Nothing but POW: A high-speed moment of clarity
Before there were drones, there were stuntmen with cameras between their knees.
Big, expensive, old-fashioned, suitcase-sized cameras.
That was Rudi’s job on the 1969 movie Downhill Racer, starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman. Despite the star power, it wasn’t exactly a box office hit (so you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it).
Ski stuntmen like Rudi were hired to ski with the camera to get that GoPro-before-there-was-GoPro style footage of the race course, and to stand in for the actors when it was time to see them in race mode.
The setting, the Lauberhorn. The World Cup race course above Rudi’s home village of Wengen, famous for being the oldest, longest, fastest downhill on the circuit.
It was home turf. A great place to be the expert racer they needed him to be.
And despite the literal lights, camera and action, this story is about what happened behind the scenes.
After skiing some slower laps with the camera, Rudi decided to get a couple full training runs in before shoot day.
He wanted to make sure his racing form was still sharp.
He has just spent four years in Canada, you see, finding work as a mountain guide and being part of the first teams that were heli-skiing, anywhere in the world.
In that four years, the racing equipment had gone through a big upgrade.
Rudi was given a new sleek, aerodynamic racing suit, and skis that were built for record-breaking speeds.
How much of a difference it would make, though, he didn’t yet fully realize.
It was only once he was in full tuck position, straight-lining down the hanneggschuss, an impressively long pitch without a single turn to slow the racer down, that he started to realize just how fast he was going.
The hanneggschuss, in those days, squeezed at the bottom to a bridge over a creek, only five metres wide. You know, just to keep everyone’s hearts in their throats.
It was when Rudi had his eyes focused on the narrow opening ahead that he decided to rise out of his tuck just a little, to stabilize and ditch some speed.
His usual hunger for FASTER was getting serious results.
(He’s not one for exaggeration, and he told me he was going well over 100 kph. My reaction was eyebrows up, jaw down.)
Well, that was it.
As he rose just that tiny bit, the wind immediately caught his frame, now open to more resistance, and blew him right out of his skis, flipping him over like a leaf in a gale.
He remembers spinning on his side like a high-speed curling rock, with no way to slow down, and getting glimpses of the narrow bridge each revolution, watching it come closer and closer.
All he could do was pray he was still lined up right.
By some miracle, he made it through, and his sliding and tumbling body finally came to a stop somewhere on the other side.
To his amazement, he stood up in one piece, and looked down at the fancy racing suit now shredded, in tatters.
And in that moment, clarity washed over him:
I want to ski powder.
It was only day one of a four-week job, but something had shifted. Now, he was just waiting to get back to Canada, where all the powder was waiting for him.
Sometimes, it’s when things don’t go right that we get the clearest message about what to do next.
Sometimes, it’s what you decide to quit doing that’ll make room for the thing that’s meant to be your destiny.
Rudi quit competitive ski racing. Still loves it. Still watches the Lauberhorn online every year.
But he’s got something else he’d rather be doing, and he’s been happy about that decision for the last 45 years.
Want to see for yourself why he got hooked? (As in, want to find out how easily you’ll get hooked? We’re pretty confident it’ll happen.)
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