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Monday, December 7, 2009
Updated: February 5, 6:30 PM ET
Rahlves Talking Olympic Cross

The sport of Ski Cross—aka "Skier X," "Skiercross"—makes its Olympic debut in Vancouver, so in a quest to grasp the significance of this and all the intricacies of FIS and USSA qualifying criteria, ESPN Freeskiing called up Daron Rahlves.

Rahlves, you see, is the most decorated alpine racer ever to "retire" successfully in the Ski Cross realm, but currently he's ranked 36th in the World Cup Ski Cross standings. So he has a bit of work to do this season in order to lock up a starting spot in the 2010 Winter Games. To that end, Rahlves constructed a Ski Cross start simulator in his yard, in Truckee, Calif., this summer, and he also does quickness and focus drills like looking after his 28-month-old twins.

Rahlves and the rest of the U.S. Ski Cross Team are now encamped in Telluride, Colo., alongside the U.S. Boardercross squad, for a five-day official training camp.
Rahlves has an X Games gold medal ('08). He does not have an Olympic medal.
Then it's off to Europe for a pair of World Cup Ski Cross race in Italy to kick off the Olympic qualifying campaign. (Full World Cup schedule and rankings.) We caught up with Rahlves one morning before the twins woke up.

ESPN: You "retired" from racing and in order to race ski cross and pursue pro freeskiing. Define retire?
Daron Rahlves: "It's a lot of balancing, and balancing that with trying to get ready for Ski Cross. So I'm juggling a dual career in skiing. As soon as the Olympics are finished I'll be back to the freeski side of things."

Olympics. How's it going to work? "Casey [Puckett] and I are the two guys who are funded, on the team, so we're pegged for heading to the Olympics. But they can take up to four guys and I've still gotta qualify and Casey still has to qualify. It has nothing to do with last year."

"So that's why we're going to these World Cups in Europe. ... I've gotta go into this season with guns blazing and capitilze on events. I don't want to do the full World Cup schedule—I want to be home with my kids and wife a bit. Things have changed a bit for me. I can't fully commit to skiing like I used to, so I've got to be efficient and do well in the events that I compete in."
Rahlves leads the Winter X 2008 finals.

So non-funded skiers are funding themselves. "Yeah. With the U.S. Ski Team, it's such a crunch right now. We're the only team that's privately funded. The Canadian team is government funded, huge budget. And I think they're leading the way, frankly."

How much skiing have you been doing? "I was at Mt. Hood three days in June and the next time I'll be on snow it'll be into December. So I'm just focused on trying to get strong in the gym. Plus, it wouldn't work for me to be on snow all the time anyway. So basically right now I'm trying to build some credit with Michelle, my wife, so she doesn't freak out too much when I'm gone this winter."

Right, the twins. "They're little maniacs right now. At least with one kid parents can trade off. But when we have dinner all our time is consumed by each kid, making sure they're getting fed and not throwing stuff around. Each one of us has to battle that. But we did talk about having two kids anyway, so two kids at once is perfect. More time, more effort, but once we get through this diaper stage it's gonna be awesome."
Way easier than twins: Krippenstein rooftop.

How many World Cup Ski Cross have you raced anyway? "I think I've done... three?"

X Games? "Three X Games. X Games is a place where I usually shine. But with the World Cups, to make the Olympic team, you've gotta be on it. You've got to make everyone count. And I haven't done better than fourth at a World Cup, so it'd be nice to rack up a win, and I am giving myself a better chance this year."

How has Ski Cross changed since it's now in the Olympics? "So many guys are putting so much effort it and being an Olympic sport, the teams nations are putting together are getting much stronger. It's not like it used to be three years ago. With all the effort these national teams are putting into it, it's full on."

Any other notable alpine retirees hopping into the mix? "I'd be surprised if Hermann Maier opts in. ... Because when most World Cup guys retire, they're done. Whew. They don't have the desire. But for me, with my freeskiing passion—and I'm still healthy and it's more of a challenge out there to do something new. I didn't want to walk away yet. So I popped into X Games, because that's all there was, and went filming."

"But a lot of the [Ski Cross] guys have racing backgrounds; guys who were on national teams but never broke through on World Cups and transitioned to Ski Cross. So there's some guys out there with strong technical skills and background, but just not the success. And nowadays you pretty much need a racing background to be successful in Ski Cross. There's like 40 guys who can be within one-and-a-half seconds on a track that's 60 seconds long. You can't make one mistake to get through to the heats."
Rahlves, fall line, sans gates, Krippenstein, Austria.

Skis? "I'm on a full blown World Cup ski that I pretty much raced on. I like the least amount of sidecut on a GS ski and that's what I'm on. I still get skis from an Austrian ski tech. Brand new skis are tough, so he's been hooking me up: Three pairs from Benny Raich's quiver. So that's helpful."

What about the clothing controversy? "I think it's down to six centimeters of play in the material on your suit. The guys just pushed it too much. I was just running motocross stuff, but other guys were showing up in full rubber pants. And the requirements weren't upheld, so now they're making a point of it. Before that, there was never a set rule of thumb; it was the discretion of this one guy."

"At the World Champs last year in Japan guys were wearing full rubber suits. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' Tight-ass one piece suits. ... But I think this year there's been a change and they've reworked the wording and are being much more critical with it. Because in the end if you have clothes with no flap—versus flap—there's a big difference in drag and that equals time on the hill."

"I'm required to use Under Armour for the FIS events and Olympics, so they've done a lot of work setting us up with the right custom fit. Casey and I have exactly the amount of room we need. It's more to have that moto-inspired, freeski-inspired look. Like you're just coming off the lift and you're gonna jump into this ski cross race—rather than being in a full-on race suit. But it'll be interesting to see what everyone on the national teams show up in at the first World Cup. I'm sure it's gonna be a big issue."

So over to Telluride for the camp—then what? "That's going to be a big camp for us to try and get everything dialed in. Then I'll come home, re-pack and head over to Italy for the first event."

(Ed's note: Look for more Ski Cross Olympic decipher-ment to come on