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BERNHARD RUSSI SKI RUN DESIGNER ILLUSTRATIONS: MATHIS REKOWSKI A world-class downhill skier world-class downhill skier can touch 95 mph – faster than the road speed limit in most countries. “But speed isn’t everything,” says Bernhard Russi. “A good run can’t just be straight down; it needs long corners, 50-meter jumps. I want the best racer to win, but I also want viewers to be entertained.” An Olympic and world downhill champion in the 1970s, Russi is now one of the world’s most sought-after ski course designers. Since 1988, the Swiss has shaped every Olympic downhill course bar one. His Face de Bellevarde course at Val d’Isère is credited by many experts as a turning point in downhill skiing, changing the sport from straight-line speed-fests to a more technically challenging and spectatorfriendly event. Former Olympic ski champion and International Olympic Committee member Jean-Claude Killy once dubbed him the ‘Picasso of skiing.’ Russi himself says he had never contemplated course design as a profession, but as a racer he was known for voicing his criticism of pistes he thought not demanding enough. Then, in the early 1980s, not long after he’d retired, Russi was asked by the International Ski Federation to go to Calgary and look at the site for the 1988 Olympic course. “When I came back with my report, I said ‘The mountain is okay, but…’ And that ‘but’ made me a course designer,” he says. Skiing is in Russi’s blood. The son of a ski racer, he grew up in the Swiss mountain town of Andermatt, “where everyone skied as soon as they could walk.” A successful junior, Russi finished his studies in construction design on the insistence of his father before focusing on sport. His fledgling career was dealt an early blow. As a young pro keen to earn some extra money, Russi crashed while skiing as a stuntman for the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, breaking a vertebra. The injury kept him out for six months, but he sensationally won the 1970 world championship in his comeback season at just 22. Olympic and world championship gold followed in 1972 and silver in 1976, before Russi retired at 30, concentrating on media work before finding his niche as a course designer. When he is asked to conceptualize a course, the first thing he does is study maps of the area to select a location to explore more closely. “Then I go there and I walk. I take different colored tapes and mark out lines down the mountain. It might take several visits, but eventually, there’ll be one perfect line, a mix of the ones I’ve walked, which we’ll build the course around. All the time, I get to know the mountain. The more I learn about it, the more I know what I don’t have to do. This is nature; I’m not a highway builder. My goal is to change as little as possible.” Once Russi has finalized his design, sketching on paper and screen, construction can begin: a process of several years. He’ll visit a site 10 to 20 times to check on the progress, finetuning if necessary. “When it’s done, I ski the course, but I don’t race it,” he says. “Those days are behind me!” That’s left to his assistant, Didier Défago, a former Olympic champion who retired in 2015. Not that Russi’s taste for thrills has left him. At 70, the Swiss is still a regular free climber in the mountains around Andermatt. “Climbing doesn’t have the same short bursts of intense adrenaline, but it’s still a thrill. There are moments when you are on the limit, just like skiing. It helps to push me.” THE JAGUAR 63

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