I WAS ALSO THE FIRST ITALIAN TO WIN IN KITZ, IN ’98, BUT NOTHING COULD DRAW THE EXCITEMENT OF WINNING ON THE HOME TRACK AND ON MY SNOW.
To count them well, 30 years have gone by. But to me looks like it has happened yesterday. That was my first year at a high level. The one in which everything started. At the time, the season used to begin with two downhills and I started off great, with two podiums, even though nobody knew me. So, I found myself on the eve of Kitz at the top of the general ranking. The red bib did not yet exist, but I was ahead of everyone. It was my first time racing in Kitz and this was enough to warn any skier in the world, even today. In addition to that, it was also the season of 50th anniversary of the Kitz’s slope and the await for the race was at its peak.
There was little snow but they did everything possible to make it happen. We had to do it at any cost. Therefore, they came out with a shorter downhill, to be raced in two manches, in which times were added as it is done in the giant slalom. A one-time only chance, but in Kitz everything is possible. During the first manche I lost the balance and I fell over. I slipped on the snow, crossing the nets and ending up crashing into a steel rope. Luckily, I hit it just under my armpit, because if I had hit it on my neck it would have been worse. In the impact I broke two ribs, plus the hit made me jump away like a spring and I banged my head held high the ground which caused me a concussion.
The doctors said that for at least a month I had to rest, but accepting that, especially when you are twenty and at the top of the ranking, it is not that easy. I skipped the two following races in Val d’ Isere. In the winter of the 90s snow was insufficient everywhere and there were few places to guarantee an adequate slope to race on.
Cortina, my home town, had successfully applied to host a race among those to be recovered and the news had sent the whole country into fibrillation. The men’s World Cup had been missing for years and it was time for it to come back to our mountains. I started calling all the doctors I knew just to get the clearance to participate in at least one of the races. Only 15 days had passed since my accident, but I absolutely could not miss it. I was telling everyone that I was feeling fine and no pain, even if obviously it wasn’t the case.
I drove everyone mad to the point (that) they couldn’t help it but say yes. I won that race, and it was definitely my best victory ever. Impossible to match. I was also the first Italian to win in Kitz, in ’98, but nothing could equal the emotion of winning on the home slope and on my own snow.
The Italian press pumped my story, creating comparisons with the past as they always do when there is an emerging young man, and I fought head-on against the big names of the time, people who wrote history. The old-guard of the downhill skiers of a magical period: Zurbriggen, Heinzer, Hoeflehner. There were so many people on the slope that day that it looked more like the Rio Carnival than a ski World Cup race.
It was a riot for everyone and I remember ton that day the local band was sent to play outside my front door to celebrate. It is not the only good memory I have. And it’s not even my only victory. But there are many reasons why that day is the most special of all. On those mountains I had grown up. On those slopes there was all my childhood, hidden in the forest and fresh snow where you can go off-piste. Everything important that had happened to me, took place there.
My family’s house was on the mountain, facing the Tofane, and I could put my skis on and off right on the front door. My parents always encouraged me and my sisters to get involved in sport. At the beginning I was a little undecided between skiing and hockey, because I also liked skates a lot. I started off with hockey. My parents always dropped me off at the trainings but the agreement between us was that I had to return back home by foot. One kilometer. With the bag. In the evening. Below zero. Sometimes with the snow.
This is why I decided to go skiing, so when I finished training, I didn’t have to struggle on the way back home. My mother often took us skiing and it is from her that I inherited the temperament and the passion. She was the first female teacher of the Cortina ski school, which is an ancient and rather traditionalist institution. According to its statute, the teacher’s profession was a purely for males, but my mother committed herself and insisted to the point that they had to admit her anyway. I also inherited the stubbornness from her. We always went around together, and she taught me everything.
We liked to jump around, to ski on powder or to create paths through the forest. We had the exact same brave and adventurous spirit. When I didn’t have the ski lesson scheduled, once back from school I would still rush to put my ski boots on and keep going until the lifts were open. I had no idols or particular goals. I have never dreamed of becoming a champion or competing in the World Cup. I just wanted to ski, like she did.
My mom died in a skiing accident when I was 15 years old and my sisters respectively 17 and 11 years old. It was an excess of confidence from her side. She skied an off-piste down a Couloir on the north face of Cristallo, which today bears her name, Adriana. Like every time a ski trip was organized, she asked me to join her, on that occasion too, but that day I said no. Repeatedly. Because I had a sixth sense. It was a stupid accident, with the skis crossing and a fall of 600 meters. It was not like today, that you can use your mobile phone. My father rushed to her and found her with an exposed fracture and very suffering. She told him: “Angelo I cannot die this way.” He ran desperately to call for help. But she died during surgery the following morning.
My dad was faced with the most difficult task: raising three children, keeping a house and a shop all by himself. He is pragmatic, almost German in these things. I remember going back home the next morning and telling us: “It’s part of life. At first it will be tough. But let’s help each other. Because there’s nothing else we can do.“ I know I was a source of concern for him, he saw in me the same spirit, eyes and desire for adventure of my mother. Every time I came back home with a new bruise, or with a cut, he said to me “stay home“.
Even when I was called up to join the national team “B”, he didn’t give up on throwing a few jokes at me, hoping to make me change my mind. “You do your own experiences – he said – then drop everything and start studying, come on.” But I think he knew, from the bottom of his heart, that I could never live without skiing.
Recently he told me how, a few days after the accident, the trainer of the ski club showed up at home to talk about me. I had already been enrolled in a race, but given the accident, maybe, they said, it was better if I didn’t participate. “I’m going to do it, mom would have liked it too. Actually I’m going to participate and I’m going to win.” It seems that I replied this way, even though to be honest I don’t remember. There was no way to change my mind, skiing was my life. It has always been the thing that gave me the most joy in this world and nobody can ever take it away from me.
I was driven by a simple but very strong passion that I inherited from her and that I have always grown in my heart. Under the passion, however, the wound remains. The sign of what happened is always there, even if you cannot see it is part of life. This is why Cortina remains the most exciting moment of my career, a special moment lived on that same snow that we tamed together and that today also bears her name.
Mountains are built on the stories of men who discovered, carved, climbed or descended them. And this is their beauty. The mountains are alive and have a long memory, like the one of elephants. When I look out the window in the morning and see the snow and the slopes, I know that they will preserve my story forever.
Kristian Ghedina – MAGAZINE CORTINA 2021