Vertical Start for Men’s Alpine Ski Downhill Run.
History of the Free Fall
Faster, steeper, more spectacular: The idea for a Free Fall came from former ski racer, downhill world champion and Olympic champion, Bernhard Russi, after the 1974 Ski World Cup. He wanted the men’s downhill to be faster and more spectacular, and a steep slope was found alongside the Piz Nair which seemed perfectly suitable. After some two years of planning, construction started in 2002 and in 2003 the Free Fall celebrated its premiere at the fourth World Ski Championships in St. Moritz. Former Swiss ski racer Paul Accola was the first to conquer the 150-metre long starting slope with its 45-degree gradient.
The nature of the Free Fall and the men's downhill run
The Free Fall at 2,836 metres has enjoyed legendary status throughout the world of skiing since 2003. Although popular with the skiers themselves, it has sometimes been referred to as being "one hell of a ride", but this has been mainly by the media. During the almost vertical start of the Free Fall, a professional ski racer accelerates to about 100 kilometres per hour within 4 seconds and reaches about 130 kilometres per hour after 130 metres, and this needs to be skillfully maintained along this 3 kilometre run. However, former ski professionals like Bernhard Russi describe this longest and steepest start as "not being so incredibly difficult" since you only have to go "straight ahead". Once the pro has dealt with the starting slope, there follow (spread over a total of about 1 minute and 40 seconds) additional exciting moments which are typical of this striking downhill run: For one tenth (1/10) of the duration, the skier is in the air, which corresponds to a total of about 300 metres. According to Bernhard Russi, the biggest highlight after the Free Fall is the Rominger Jump, where skiers jump especially far and almost feel as if they are flying.
Preparing the piste itself
In contrast to the speeds experienced by skiers on the Free Fall, the actual preparation of the piste itself is quite a slow and careful process. The snowcats have to be secured by a steel cable when they are working on this steep terrain and even the officials, chutes and camera crew are always secured by a cable. It is critical that the slopes are perfectly prepared because the skiers, who are travelling at over 100 kilometres an hour, could be literally thrown right off the slope by the slightest unevenness.
The challenges that have to be overcome when preparing the Free Fall can be clearly seen from the video recordings.
Ski World Cup 2017 and Vertical Summer Run
At the fifth FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the Free Fall was at the centre of the action. People had been looking forward to the event for some time, the piste was perfectly prepared and the skiers were ready and raring to go. In the end it was the notorious Maloja Snake that thwarted everyone’s plans for the men’s downhill. A band of clouds stubbornly remained above the section of the route directly below the Free Fall and thus posed an insurmountable safety risk for the men. So then on the "Super Sunday", for the second time in the history of the Alpine World Ski Championships, the men’s and women’s downhills were held on the same day - but again without the Free Fall. The legendary "Free Fall" will continue to exist and the time will surely come when the men will dare to tackle the starting slope again.
Since summer 2017, the Free Fall has been the focus of attention by a completely different discipline - running sports. Some 230 runners took part in the first Vertical Summer Run which led from St. Moritz Dorf and across the Free Fall and up to the starting platform. So now the Free Fall has been conquered from the bottom to the top as well, with the uphill of course being even more strenuous that the downhill.
Visits to the Free Fall
With its 100% gradient, the Audi Free Fall is the world’s steepest starting point for any descent. You can visit the Free Fall starting platform. The Piz Nair cable car stops near the starting platform, and after you have walked a few steps you will be right at the spot where the world’s top skiers have thundered their way down the mountain at 130 km/h. This spectacular launch platform can be visited on request in both summer and winter - ideal for companies, clubs and interested groups. Visitors are given fascinating background information about the construction and about the World Ski Championships held in 2003 and 2017 on St. Moritz’s local mountain of Corviglia.