Winning THE Nightrace in Schladming at least once in their slalom careers is like writing a piece of skiing history. It is the goal of every winter athlete. Slicing down through a forest of poles, hurtling into the heart of the famous witches' cauldron in Schladming - spurred on the entire length of the icy finish slope by the cheers of thousands-upon-thousands of exuberant spectators - what an amazing feeling it must be to finally stand at the very top of the medals podium.
"Nothing is so small it isn't doable. And nothing so big it shouldn't be attempted “, chairman Hans Grogl once said
Motivated and energized, Schladming is once again rising to the challenge of establishing itself as a major annual highlight on the World Cup calendar. On January 26, 1995, a cooperative agreement was signed between the Austrian Ski Association and WSV Schladming, which took effect in winter season 1996/1997. The signatures of ÖSV President Peter Schröcksnadel and Chairman Hans Grogl guaranteed Schladming's return to the World Cup scene.
On January 30, 1997, the time had finally come, with the very first World Cup night slalom casting a bright spotlight squarely on the Planai and all of Schladming unlike anything anyone had seen before. This marked the starting shot for a whole new chapter in Schladming World Cup history. Around 27,000 enthusiastic ski fans attended the first night slalom, ample reward for the hard work performed by so many people before, during and after this major sporting event.
This year wasn't just a gathering of legendary ski racers from earlier times, it also brought an array of slalom artists and speed specialists. This race in Schladming has transformed at lightning speed from a "standard" Ski World Cup event to a true skiing spectacle. The night slalom on January 8, 1998, boasted 35,000 spectators, while tens of thousands also came to attend the Super-G races.
Alberto Tomba or "Tomba la Bomba“, as the Italian is known by his fans, was definitely a "blast" on this special night, taking home victory in the second night slalom. Austria's ski stars also enjoyed success. Thomas Sykora came in second in the slalom, while the "Herminator" and Austria's Super-G Armada definitely did their part to put the icing on the Planai cake.
With a charge from behind – from 23rd to first-place – down the Schladming finish slope into a stadium that was literally rocking, Benni Raich grabbed his first, though definitely not his last victory in the Schladming Nightrace.
Despite the rainy weather, the 2000 Nightslalom wasn't a washout at all. In fact, around 30,000 spectators celebrated a double success for Austria. The first three - Mario Matt, Thomas Stangassinger and Ole-Christian Furuseth - had no problem whatsoever heating up the World Cup fans packed into the Schladming stadium.
After his initial success in 1999, in 2001 Benni Raich once again crowned himself king of a special night in Schladming, this time ahead of Hans-Peter Buraas and Mitja Kunc.
Ski legends, beaming children's eyes, countless fans, flares, boisterous fan clubs and high-spirited folk music are as much a part of the Nightrace as the slalom artists of the World Cup tour.
His laid-back attitude during course inspection, his stoic calm before the start, as well as his high-risk approach and almost fidgety skiing style are all unmistakable characteristics of Bode Miller. America's favorite son definitely put on quite a show at Nightrace 2002 – with a 66-hundredth advantage, Bode finished ahead of Frenchman Jean-Pierre Vidal, while Ivica Kostelic placed third.
In 2003, Finn Kalle Palander brought his personal magic to the night and stormed to victory on the Planai, finally joining the elite of the ski World Cup circuit. The likable Finn finished over a second ahead of Pitztal-favorite Benjamin Raich, with Hans-Petter Buraas of Norway third.
The success story of "The Nightrace" goes hand-in-hand with that of the ski stars themselves – and in the case of Schladming, especially with that of crowd-favorite Benni Raich. It's almost as if this Pitztal native has a personal relationship with the most famous finish slope in the World Cup business.
For the third time, Benni stands at the very top of the winners' podium in Schladming, finishing just ahead of South Tyrol's Manfred Mölgg in second and Kalle Palander, third.
In front of 47,000 enthusiastic ski fans, Manfred Pranger "rode" to victory in this superlative celebration of skiing. By doing so, the Austrian gave himself probably the most beautiful present imaginable on his 27th birthday, which he just happened to celebrate on January 25, the same day as the night slalom.
Austria's successful night was complete with Benjamin Raich, a three-time Schladming winner in his own right, finishing second. The Swedes also had cause to celebrate, with Andre Myhrer coming in third.
In Olympic year 2006, the charming Finn showed he hasn't forgotten how to win. With a 79-hundredth advantage, Kalle Palander took home the 9th World Cup slalom victory of his career as he triumphed on this exciting night in Schladming. Japanese slalom artist Akira Sasaki and Benjamin Raich proudly shared the podium with Palander.
It isn't just the number of fans flooding into Schladming year-after-year that is steadily increasing, but also that of the accredited media. The Nightrace began on January 30, 1997 with around 25,000 excited spectators, which was far above expectations back then. 12 TV and radio stations were credited.
That said, compared with recent years those numbers seem somewhat meager. Thanks to lots of work and the support of around 48,000 fans, every year Schladming is transformed for one night into the ultimate sports and party location. And it was these pictures and this atmosphere from Nightrace 2007 that were once again transmitted around the globe by many TV and radio stations as well as countless photographers and print media.
Aside from many European TV stations, six American and one Asian broadcaster were also represented. No wonder, then, that Schladming is becoming more and more well known far beyond Austria, meaning that a victory in Schladming is great cause for celebration. In 2007, the "King of the Planai", Benjamin Raich, finished ahead of Swede Jens Byggmark and Mario Matt.
You can hear the constant swirl and celebration of fan clubs in the center of Schladming since early this morning. But now the clock has turned to 5 PM – one look out the window of the Dachstein-Tauern Halle quickly puts tears in the eyes of the entire organizing committee – not a single patch of white is to be seen next to the slalom course on the Planai finish hill.
50,000 fans have commandeered the grounds of the world's most famous finish slope here in the center of Schladming. And buoyed by the constant roar of the fans, Mario Matt skis to his second Nightrace victory. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA), the 2008 slalom rookie, lands in second place. The exciting battle for third is eventually won by South Tyrol's Manfred Mölgg.
50,000 winter sports fans, including Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice Chancellor Josef Pröll, experienced this major sporting showdown live on the Planai finish slope. In this 13th Nightrace, we were able to celebrate an Austrian victory for the eighth time.
And on the first occasion since 2005, the Alpine republic was proud to celebrate a double success: Reinfried Herbst, who clocked the best times both in the first and second runs, won for the first time in Schladming. Coming in second, Manfred Pranger was also part of Austria's double success story in Schladming. Ivica Kostelic took home third place here in the "dragon's den" of Schladming.
Touching words from Reinfried Herbst after his win: "I wanted to win, and I did everything to make it happen. The fact that's what I managed to do… It's like a fairytale!" Last year's winner skied the absolute best time in the second heat on his way to victory in Schladming.
After his excellent performance in the second run, Silvan Zurbriggen was able to finish in second place. This is the first podium spot for a Swiss skier in the Schladming Nightrace. Manfred Pranger went into the final run with a 59-hundredth lead, but ultimately ended up in third. Mani thus added another podium finish to his Schladming tally, along with his win in 2005 and a second place in 2009.
Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) wins in the 15th edition of the Nightrace in Schladming on January 25, 2011, ahead of two Swedes, Andre Myhrer and Mattias Hargin. For the Frenchman, this represents his second win in succession, right after Kitzbühel. Grange thus adds his name to the list of great skiers to take home the Schladming trophy.
The Nightrace "walk of fame" has thus added a seventh illustrious name in the form of this Frenchman. The Swedish camp managed to surprise the 45,500 spectators with outstanding performances of their own. Especially second-place finisher Andre Myhrer. This is the Swede's second opportunity to stand on the Schladming victory podium, having finished third in 2005. Mattias Hargin (SWE) took third in Schladming, putting him in the top 10 for the very first time.
Benjamin Raich was the best-placed Austrian finisher in 10th. None of Austria's slalom stars managed to make it onto the podium. This had only happened once before in the 15-year history of the Nightrace, back in 2002.
Marcel Hirscher wins an exciting event in Schladming ahead of Italian Stefano Gross and Mario Matt. In front of 45,000 Nightrace fans in Schladming, Marcel Hirscher celebrates his first victory in this slalom classic of the Ski World Cup tour. After laying to rest the controversy with Ivica Kostelic, he skis with far more freedom and demonstrates nerves of steel, especially right at the finish.
Stefano Gross is only 22 one-hundredths back, proudly standing on the podium again after his third-place finish in Adelboden. Two-time Nightrace winner Mario Matt further underscores his own strength, finishing in third. Marcel Hirscher: "For now, this is definitely the most emotional World Cup victory I have celebrated so far. Things weren't easy in the last few days, either for my family or for me. I have refocused on the important things in life, on my family and friends, who were incredibly supportive in this difficult situation."
Because Schladming hosted the Ski World Championships, the 2013 Nightrace was canceled. That said, this small mountain town can now boast having written its own chapter in World Championship skiing history, one that won't soon be forgotten.
The only 19-year-old Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen triumphed in front of over 40,000 excited ski fans, putting this season's two slalom dominators, Marcel Hirscher and Felix Neureuther, in their places. This makes Kristoffersen the youngest Nightrace winner of all time and he can rightly brag that this is the highlight of his career to date.
After a very exciting and tight first run, he managed to catapult himself from second place to victory, followed by overall World Cup winner Marcel Hirscher and slalom specialist Felix Neureuther, who were 18 and 19 hundredths back respectively. The winner expressed his appreciation to the thousands of spectators after his amazing race: "Skiing in front of crowds like this is sensational. There is nowhere else quite like it."
Schladming appears to be fertile ground for first-time victories. Surprise Russian performer Alexander Khoroshilov won the 18th Nightrace well ahead of Stefano Gross and Felix Neureuther.
"I am super happy, this is a dream come true", rejoiced the otherwise rather reticent winner. Because of his regular training sessions on the Reiteralm, it felt very much like a "home race" for him.
The Norwegian celebrated his second victory in the Nightrace. He won ahead of Marcel Hirscher, who catapulted in the final run 22nd position to the podium. Third place was taken by Alexander Khoroshilov, the 2015 winner.
For Kristoffersen, who has settled down in Ramsau, this was basically a home victory: "I live in Ramsau just five minutes from here. This is definitely home turf for me", speaking about one of "the best days of my life". For second-place Marcel Hirscher, there was a happy end despite his "goggle faux pas" in the first round. "My biggest emotion today is gratitude, that outweighs everything else", he said after what was probably his greatest catch-up performance in the Ski World Cup.
The 42,000 spectators in the stadium experienced one of the most exciting Nightraces ever.
As he did in 2016, in this anniversary race on the Planai it was slalom dominator Henrik Kristoffersen who came out ahead. However, the Norwegian had to fight harder than he would've liked in this 20th edition of the Nightrace. Marcel Hirscher was on fire in the second run and only barely finished second. Russian Alexander Khoroshilov also repeated his strong Nightrace performance. Commenting on his third victory on the Planai, Kristoffersen said: "It was tough. I couldn't find the right rhythm. But the last section was really good. Winning in Schladming is totally cool."
For the first time since 2012, World Cup dominator Marcel Hirscher ended up victorious at this floodlit spectacular on the Planai. After two amazing runs, he squeaked out a victory ahead of Norwegian rival Henrik Kristoffersen and Daniel Yule from Switzerland, making this his 54th World Cup win and equaling the Austrian record set by Hermann Maier. "It was a fantastic day. It was so loud. I had never skied in Schladming with so much emotion", Hirscher celebrated.