Among the best in the rarified and highly dangerous world of speed skiing, Ivan and Simone Origone risk life and limb to hurtle down slopes at close to 160 miles per hour.
Two Italian brothers are trailblazers in speed skiing, often described as the fastest non-motorized sport on Earth.
Simone Origone, 43, is the most decorated speed skier of all time, with a resume that encompasses 13 World Cup wins, including the last one in 2022. His brother, Ivan, 35, holds the speed skiing world record, which he set in 2016 at 158.424 miles per hour.
Speed skiing takes place on straight, steep courses where athletes aim to go as fast as possible. Currently, there are only about 50 speed skiers in the world, the brothers say.
The Origones grew up in the Valle D’Aosta region of Italy; their father was a ski coach, and both competed in alpine skiing until their teenage years.
Simone remembers being fascinated by tales of skiers whizzing down the slopes at the Chilometro Lanciato, or KL, a speed race held in nearby Cervinia, Italy. At about age 16, he and a friend decided to try out speed skiing on the famous Les Arcs slope in France, and Simone was hooked. “That’s where this passion that we still feel so deeply was born,” he says.
Ivan always wanted to emulate his older brother, so when Simone asked him to try out speed skiing, he didn’t hesitate. “I had no ambition. I just wanted to hang out with my big brother and do something cool,” he recalls.
Simone, who started competing in 2004, fondly remembers setting his first world record in 2006. He chased his own shadow for eight years before finally setting another record in 2014, followed by a third in 2015.
Ivan’s career began in 2006, when he set the junior world record. Ten years later, he set the current world record, which he described as tremendously satisfying.
The brothers live in Champoluc, in their native Valle D’Aosta, where they run the Hotel Villa Anna Maria along with their mother and two siblings.
Ivan is a ski instructor in winter and works in construction during spring, summer and fall. Simone is a ski instructor, alpine guide, and helicopter search and rescue technician.
The brothers have different attitudes about their sport: Simone stresses while Ivan is more easygoing.
“[Simone] has always been very serious about this sport,” Ivan says. “I sort of found myself in it and took it a bit more lightly.”
“Then again,” he muses, “maybe that’s why I’ve had less results overall.”
Simone says he was uber-focused from the start. “I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working on materials, in the evening and at night, and to study things and come up with solutions. I also practiced hard. I invested a lot of time in it.”
So how does it feel that his younger brother holds the record? “That day (in 2016) played out the way it was supposed to. Ivan raced a super race, with super speed,” Simone says. After a pause, he adds that his own performance that day was subpar.
Both brothers have suffered injuries while speed skiing. Ivan underwent a long recovery after a fall in practice in 2009. Simone fell twice while racing, once badly in 2007 and once in 2012 when he “only” broke two ribs, he says.
The brothers say they regret that there are no young Italian speed skiers to follow in the path they blazed along with compatriot Valentina Greggio, who set the women’s record in 2016.
There are small sponsorships, and the Italian Winter Sports Federation helps with travel expenses, but overall, there isn’t much money to be made in speed skiing, they explain. Also, families are reluctant to participate because of its dangers.
The sport appeared as a demonstration in the 1992 Winter Olympics, during which a French speed skier died after a crash in practice. It hasn’t been permanently included in the Olympic lineup, presumably due to its hazards and perhaps a lack of excitement for average viewers.
“When we stop, and Valentina stops, the sport in Italy will basically die,” Ivan says. “We are nearing the end. We might keep skiing for a season or two, but I don’t think we’ll continue much longer.”
Meanwhile, they will continue to work as hard as usual — especially Simone — to compete at the highest level.
The above appears in the December 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.