Speed skiers have taken to the slopes of Andorra for the Speed Skiing World Cup, an annual competition that draws out only the best in the extreme sport. The competition sees skiers go downhill in a straight line and attempt to reach the highest speed possible.
“Speed skiing is the moment of maximum freedom in my life,” said Jan Farrell to Euronews.
“I feel alive, I feel concentrated, focused — and I only think about one thing: going down. It’s perfect, it’s a wonderful feeling. I recommend it,” said Farrell, who placed fifth overall in the World Cup.
The world record is set at 254 km per hour, achieved in 2016 by Italian Ivan Origone. His brother, Simone, is the current world champion, after the last two trials of the season, held on the Riberal slope, in Grandvalira’s Grau Roig sector, in Andorra. It’s his tenth Crystal Globe, but for him, this sport goes beyond the awards. “It's my life,” he said.
Italy continued to dominate the female category, as Valentina Greggio lifted her fourth consecutive World Cup trophy.
Speed skiing is not a sport that leaves people indifferent. Skiers wear an airtight red latex suit, ailerons on their legs, and an aerodynamic helmet to reach the maximum speed.
It’s also a sport of pure adrenaline. “You go from zero to 200 kilometres per hour in less than six seconds,” said Celia Martinez, who placed second in the World Cup. The French skier set her record at 233 kph.
Like the Origone brothers, Martinez competes with her sibling, Clea, who said, “Speed skiing gives you feelings that alpine skiing doesn’t give you. It’s difficult to describe. Difficult to forget.”
Farrell, who was born in the UK, is one of the biggest enthusiasts of speed skiing. He began in 2011 and has yet to stop. His personal record is 231 kph. “Once you get over 200 kilometres, you get into unchartered territory and the feeling is wonderful,” he said.
Rauli Karjalainen, a 72-year-old American skier, said speed skiing is a sport that makes him “feel alive.”
“When you get to the bottom, you are happy and you think: my God, I did it and I’m fine," he said to Euronews, pointing out that the sport allows him to overcome his own limits. He loves it, despite the challenges skiers have when squeezing into the red latex suit, which takes between 30 and 45 minutes.
“We’re all here for the love of the sport … it’s fun,” he said.
What’s the secret to getting speeds of around 200 kph? In addition to bravery and the weight of the skier, “it’s the technique and the preparation of the skis,” said Nadal Antor, technical director of the race. The skier’s position when going down the slope is also important.
Weather conditions are also essential for a successful race. In the last two trails of the season, high winds forced the cancellation or delay to parts of the competition. “The priority was the safety of the skiers,” Antor said.
Antor added that the World Cup competition was not able to use its 10-metre-high starting tower, a starting position that would increase skiers’ speeds even more. But for now, the fastest speed remains Ivan Origone’s record of 254 kph.