With skis bound to his feet, Truckee’s Daron Rahlves is still one of the fastest living things on the planet.
It’s an effortless fast, too, as if he’s mingling through a party crowd, sipping beer while side-stepping weaving revelers.
In reality, however, he was zipping down runs at Sugar Bowl late Thursday afternoon, slicing in and out of wobbly snow sliders as I failed to keep pace.
Rahlves was “putting some miles” on three pairs of custom Atomic SX skis to tune them up for Winter X Games 12, which is set to kick off Jan. 24.
He said the break-in process was necessary to squeeze every bit of speed he could out of the skis ” as long as he avoided even the slightest damaging pebble that may have worked its way to the surface.
After a few runs on one pair, he’d switch it out for another at the Podium Productions tuning station near Judah Lodge.
“Hopefully these new pairs will run well for the X Games,” Rahlves said, adding that the extra effort in test rides will be worth it when it comes down to the competition.
This year’s event will be the second in as many years for Rahlves, who picked up the discipline of ski cross ” called skier X, in the X Games ” when he retired from the U.S. Alpine Ski Team after the 2006 season. (Although he did compete, and won, one ski cross event at Squaw Valley in 2000.)
While he had mastered the ins and outs of Alpine racing over the course of his storied career, which ranks as the most accomplished in the history of U.S. speed events, Rahlves said he discovered last season that ski cross is a whole different animal.
“Last year I had no clue what to do,” he said. “But I watched some video and figured some things out. What it comes down to is practice.”
Rahlves settled for ski cross practice on the run last year, competing in the X Games as well as the Honda Ski Tour and Jeep King of the Mountain events. The experience, especially at the X Games extravaganza, was a new one for Rahlves.
“Overall it was pretty intense to be in a different competitive arena,” he said of the X Games, which ended in disappointment when he crashed violently in the skier X finals. “I didn’t get to showcase what I’m capable of, so hopefully this year I’ll get to the finals and win it. That’s why I’m going.”
Last month in Telluride, Colo., Rahlves nearly pulled off a first-place finish on the first stop of the newly formatted Jeep King of the Mountain series, which combined with the Honda Ski Tour. But in the tightly contested race, Lars Lewen of Sweden held off a late charge by Rahlves to capture the top spot.
Just more practice in the bag.
“I’m learning a lot,” Rahlves said when reflecting on the race, which was the first of three in the Jeep King of the Mountain series. “Second was better than crashing, but I still don’t want to sit back. I want to make a move to win it.”
After he returns from the X Games, Rahlves’ next shot at redemption in the Jeep series comes when the tour lands at Squaw Valley on Feb. 8-10. The final stop is at Sun Valley, Idaho, on March 14-16.
While Rahlves would like to have more wins under his belt in his new discipline, he’s figuring it out just fine on the fly. And with his background in speed, the results should follow suit.
“Any chance I get I’ve got to take it,” he said of his next race. “My game plan is pretty much to stick my nose in it whenever possible. It comes down to outskiing everyone else.”
The Dec. 14-16 Telluride, Colo., stop of the Jeep King of the Mountain series will air on CBS on Saturday at 2 p.m. Also, check out Rahlves’ new Web site, http://www.daronrahlves.com.