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|January 23-30, 2008
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The lowdown on “D Money”
by Wina Sturgeon
Not many athletes make a sporting career change at the age of 34. But when Daron Rahlves jams out of the start at the X Games, it will be in a completely different sport than the one he is already famous for.
Rahlves, also known by the nickname “D Money,” is positioned to be the next star of skicross.
Skicross, like boardercross, is carnage on snow. It’s motocross without the wheels. The gate comes down, and four or more racers burst out of the start, jumping off rollers, trying to pass on berms, rubbing and racing to be the first to the finish. The crashes are frequent and spectacular.
Rahlves, who retired from the U.S. ski team in 2006, was one of America’s top downhill racers, with 12 World Cup wins, including some that astonished the Europeans: he won the legendary Hahnenkamm downhill in 2003, and was the first American to win the Hahnenkamm super G in 2004. But he won’t be wearing a downhill suit in the 2008 X Games, which take place Jan. 24-27 at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo.
“You’re not allowed to wear skin-tight stuff. We’re not out there to shake down to the hundredth of a second. It’s more like a free-skiing element than a race element,” Rahlves says.
He’s still a rookie, and says of his second place at Telluride’s Jeep King of the Mountain in December: “I got lucky.”
Rahlves, who is also a dirt bike motocross racer, explains that he had broken his arm in a moto and the cast only came off a week before the JKOM. He had only skied four days before the race and didn’t feel at all prepared.
It will not be the first X Games for Daron. He started racing ’cross last season and immediately qualified. “I made three finals last year, one at the X Games, two Honda ski tour, and I crashed in all of them.”
He spent a lot of time over the summer watching video to see why. The answer is pretty funny.
“I didn’t know what to do at the start, so I was always behind a little, and every time I tried to make a pass for the win, I would crash. I [saw that] I was basically skiing up on the tails of the guy’s skis I was trying to pass, and when you ski over someone’s tails, you’re out of control. So I would go down,” he says, laughing.
Rahlves realized he had the speed, but was making the wrong decisions on when to pass. After memorizing the videos, he figured out what to do at the start. All he needs is practice. “Physically, as far as my legs, my strength is good, but starts are something you have to work on,” he says.
Though ski cross will be in the 2010 Olympics, and already has a World Cup circuit, no U.S. team has been named yet. Though, a head coach has been hired for the discipline as part of the freestyle team. Rahlves was invited to go to Europe with the coach, Tyler Palmer, and a few other X racers for some World Cups, but he gave up his spot.
“For me, it’s more convenient to be close to home with all the events I’m doing. I like being home more,” he explains.
Rahlves is a family man. His twins, son Greyson and daughter Miley, were born July 20. He says of his wife, Michelle: “She’s into everything I am, including motocross. We went out the other day to do some powder runs together, it was fun.
I’m lucky to find a woman like her.”
Michelle and the twins will be at the X Games. After his Jan. 27 event, Ralves will compete in the first American ski cross World Cup at Deer Valley Feb. 2, then try for the top podium at another JKOTM when the series stops at Squaw Valley Feb. 8-10.
Years of racing have allowed him to make a good analysis of his new sport.
“In ski cross, you have to have a game plan, but you’re rarely able to use it. You have to rely on instinct and adjust to the skier in front of you. It takes finesse and strength to handle the G forces and compressions and jumps. You make speed through the terrain, but you also have to be able to handle it. It’s exciting,” he says with a grin.
There will also be excitement for those who watch Rahlves start — and this time, finish — the X Games “ski X.” After that, the downhill champion will no longer be a rookie.
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