What is the secret ingredient that allows some racers to succeed against the best in the world, while others appear to be in deep water? Let’s eliminate the clichés at the outset. It’s not desire, hard work, a burning will to win or fear of failure because I’ve known Pontiac Cup racers with those attributes in spades who would just seem to slow down as the competition intensi?ed. It’s not coaching, equipment, technology or sports psychology because all those are also available to the ones who don’t cut the mustard at the top.
It has to be something physiological. At one time, early in my ski-writing career, I thought it was powerful quads (quadricep muscles in the upper legs) that separate the wheat from the chaff. I quickly eliminated that when my own nearly doubled in size after a good winter of 70+ days on Whistler- Blackcomb and I still couldn’t ski worth a lick. Let’s face it, anyone who skis a lot develops Mongolian quads and they have exactly nothing to do with skiing well or fast. They just look good at the beach.
Because I have wondered about this for years, I often engaged people far more knowledgeable than I in recreational conversation, including “experts” at World Cup venues. The closest anybody ever came to convincing me they knew what they were talking about was the legendary Austrian race coach Heinz Stohl, who said (after rough translation from Genglish), “Some racers just have a natural feel for the snow, which comes from God. You must race like you are skiing on eggshells. If you break the shell, you will slow down. If you can turn with a soft, light ski, you will be fast. It cannot be coached. They either have a good feel for the snow or they don’t. All you can do is teach the good ones how to race without breaking the eggshells.”
Now, when Stohl speaks about ski racing, it’s like a sermon by Moses because, as a younger man, he was Franz Klammer’s downhill coach with the Austrian ski team. Klammer was such a natural he could have raced down a mountain covered with over-easy eggs and not broken a yoke. Stohl came over to coach the resurgence of the Canadian downhill team in the mid-’80s and Rob Boyd told me he didn’t know whether to groan or laugh the first time he heard him talk about skiing on eggs. Yet, when Boyd later started coaching himself, the first things that came to mind when instructing his young racers were Stohl’s hoary old sayings about eggs.