Trying to name the top 5 best skiers in the world is a little like naming the best ski resorts. With so many different disciplines and styles out there, from alpine skiers to mogul rulers, from cross-country skiers to half-pipe riders and big mountain heroes, it’s impossible to put together a concise list.
We tend to rate skiers, depending upon the type of skiing we enjoy ourselves or their current popularity in the press, but this isn’t always the best way. Don’t forget, the best-known and most popular British skier of the 1980s was ski jumper, Eddie the Eagle.
Even if we narrow it down to just downhill skiing, the competition types and ever changing vagaries of weather conditions, injuries and fitness make a clear leaders’ board unrealistic. However, we can all agree on one point. What makes a skier one of the best is their approach to skiing within their own sphere. The talents we most admire in any skier are those which make them a phenomenon, their seemingly innate ability, their technique, their style, their dedication and their courage.
With this in mind, we’ve put together our list of the best 5 skiers in the world, in terms of how they amaze and inspire us mere mortals to step into our boots every winter and give it a go.
1. The Herminator
Also known as Hermann Maier, the Herminator is considered by many to be the ultimate alpine skier. He competed in Downhill Racing, Giant Slalom, Super G and Combined. With four World Cup titles, two Olympic gold medals and three World Championship titles to his name he is perhaps on paper the most celebrated skier. He also holds the current record for the most points earned by any skier in a single season.
But it is perhaps his ability off paper that drew the crowds until his official retirement in 2009. In 1989 he famously suffered a horrific crash at the Nagano Winter Olympic Games. On a left turn on an icy bend, a gust of wind meant that Maier’s skis didn’t reconnect with the snow as planned and the skier was blown off course at 70 mph. After flying through the air he began to tumble at the same break neck speed before crashing through a safety net and being caught some 50 yards later by a second net. The crash was so severe, many cameras cut away assuming that the skier had been killed.
But in skiing, no one wins accolades or medals for injuries. What really set Maier apart was his ability to get back on his skis in the days to come and compete as usual. And in true Maier style, he dominated the competition and came home with the gold for the Super- G and Giant Slalom.
2. Daron Rahlves
One thing that the ski community respects most, is a skier’s adherence to the unspoken rule that you need to learn to walk before you can run. To put it another way, classically trained alpine skiers who do well in this primary discipline before turning their hand to the freestyle or more extreme sides of skiing are always admired.
This is certainly the case with Daron Rahlves, one of the all-time top ranking downhill skiers in the US field. After retiring from the US team in 2006, Rahlves moved into the ski-cross and big mountain ski disciplines and suffered a humiliatingly bad first season. Although, as expected, this world leader made it into the finals of each race, he crashed out in every single one, prompting some to believe that he had bitten off more than he could chew. However, in the following year, Rahlves seemed to have suddenly learned how the new game was played and came home with his first X Games gold.
These days, he is best known for his involvement in big mountain film projects, in which he studies his route beforehand before dropping in from helicopters onto dramatic ridges in the sky. This versatility and dedication has earned him kudos, but what really makes him one of the best is simply his style. With big, smooth, fast and confident lines down hair-raising ravines and huge amounts of air over the outcroppings and pillows, Rahlves has made big-mountain skiing an art form which anyone can appreciate.
3. Lindsey Vonn
Depending on who you talk to, Lindsey Vonn is perhaps the most highly rated female skier of our time. With 73 World Cup race wins under her belt, she is beaten on this number only by Ingemar Stenmark who has 83. And although other female skiers such as Annemarie Moser-Proell share her list of achievements, including winning the World Cup on four different occasions and others may occupy the top ranking position at any given time, Vonn has consistency on her side.
But what really makes Vonn stand out as one of the best is her dedication, attitude and her ability to turn to an interviewer or camera after a win and come across as humble and approachable. Winter sports such as downhill skiing are a big deal in the Tyrolian regions of Germany and Austria. As an American, Vonn’s sometimes surprising ability to give immediate and unrehearsed interviews in fluent German has secured her place as an international favourite. No other skier has quite the international appeal as Vonn.
4. Bjørn Daehlie
Norwegian Bjørn Daehlie nicknamed the “Rocketman.” is a cross-country skier who holds the most Olympic Games medals and the most World Cup wins in the discipline. While some TV viewers might find cross country one of the least exhilarating options in winter sports, it continues to be one of the most popular in Europe and most would agree that it requires the greatest overall athletic fitness.
In addition to his record number of wins, Daehlie became famous for his super-human ability to use oxygen. When physiologist Erlend Hem measured Dæhlie's VO2 max levels, he recorded a phenomenal 96 ml/kg/min. An ability which must have helped the skier on his mammoth 50km long sprints along the flats.
With a back injury forcing the end of his career in 2001 Dæhlie has continued to be an ambassador for the sport. He still features in commercials and even co-hosts a TV show in his native Norway
5. Mike Douglas
Although only in his mid-forties, Douglas is already known as the godfather of new school skiing. This prestigious title as well as other more conventional titles such as Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year 2003 have been awarded to the Canadian based upon his hard work and dedication to the emergence of freestyle skiing.
Looked down upon by many as a baggy-trousered embarrassment to the sport, freestyle skiing’s worth is often overlooked. But for many alternative skiers, those who could have so easily have fallen into the darker side of winter sports - namely snowboarding - freestyle skiing has been a saviour.
Douglas was part of an original posse known as The Canadian Air Force, and was instrumental in the development of the twin tip skis concept and in encouraging Canadian resorts to embrace this new take on the old sport. He has, essentially, developed a brand of skiing which appeals to the Generation X and Millennials in a way that downhill cannot. Furthermore, Douglas has led the way in creating a skills-base which contributes to the kind of big mountain skiing which attracts thousands of new skiers to the sport every year. For these reasons and many more, he makes the top 5.
So this was our Best Top 5 List. We hope it has inspired you to dig out your skis and hit the slopes. We also hope it has highlighted the fact that skiing is not all about medals and world records. While ability and talent certainly do rank up there, skiing is an inclusive sport which admires dedication and passion above all else.