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Downhill Racer

original film poster
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Produced by Richard Gregson
Written by James Salter
Starring Robert Redford
Gene Hackman
Camilla Sparv
Karl Michael Vogler
Dabney Coleman
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Brian Probyn
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) November 6, 1969
Running time 101 min.

Downhill Racer was a 1969 film directed by American director Michael Ritchie in his film debut. A drama about ski racing, it starred Robert Redford and Gene Hackman.

Tagline: How fast must a man go to get from where he's at?



An upstart & cocky ski racer (Redford) from Idaho Springs, Colorado, is suddenly promoted to the U.S. Ski Team. He joins the team in mid-season in Europe, and immediately clashes with the team's head coach (Hackman) and the more experienced teammates. The assistant coach is played by Dabney Coleman and Swedish actress Camilla Sparv plays the love interest. Karl Michael Vogler plays her boss, a ski company owner.


Lots of good World Cup ski racing action, leading to an exciting climax at the Winter Olympics. The winter scenes were filmed on location in the Alps, mostly in January 1969. Prominently featured are the Lauberhorn at Wengen, Switzerland, and the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel, Austria. Also included were Megève, France and St. Anton, Austria.

The off-season scenes were filmed at various locations in Colorado; the track scene was filmed at a relatively new Potts Field, on the east campus of CU in Boulder.


The suspected inspiration for the lead character in the film was a composite of Spider Sabich and Billy Kidd. Sabich, a young and attractive Californian, finished fifth in the slalom at the 1968 Olympics, at age 22. Kidd was a U.S. Ski Team veteran from Vermont who won the silver medal in the slalom at the 1964 Olympics at age 20. Those close to Sabich remember him as much more positive and easy-going than Redford's character, Dave Chappellet. While Kidd was more aloof than Sabich, he too was more light-hearted (and had a much better sense of humor) than Chappellet.


The far-fetched notion of an American winning the men's Olympic downhill would be realized fifteen years later, when brash upstart Bill Johnson predicted his victory in 1984 in Sarajevo, and then delivered, besting silver medalist Peter Müller of Switzerland by 0.27 seconds.

A decade later, a humbler Tommy Moe won on a considerably more challenging course in Lillehammer, Norway, taking Olympic gold for the USA in 1994 by a mere 0.04 seconds over the home country favorite, Kjetil André Aamodt.

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