A Q&A with America’s most decorated male skier

By Jennifer Rothman

Daron in Sugar Bowl’s backcountry, December 2014 (Grant Barta).

As the most decorated male American Downhill and Super G skier in history, Daron Rahlves has certainly lived up to his motto to “make it happen.”

Along with making the US Olympic Ski Team four times, his trophy shelf overflows with, to name a few, 12 world cup wins, seven US National Titles, a 2001 World Champion in Super-G (super giant slalom – an alpine speed event, which made its World Cup debut in 1983 and Olympics debut in 1988), and first place wins at the legendary Hahnenkamm Downhill in 2003 and Super-G in 2004.

Raised in Northern California, Daron became a true athlete, excelling at both snow skiing and watersports. Although retired from professional ski racing, Daron continues to be a strong presence in the world of skiing with his Banzai tour, making appearances around the country, and following his passion of mentoring and inspiring young athletes.

Daron is not your typical retired celebrated ski racer with a huge ego. Quite the opposite, Daron is reluctant to talk about himself, and instead tends to keep the spotlight on his passion for keeping skiing alive, working with the kids at the Sugar Bowl Academy, High Fives Foundation, and promoting local Tahoe business. He is a regular guy who just happens to have won the world cup a couple of time.

Oh, and he is a great dad.

We caught up with Daron recently to see how things are going with him.

ASJ Do you miss competing, and if so, what about it do you miss the most, or the least for that matter?

DR I do and I don’t. What I miss is getting in the start gate and having the chance to see what I’m made of. It was an amazing feeling to compete at the elite level where I had the confidence to face the most challenging World Cup Downhills like Beaver Creek, Bormio, Wengen and Kitzbuhel.

What I don’t miss, hmm, I enjoyed the whole journey. Probably the days on the road when I was traveling and missing flights. It was my choice to stop racing after one of my best seasons and walk away with a great feeling so I can live with that.

ASJ The Streif on Hahnenkamm in Austria is considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous downhill courses. In 2003, you won at Hahnenkamm, the first American to do so in many decades. You’ve appeared in several films, but tell us how you got involved as a narrator and contributor on the award-winning documentary, STREIF – One Hell of a Ride.

DR Having status as a ski racer helped me land that role as narrator and the fact that I’m a Red Bull athlete, and that the ones who came up with the idea and produced the movie are friends of mine. I know the right people! Ha.

ASJ To give the readers a little insight, if you had to describe the Streif in only three words, what would those be?

DR The film title says it all, but in five words: One Hell of a Ride. Three words: Legendary, Fear, Glory.

ASJ In 2011, you created the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour, a Lake Tahoe ski and snowboard racing event over natural terrain on a wide course. Please share the history of how it all began.

DR (The) History is that’s the way I grew up. Going fast down the mountain with buddies and calling out “last one down is a rotten egg” started it all. That’s the purest form of racing.

From there it was seeing some old films from Austria called The ski race “Der Weisse Rausch” (“The White Flush”). Then Red Bull had an event in Krippenstein, Austria called The White Rush. It was a top to bottom race with a few control gates and eight skiers. I wanted to compete in it, but it ended the year I retired from World Cup racing.

So I decided to pitch it to my home resort, Sugar Bowl (Lake Tahoe) and we had a one off event in 2009 and 2010. It was so much fun, rowdy and unique that I wanted to make it bigger and that founded the RBT in 2011. It is the purest form of racing, head to head four at a time, and each course is unique with terrain. Fun to do and awesome to watch. When I look at a mountain and see the most fun flowing line at speed over the most terrain, a Banzai course is created. It’s all about the natural terrain and Tahoe has plenty of that.                                      

ASJ How have the drought/poor snow conditions affected Banzai? What are your expectations for this season and your thoughts on El Nino? Will you continue to compete in the Banzai Super Final?

DR Less snow equals more terrain. It’s been a challenge and forcing us to add alternate routes down the mountain, but that’s what’s cool about skiing. The mountain and mother nature give us a fun playground no matter what type of snow season. The biggest difference is snow surface. Hard or soft, mellow or abrupt terrain – it’s fun either way. Tactics play a huge role in skiing and especially attacking a Banzai course similar to a ski race. It’s my way to blend all the aspects of skiing into one event. Bring on El Nino! We can use a powder Banzai. Yes, I will continue to compete. I love it.

ASJ Tell us about your current role with Red Bull and your speaking engagements around the country. How does that tie in with your philosophy on life?

DR I’m an athlete and ambassador for Red Bull and very proud to be. I was the first Alpine Ski racer to be sponsored by Red Bull in 2004 and that year they came on as the title sponsor of the Hahnenkamm. When they commit to do something they go all out. That is my philosophy. The energy drink has helped and continues to add to my performance. The company has helped me succeed as a skier and I believe in their product. I do my best to represent them in all I do and it’s cool to hang with other Red Bull athletes who are all amazing. I have been on a tear with speaking engagements and one was for Red Bull’s Western Region Distribution and Brand event in Arizona. I love to share my experiences and process of success. Sports or business, it all happens with the same attitude, approach and execution. Make it happen!

ASJ You’ve been involved with High Fives Foundation, which raises injury prevention awareness for mountain action sports and provides resources and support to those who have suffered injuries. Tell us about your involvement.

DR I’ve know the founder Roy Tuscany since the day he suffered a life altering accident while skiing. The High Five Foundation’s goal is to help others who have been struck down with a life altering injury when doing something they love. I support their comeback and the efforts Roy and his team take to help others relive their lives and participate in the outdoor world after one of these injuries. Plus now they’ve added their BASICS program which helps spread the word on safety and prevention throughout our winter community and beyond. I’m a friend and ambassador of the foundation. High Fiving people is cool, too.

ASJ You and your wife, Michelle, have 8 year old twins. Are they skiers? Do they have any aspirations of following in dad’s footsteps to become professional athletes?

DR Our kids have already had so many opportunities to explore their athletic abilities. They are into skiing, but all I want for them is to have the experience Michelle and I can pass down to them. Then they can pick their own path. This season they will try racing in Tahoe League and we will see. Our kids have the talent for success, but that only takes you so far. Passion, hard work and perseverance brings success.

ASJ What other ways do you stay involved and give back to the snow sports community?

DR I work with the Sugar Bowl Ski Team and Ski Academy staff and athletes, there as a mentor for Travis Ganong on the US Ski Team to help him any way. I can, create better products with the brands I represent and do my best to inspire anyone I come in contact with.

ASJ One final question I like to ask athletes: what soundtrack/theme music goes through your head as you’re ripping the slopes?

DR Bro Hymn by Pennywise.

Daron sending it at Sugar Bowl’s Rock Garden (Grant Barta).

Daron sending it at Sugar Bowl’s Rock Garden (Grant Barta).

Bormio, Italy 2005 DH World Championships (Atomic).

Bormio, Italy 2005 DH World Championships (Atomic).

Daron skiing Sugar Bowl’s backcountry (Grant Barta).

Daron skiing Sugar Bowl’s backcountry (Grant Barta).

Rahlves’ Banzai Tour Silver Belt Banzai Super Final at Sugar Bowl Resort – Daron Rahlves, Kyle Coxon, Shawn McGee, Ben Paciotti, Corey Zila (Kiwi Kamera).

Rahlves’ Banzai Tour Silver Belt Banzai Super Final at Sugar Bowl Resort – Daron Rahlves, Kyle Coxon, Shawn McGee, Ben Paciotti, Corey Zila (Kiwi Kamera).

Daron Rahlves, World Championships 2005 Silver DH & Bronze GS medalist (Atomic).

Daron Rahlves, World Championships 2005 Silver DH & Bronze GS medalist (Atomic).