Travis Ganong is an up-and-coming U.S. Ski Team Alpine racer. Ganong hails from Lake Tahoe, Calif. where he grew up skiing at Squaw Valley. In 2012, he finished 12th, a career best, on the famed Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria. When he’s not racing, Ganong spends his time free skiing and even did some big mountain skiing this past summer in Alaska for Warren Miller’s latest film: Flow State. Ganong will be blogging for OnTheSnow throughout this World Cup season as he prepares for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

In my opinion, the week of the Kitzbuhel downhill is the highlight of the entire winter season on the World Cup Tour. Modern World Cup ski racing was dreamed up in a hut on the side of the mountain above town, and the town itself lives and breathes ski racing.  Austria is the Mecca of skiing and ski racing, and Kitzbuhel is the epicenter.

There are many reasons why Kitzbuhel is like this, but without a doubt the biggest reason is the “Streif.” The “Streif” has to be the most demanding, dangerous and complete downhill course in the world. You drop out of the Red Bull start haus straight into the action, accelerating from 0 to 100 kph (roughly 62 mph) in five seconds. Then, you launch yourself into the void off of the Mausefalle jump. Landing, you negotiate a compression and have to start a high-speed turn over bumpy terrain to set yourself up for the “U Turn.” If you come out of the “U Turn” in a good position, you then send it down the “Stile Hung” turn which has to be one of the hardest downhill turns on tour, and if you do well there, it shoots you onto a road where finally you can take a breather. 

If you watched the race this year, there was plenty of action on the top part with people coming out of the “Stile Hung” and going straight into the fence coming onto the road. This is one of the reasons why so many people come to watch the Kitz Downhill every year: It is a great show. The race always showcases the best skiing, the biggest crashes and the most exciting saves and mistakes. The hill demands that the skiers perform and the 50,000 fans at the bottom compel us racers to send it!

After taking a 15 second breather on the road, you fly off of “Alteshnize Jump” into a bumpy icy bowl where you make a traverse and try and carry as much speed onto a bank turn and then off of the “Seidlalm Jump.” The jump is a completely blind rollover, so you have to nail your line off the takeoff so that you land and are able to snap off a left-footer over some terrain and then the big right-footer triple turn around the Sitlealm Hut. This is the hut where modern World Cup skiing was dreamed up long ago.

After “Seidlalm,” you swing way up within inches of the fence to get the height to negotiate through the “Larchenshuss.” I believe that this is the most important turn on the entire “Streif.” This is where the race is won or lost. The turn is usually bumpy and the timing is key. If you ski through the bumps and come out of the turn carrying speed and not too low, you can carry all of the speed across the long flat gully into GS turns and come to the “Hausberg Jump” with a massive lead. If you come out of the “Larchenshuss” turn low, then you lose so much speed and just bleed time all the way to “Hausberg.” Most people overlook this section because it is flatter and not scary like the rest of the hill—but like I said this is where it is won or lost.

The middle section is over once you come into the “Hausberg Jump.” Flying off the jump through the Red Bull arches is blind so you have to nail the direction, because when you land, things get crazy. You land and you have to be super balanced to set up the right-foot turn that shoots you into the bumpy side hill traverse. This traverse is fast and always icy and bumpy, and if you make a mistake the only way to go is down the fall line that shoots you directly into the fence. If you stay balanced and drive forward, it is usually not a problem, but if not then game over. 

After making it through the side hill you can finally relax a bit as you fly off the side hill jump and pick up speed to 140 kph (roughly 87 mph), and then off the last little finish jump and into the finish area where those 50,000 race-crazed fans are cheering for you.

Like Daron Rahlves said to me before my race run this week, the Downhill day at Kitzbuhel can be the best day of your life. If you want it and are willing to send it with confidence and charge as hard as you possibly can, you can win and become a legend. That is easier said than done because there are so many consequences on this hill if you make a mistake. Injury is a real thing that you see every season here, but you also see those legends come through and that’s what makes Kitzbuhel the coolest race on the planet.