also announced her retirement at World Cup Finals.
Kristine Gjelsten Haugen (NOR) – 26-year-old Kristine Gjelsten Haugen has spent the seasons since graduating from the University of Denver carving out a name for herself in slalom and GS on the World Cup. Haugen was a regular top-30 finisher for the past several seasons before deciding to retire at the conclusion of this winter to rest an ailing back that has hampered her skiing. While an NCAA athlete, Haugen captured four individual NCAA titles and helped the Pioneers win two NCAA Championships.
Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – If Lindsey Vonn was the Queen of Speed, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal was the King. Dominating the speed disciplines on the World Cup for the better part of a decade before the 36-year-old suffered a catastrophic knee injury in the 2016 Kitzbuehel downhill, Svindal bounced back to win downhill gold at PyeongChang 2018 and capped off his career with a silver medal in his last race at World Championships. Svindal’s retirement announcement at this season’s Kitzbuehel races came as a surprise to some as the Norwegian had kept pretty quiet about his career’s future leading up to his decision to retire after the World Championships. At the end of a World Cup career that started all the way back in 2001, Svindal claimed four Olympic medals, nine World Championship medals, two Overall World Cup titles, nine discipline crystal globes, and 36 World Cup victories.
Felix Neureuther (GER) – Germany’s Felix Neureuther was born ski racing royalty. The son of German skiing greats Christian Neureuther and Rosi Mittermaier, Neureuther seemed destined to be headed to the top of the sport at an early age. One of the most popular skiers on the men’s tour for the entirety of his 16-year career on the World Cup, the 35-year-old technical specialist finished his career with 13 World Cup wins to his name. Neureuther also won three World Championship medals in slalom — silver in 2013 and bronze in 2015 and 2017. Neureuther announced his retirement at World Cup Finals.
Erik Guay (CAN) – The most successful Canadian ski racer of all time, 37-year-old Erik Guay ended his career at the Lake Louise World Cups last November after recurring back problems proved too much to handle the rigors of World Cup speed racing. Guay was the 2011 World Champion in downhill and had a stunning 2017 World Championships, winning gold in super-G and silver in downhill — becoming the oldest World Champion at the age of 35. Over the course of his career, Guay claimed five World Cup victories and won the super-G crystal globe in 2010.
Patrick Kueng (SUI) – Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng announced an early retirement at Kitzbuehel this season after a crash in a training run for the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen the week prior left the 35-year-old sidelined with a concussion. Kueng ended his career with two World Cup victories to his name and the 2015 World Championship gold in downhill.
Steve Missillier (FRA) – Frenchman Steve Missillier was a mainstay at the top of the results in both slalom and giant slalom for nearly 10 years. Missillier only has one World Cup podium to his name but his career highlight came at Sochi 2014 when the 34-year-old took the silver medal in GS behind American legend Ted Ligety. Missillier was injured last December and officially announced his retirement late last month.
Mattias Hargin (SWE) – Swedish slalom star Mattias Hargin will be remembered as one of the most intense athletes on race day the World Cup has ever seen. Famous for his power from starting gate to finish corral, Hargin’s lone World Cup win came at Kitzbuehel in 2015, winning the slalom in spectacular fashion. Hargin married freeskier and longtime girlfriend Matilda Rapaport in 2016 before she tragically passed away in an avalanche later that year. Hargin returned to the World Cup after his wife’s death to become one of the best parallel racers in the world, helping Sweden to a bronze medal in the team event at the 2017 World Championships. Hargin announced his retirement just prior to World Cup finals and the team event was his final race.
Thomas Fanara (FRA) – Frenchman Thomas Fanara announced prior to the 2019 season that this would be his last year on the World Cup. Taking in each stop as much as he could, the 37-year-old landed on the GS podium three times last season to cap off an impressive World Cup career that started in 2005. Fanara’s one World Cup win came at the 2016 World Cup Finals where he won the GS and led a French sweep of the podium. Fanara had 13 other podium finishes to his name, all in GS.
Werner Heel (ITA) – A familiar name on the speed circuit since 2001, 37-year-old Italian Werner Heel ended his career at the Kvitfjell speed races prior to World Cup Finals. During his long career, Heel won three World Cup races, two in super-G and one in downhill, and stood on the podium seven other times. Heel also narrowly missed a medal in super-G at Vancouver 2010, finishing just off the podium in fourth.
Thomas Mermillod-Blondin (FRA) – Frenchman Thomas Mermillod-Blondin was an unusual combined specialist for most of his career on the World Cup. Of his seven World Cup podium appearances, six were in combined with his seventh coming in super-G. Mermillod-Blondin was injured for most of the 2018 season and announced his retirement at the World Cup races in Bansko, Bulgaria, in February.
Mark Engel (USA) – American slalom skier Mark Engel had a banner 2018 season, qualifying for his first Olympic team and finding the points on the World Cup four times that winter. Despite his on-hill success, the California native did not make the objective U.S Ski Team criteria for the 2019 season and was not named to the national team. Engel returned to the NCAA ranks at the University of Utah where he was NCAA GS champion in 2014 but a lingering back issue forced his retirement from the sport earlier this spring. Engel famously finished in third place after the first run at the 2017 Zagreb slalom and was well on his way to a top-five finish in the second run before crashing out mere gates from the finish line. Engel was also a member of the 2017 World Championship team.
Joonas Rasanen (FIN) – Finland’s Joonas Rasanen was the 2013 NCAA slalom champion with the University of New Mexico before racing full time on the World and Europa Cup. The 29-year-old made his World Cup debut in 2009 and started in a total of 27 races on the Tour and was part Finland’s World Championship teams in 2015, 2017, and 2019. Rasanen announced his retirement via social media earlier this month.
Hig Roberts (USA) – American independent racer and Team Clif athlete Hig Roberts announced the end of his career late last month. Also a former NCAA athlete at Middlebury College, Roberts raced full-time after graduating and spent the last several seasons on and off the U.S. Ski Team. Roberts made 31 World Cup starts in his career.