A Kitzbühel Winter Fairytale
"St. Peter (the God of weather) must be a Kitzbühel man" was the Tiroler Tageszeitung newspaper’s headline on 17th January 2023 - and no headline could sum up the 83rd Hahnenkamm Races any better. The Streif and Ganslern courses were race ready in the days and weeks leading up to the event, but the landscape in the finish area during the first Downhill training did not resemble a race setting in mid-January at all (more like April, if the truth be known). But just a few hours later, Kitzbühel was swathed in a blanket of snow. Not too much and not too little - just right to provide the perfect setting for the perfectly prepared racecourses: an almost “kitschy” winter wonderland.
As St. Peter is supposed to be a Kitzbühel man, it came as no surprise that the Organisers did not schedule the second training run for Wednesday, but for Thursday instead, so the fresh snow could be cleared from the Streif with the necessary peace and quiet on Wednesday. During the second training run, it was also possible to sample the conditions that would prevail during the first Downhill race the following day: light snowfall, no sunshine. Friday's first race was eagerly awaited not only by the athletes, but also by the Organising Committee and the entire Kitzbühel Ski Club. After all, it was the first time that fans would be permitted to attend. Organisers watched with delight and a great sigh of relief as loyal audiences returned "united": 20,000 on Friday, 45,000 on Saturday (sold out) and 20,000 on Sunday.
From a sporting perspective, Friday's Downhill was a veritable thriller, as the slope and conditions offered even late starters the chance to take the Hahnenkamm title: Broderick Thompson (bib number 39) came 9th, Miha Hrobat (bib number 45) 7th, and when Florian Schieder launched into the race with start number 43, even Vincent Kriechmayr started to feel anxious. The South Tyrolean ultimately missed out on victory by a mere 23 hundredths of a second. Niels Hintermann was delighted with third place behind Kriechmayr and Schieder. In addition to the enthralling race, two scenes will also find their way into Kitzbühel’s skiing history: the athletic mastery with which Marco Odermatt and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (with a broken metacarpal) were able to avoid serious falls will be revisited at least as often as Bode Miller's involuntary “wallride" on the safety net in 2008.
As Aleksander Aamodt Kilde loves to write epic stories, he opted for the ideal line this time on Saturday in front of 45,000 spectators and triumphed in the Downhill. Johan Clarey was delighted with second place and "the most beautiful moment in my career" when the Frenchman crossed the finish line as interim leader. Hot on Johan Clarey’s heels, Travis Ganong rejoiced at his third place - by the way, both are retiring from the sport after this season. Beat Feuz called time on his career directly in Kitzbühel. The three-time Downhill winner savoured the Streif and cheers of the fans twice more before entering sporting retirement, but didn't take any chances this time.
The sun then finally appeared for this Hahnenkamm weekend - how could it be otherwise - on Sunday, which presented spectators with a challenging and exciting Slalom on the Ganslern slope. After the race, the winning trio of Daniel Yule, Dave Ryding and Lucas Braathen were wreathed in sunny smiles, together with the happy fans and satisfied organisers. The 83rd Hahnenkamm Races were a ski festival to remember. However, their staging would have been utterly impossible had it not been for the tireless piste teams led by Herbert Hauser and Stefan Lindner, together with the Bergbahn Kitzbühel Cable Car Co., who had already prepared two race-ready slopes with an impressive layer of snow in mid-December. It was only thanks to their conscientious advance preparations that the spring-like temperatures between Christmas and mid-January could be endured, before St. Peter then departed, to return from whence he came.