Daron Rahlves is well-known as a hugely successful World Cup ski racer, collecting 28 downhill and super G podiums -- including 12 wins -- over the course of his career. Add seven U.S. National titles and a super G World Championship, as well as a Winter X Games gold medal in Skier X, and you have a man proven to be fast.
That doesn’t tell his whole story, however. Rahlves is first and foremost a skier, one who is driven to hone all of his skills on the mountain, not just his racing chops. Evolving from full-time racer to skier cross to big mountain and freeride, Daron is a renaissance man on the hill, happy to be in any terrain as long as he’s on skis.
Rahlves was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame over the weekend, a huge honor, especially for a man who still has a list of accomplishments he plans to tick off. We caught up with him to discuss the accolade and hear about his personal career highlights, and talk about the Rahlves Banzai Tour, the natural-terrain race series he launched in Tahoe this season.
How’s it feel to be in the Hall of Fame? How was the induction ceremony?
It was bigger than I thought; I figured it would just be show up, get your recognition and a medal or something. I found out as the first person went up there that we actually had to do acceptance speeches. It was cool; we got a little window into each person’s life. It was a great honor for me to be inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame and to be with that group of inductees.
Looking back on your career to this point, what are your biggest highlights?
Definitely making the U.S. Ski Team when I was 19. That came a little later for me than most kids; I didn’t really grow up dreaming of being an Olympian. Once I got into racing a little more, I knew that making the team would be a big step.
Then I won my first World Cup downhill in 2000, and that let me know what I was made of, what I could accomplish. I was the fastest guy in the world that given day, and I wanted to do it more often.
Then I won the next day. Looking back, that was one of the most perfect races I’ve ever had. I was on a total high and everything was feeling good, just flowing really well. If I had to pick a perfect race -- and there’s hardly ever a perfect race -- that was it.
The next big highlight was winning World Championships in 2001, and then winning the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel in 2003. That was the start of some big things there in Kitzbühel for me. That was the ultimate proving ground; it’s an international sport, and to beat the Austrians, especially on their home turf… It didn’t happen too often.
That was a huge deal to me; that was the place – if I were going to ski my best at any point in the year, that was the one race I wanted to do it at. Didn’t matter if it was the Olympics or the Worlds, Kitzbühel was the most treacherous, highest-risk, gnarliest track around, and that’s where I wanted to shine.
"As far as a straight-up hero, that would be my dad."
Who’s in your personal Hall of Fame?
I think I was more focused on the guys in Europe. The guy I really looked at was Günther Mader. He was just a bad-ass to me. He came across well on and off the hill. I tried to emulate him as much as possible.
As far as a straight-up hero, that would be my dad. The way he took care of business and made time to enjoy his life. He worked really hard and told me from the beginning, “If you’re going to do something, put everything you’ve got into it, all of your effort.” I learned being around the skiers I was competing with that talent wasn’t going to do it all for you. You have to work really hard for it.
I’m inspired by everybody I meet in certain ways. Those who are willing to take chances and throw it on the line. Those who have great talent but work really hard to tap into that talent and take it to a level that no one else has - those are the most inspiring people.
You’ve accomplished so much, how do you keep on pushing and what are you looking for?
You don’t have that many perfect days on the hill – the type of skiing I want to do, I’m not going in the halfpipe or hitting jumps where you can learn something new every day. I want to find unique features, bigger lines, stuff that’s different. I want to ski stuff top to bottom with good flow. That’s a rewarding feeling.
There’s tons of that stuff up there; every time you come around a corner, whether you’re skiing, out on a snowmobile or in a heli, you find something new, even at ski resorts. That’s the fun aspect of the sport. It’s not a basketball court or swimming pool or soccer field where things are always the same. You’re challenged by other people in those situations, but in our sport, you’re challenged by the conditions and natural terrain.
Do you miss the drive of the racing world?
In a way. What I miss is not having the time to put into getting into the best physical shape I possibly can. I’m trying to do things where you need to ski every single day and train every single day, and now with a family and other things going on, I have to figure out how to balance that. It’s a big challenge. I’m glad I have what I have right now; I wouldn’t have done it unless I wanted it, but it’s more of a challenge to make sure you’re on top of your game when you’re committed to other things.
Why create the Banzai Tour?
The first I ever saw anything like it was an event that Red Bull put on in Austria called White Rush, just an all-mountain charge, head-to-head. I started looking at traditional races over in Europe, and they do a lot of that top-to-bottom, head-to-head racing like it used to be. Then looking at how downhill racing was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, how rough and nasty it was, kind of out of control.
That head-to-head element is cool, and being involved in ski cross the last couple of years, I thought it would be cool to put an event together like this. One that allows a top skier to shine, not just a racer. It’s about who can negotiate the terrain and rough conditions the best and who has that mental toughness to attack the mountain against other competitors.
Actually, Red Bull did it in 2004 at Sugar Bowl, but I was racing at the time and wasn’t around to do the event. Back in ’09 I had Sugar Bowl bring it back, and we did it again in 2010. It was so fun, but it was one event during the season and it was over. I went to Sugar Bowl and told them I wanted to take it to a tour format. They helped me make it happen.
"I don’t have a bad day on the hill."
It takes a ton of time to make sure things go well, but the reward is when you see people all fired up. The best moment for me is seeing people who haven’t competed before, and they’re good skiers, good snowboarders, but when there’s something on the line and three other people who want it, they’re pulling things out, they haven’t pushed themselves that hard before. To see that happen, to see people at the bottom all fired up and stoked about the feeling they have, that’s great.
What’s next for you?
The pIan is to focus more on filming and Banzai next year. I want to be known as a skier, not just a ski racer. I want to show that versatility, take my skills from racing and move them into big mountain, picking out cool lines and going fast at them. I just want to be out in the mountains and have fun skiing. I got into skiing in the first place because I loved it and I didn’t want to stop skiing, and I still have that passion. I don’t have a bad day on the hill.