The Streif in Kitzbühel: The World’s Hardest Downhill
The most extraordinary downhill event in the world will take place on January 26th in Kitzbühel, Austria. All eyes will look to the mountain in awe of the most difficult and thrilling ski race ever known. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Streif! What makes it the most spectacular downhill ski event for both spectators and athletes alike?
The Streif is the downhill event of the Hahnenkamm Race weekend, where the Audi FIS World Cup Super G, Slalom, and Downhill events take place every winter. The Streif is a source of pride and fame for the town of Kitzbühel. It’s 3312 m (2,058 mi) long, incredibly technically difficult, insanely steep (with a maximum grade of 85% (40.4 degrees), and drops for a vertical of 860 m (2,822 ft).
The Streif has been an integral part Kitzbühel’s history since the first competition was organized by the Kitzbühel Ski Club in 1931. At the time, only 26 skiers participated in the competition, and the legendary Streif was born.
Since then, things have changed, and today the Hahnenkamm Race weekend attracts around 90,000 visitors every year, while over 300,000 million ski enthusiasts all over the world follow the races onTV. Over the years, one thing has remained the same: the crew behind the magic of the Hahnekamm is still the Kitzbühel Ski Club, or KSC.
As the race weekend flies by, workers are on the clock 24 hours a day. If a snowstorm moves in, staff may be required to clear the track for all hours of the night. An outdoor mountain event is susceptible to delays and even cancellation if the weather doesn’t cooperate. That’s why the Hahnenkamm Race crew must be prepared to work around-the-clock to make the event go off without a hitch.
The Calm Before The Storm
The Starthaus, the start gate of the Streif, is beyond intimidating. At a soaring 1,665 meters above sea level and with a breathtaking 51% gradient descent, the Starthaus should be shaking with nervous energy.
Yet, the thrill of the Streif is preceded by a surreal calm. Perhaps it’s because of the extreme danger or the possibility of glory at the finish line, but the athletes prepare to propel themselves down the mountain with an eerie calm, says Organizing Committee Chairman, Michael Huber. Athletes are focused on the race and visualizing what´s coming, because the Streif doesn’t forgive any mistakes. It takes great technical skill and strength to make it to the finish line. There’s no wonder this course is feared and respected by even the world’s most experienced speed skiers.
The Mausefalle And The Steilhang
Only eight seconds after dropping in, athletes fly over the steepest section of the Streif, which has an 85% percent gradient (40.4 degrees) and where speeds accelerate up to 110-120 km/h. If you nail this first terrifying jump, you´re in for three km of madness, and that’s no easy task.
Flying down the mountain at highway speeds, and only accelerating after the steep Mausefalle, athletes face the moment that often determines the difference between success and defeat: the Karussel. This 180° turn is where skiers must fight as this leads to one of the hardest sections of the whole course: the Steilhang.
Considered one of the of the World Cup circuit’s most technically the Steilhang´s curve pushes the athletes out of track, closer and closer to the fence. Fighting to stay inline while accelerating on a 40.4 degree steep slope isn’t easy – imagine skiing down a vertical wall!
The Hausbergkante To The Finish Line
See the finish line? Not quite yet.
After 2.1km of the an adrenaline-fueled leg-destroyer, the athletes face a quick 90° turn, which directly faces the long, blind jump of the Hausberkante. With a blind landing, skiers won’t see their landing until they’re air-born, when it’s too late to adjust their trajectory! Just a fraction of a second after landing, athletes are skiing on the Traverse, which pushes hard right, in the direction of the fence. For the athletes that surrender to the G-force, results can be catastrophic.
If you survive this far, you fly over the last jump directly in the arms of the screaming crowd. Passing the finish line with the best time will make you a legend.
Just finishing the Streif, however, is an accomplishment to dream of.
The People that Make the Streif Possible
Watching the world’s best skiers conquer the Streif is an inspiration and a joy for thousands of ski fans.
And none of it would be possible if it weren’t for the hard-working organizers and workers behind the Hahnenkamm Races. We are proud to support the crew that makes the Hahnenkamm Races happen. Thanks for your hard work to create this celebration of the alpine sport!