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Mark Rupprecht: Speed Personified
Mark Rupprecht is on the fast track. The 22-year-old has put on his skis, hitched a tow rope to the back of a car, had a friend gun the engine and skimmed over rain slicked asphalt behind the speeding vehicle until the sparks flew from the metal edges and the street was P-texed. When the sun roof blew off the four-wheeled towboat, Mark ducked and crashed. "That put me in the emergency room," he laughs. When the windshield on his VW bug was out for six month, he wore ski goggles and drove with the wind in his face. Rupprecht loves speed.
He has an outlet other than naughty-boy tricks speed skiing. He has skied straight down gut-wrenchingly steep snowfields at velocities that you rarely catch even BMW's doing on Germany's wide-open Autobahns. Yet Mark, who grew up in Littleton, looks normal, acts sane and talks like a regular guy. He's clean cut, with an engaging smile, athletic build, quick wit and just enough grunge to his wardrobe to remain cool. It's easy to be charmed by his congeniality spiced with mischief but no malice. At six-feet-one and 195 hard-bodied pounds, he shrugs off the inevitable scrapes and comes back for more. Yet beneath that easy-going exterior beats the heart of the second-fastest skier in the United States and fourth-fastest in the world. He achieved this rank by dropping into a bulletproof tuck and blasting down the near-free-fall course in France. In the process, he dethroned world record holder Philippe Goitschel, the scion of a great French ski racing dynasty. On April 14, 1995, at the world professional championships at Vars Les Chaux, France, Rupprecht pointed his skis down a white speed way called the Kilometre de Lance'. He rocketed into the 100-meter-long timed stretch with a sickening 95-percent gradient and hit 147.004 miles an hour. When Rupprecht broke the beam at the bottom, Goitschel's 3 year old record was history.
In Europe generally and France in particular, speed skiing is a big deal. Competitors race the clock in heats that narrows the field to just 10 on the final day. Americans think in terms of miles per hour, but because it is dominated by the Europeans and nearly always run on alpine tracks, speed skiing is timed in kilometers per hour. Mark replays the highlights of his glorious day in stream-of-consciousness fragments, often lapsing into second person to wrap the listener into his triumph. "The sky was crystal blue" he says. "You have to ski early, so there is no tie for a warm-up run. First, there were a few forerunners. Then one girl went off the top at 225 kilometers an hour. The previous [women's] record was 219, so we figured the course was fast. The first guy did 230. That was just 12 kilometers off the previous record. An Austrian nearly crashed, but we could not see it from the top. A guy named Charlie Roe did 232. At the end of the timing trap I thought "Man I am really moving." I knew I was fast. You can tell the difference between 235 and 245 kilometers an hour. That's getting to the point where you almost lose it. Then you are through the trap, and you stand up out of your tuck. When the wind hits you, your body is like a parachute. At the bottom, one of the American told me I broke the world record."
For a short precious time on that picture perfect morning, Mark Rupprecht, barely old enough to buy a beer in Colorado, was indeed the world's fastest skier. Eventually, a Californian pro racer named Jeff Hamilton, a Frenchman and a Finn outgunned Rupprecht, but Hamilton and Rupprecht were the top Americans on the evening's French sport news. Hamilton was the headliner because of his new record, but Rupprecht was cited as being the youngest ever to ski at such speeds. As a relative newcomer to speed skiing, he was more surprised at having held the record, even briefly, than seeing it broken. But Rupprecht certainly remains the fastest skier this state has thus far produced.
"At 147 miles an hour, your are barely hanging on" he says, again smiling at the memory. "It's a real good rush.
France Ski de Vitesse
Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) British Speed Ski Team Fédération Suisse de Ski de Vitesse
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