Until they allow nitro’d Icelandic 4×4’s to compete at the Winter Olympics, speed skiing is the next best thing for petrolheads: straight downhill, 150+ MPH, faster than a man dropping from an airplane.
To be fair, speed skiing is not an Olympic sport. It made it as far as a demonstration at the 1992 games, when the Swiss competitor Nicolas Bochatay crashed into a snow groomer, becoming the last Olympic fatality until the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili collided with a concrete pole at 90 MPH last Friday.
Speed skiing is very simple: you go straight downhill, drawn tight as a perfect aerodynamic bunch. I certainly get the appeal. My parents have this story from our first skiing vacation, told with equal measures of fascination and horror, of a young Orosz at the tender age of five being baffled at all the adults slaloming their ways laboriously downhill and rocketing down the slopes like a dervish on fire.
Those who survive such youthful escapades either abandon skiing, like I did, or—upon finer understanding of the concept of fear—learn how to slalom and become ski professionals. Not speed skiers. What they do is wrap themselves in polyurethane spacesuits, don fabulous alien helmets and aerodynamically optimized carapaces with optional braking parachutes inside, then grab poles which have a pronounced kink in them so they can tuck them in tight against their bodies for the crazy downhill runs on a measured one kilometer straight.
The current world record is 156.2 MPH, held since April 2006 by Simone Origone from Italy. One point two miles per hour faster than the electronic speed limiter installed in most German cars built for storming the Autobahns.
But instead of inside a coccoon of crash zones and steel, on a pair of skis. What I suspect are concealed inside those cherry-red suits are balls of unobtainium.
Photo Credit: DOMINIC FAVRE/AFP/Getty Images, GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images, SpeedSki.com