Outstanding skiing heroes like Felix Neureuther, Justyna Kowalczyk, Lindsey Vonn, Toni Innauer and Magdalena Neuner have left their mark on top international skiing like hardly anyone else. They are all skiing legends who have achieved incredible things not only in alpine skiing but also in biathlon, ski jumping and cross-country skiing and have gone down in winter sports history. So it is high time for SnowTrex to honour 25 selected famous skiers and present their achievements.
1. Alpine skiing legends
Probably the greatest skiing legend of Austria as a skiing nation is Franz Klammer: the former ski racer from Carinthia took a total of 25 downhill victories between 1973 and 1984, four of them on the legendary Streif in Kitzbühel alone. In addition, he won the Downhill World Cup five times and is still the most successful racer in this discipline in the history of the Alpine Skiing World Cup. The famous “Carinthia-Franz Klammer” World Cup downhill run in Bad Kleinkirchheim, which has a slope gradient of up to 35 degrees, is also named after “Emperor Franz”.
At the age of just 17, Mikaela Shiffrin took her first World Cup victory in December 2012. Initially, the American from the US state of Colorado was successful in her special discipline, slalom. At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, she also won her first gold medal here, making her the youngest Olympic champion in this competition. In the same discipline, Shiffrin also won the world title four times in a row between 2013 and 2019. Over the years, however, she has increasingly developed into an absolute multi-talent in the World Cup. With victories in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, combined and parallel slalom, the ski superstar has stood at the top of the podium in all alpine skiing disciplines.
At the age of 27, Mikaela Shiffrin celebrated her 83rd World Cup victory in the giant slalom at Plan de Corones in January 2023. With this success, she overtook her compatriot Lindsey Vonn (82 World Cup victories) in the eternal best list and thus officially became the most successful female skier in history.
The Germans also have their skiing legend: Felix Neureuther from Garmisch-Partenkirchen took his 13th World Cup victory in the slalom in Levi in November 2017. No other skier from Germany had ever achieved this before him. The son of slalom specialist Christian Neureuther and double Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier thus also holds the record as the most successful skier in German World Cup history before he ended his career in March 2019 after the slalom in Soldeu (Andorra).
Lindsey Vonn leads the women’s list of best skiers with 82 World Cup victories and is thus also a skiing legend. With her record, she can boast a total of 20 more victories than the “World Sportswoman of the Century”, Annemarie Moser-Pröll. Vonn celebrated her greatest triumph in 2010 at the Olympic Games in Vancouver. There she won bronze in the super-G and gold in the downhill. In the USA, the athlete from the state of Minnesota achieved the status of a real sports superstar during her career. This was also made clear when in 2018, during the broadcast of the Super Bowl, the world’s largest single sporting event, the broadcasting television station NBC showed an Olympic commercial that revolved exclusively around Vonn’s career.
Austrian Hermann Maier has become a true skiing legend not only because of his successes. But also through the stories behind them. The most spectacular happened at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, when Maier competed in the downhill race and crashed spectacularly in a curve after only a few seconds of skiing. It bordered on a miracle that he did not injure himself in the fall:
Just as remarkable: Only three days later he won the gold medal in the Super-G. It had taken some effort for him to return to the starting line, Maier said in retrospect. But everything went well and he got his legendary nickname “Herminator”. But after two Olympic gold medals, three World Championship titles and four overall World Cup victories, he then ended his career in 2009.
Three Olympic gold medals, two Alpine World Championship titles, one overall World Cup victory: In 13 years of professional career as a ski racer, Maria Höfl-Riesch has won almost everything there was to win. With 27 World Cup victories, the Garmisch-Partenkirchen native is the second most successful skier from Germany after Katja Seizinger (36 World Cup victories). However, after leading the German team as flag bearer at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where she also won her third gold medal, Höfl-Riesch retired from professional sport. In the same year, however, the then Federal President Joachim Gauck awarded her the Silver Laurel Leaf for outstanding sporting achievements before she was voted Germany’s Sportswoman of the Year in December 2014.
Muscular, tanned, charismatic and very successful: Italian Alberto Tomba was the celebrated pop star among ski racers in the 1980s and 1990s. The eccentric sunny boy and technical specialist from Bologna was rumoured to have had affairs and there was always a lot of media hype about him. But this was also due to his impressive sporting successes: With 50 World Cup victories, as well as three Olympic gold medals and two World Championship titles in slalom and giant slalom, he is one of the most successful ski racers of all time.
No one before Marcel Hirscher has ever won the big crystal globe for first place in the overall Alpine World Cup eight times. The Salzburg native was born to ski, after all, his father Ferdinand was head of the Annaberg ski school. The Austrian celebrated his first of a total of 67 individual victories in the Alpine Skiing World Cup at the end of 2009 in Val d’Isère. In addition to his dominance in the top league of skiing, Hirscher also won seven gold medals at Alpine World Ski Championships. However, the ski superstar achieved his greatest sporting successes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. There he won gold twice in the combined and giant slalom. Off the slopes, Marcel Hirscher also took off as a businessman after his sporting career ended in 2019 and presented his own ski brand in 2021.
The greatest legend of alpine skiing actually does not come from an Alpine country, but from Scandinavia. Ingemar Stenmark won an incredible 86 World Cups during his career. Off the piste, the “quiet Swede”, as he was nicknamed, was always very reserved. But on the slopes he made all the more “noise”. Unlike Franz Klammer, for example, who mainly excelled in downhill, Stenmark was the king of the technical disciplines. In the World Cup, he won the Giant Slalom a total of 46 times between 1974 and 1989 and won the small crystal globe in the discipline World Cup seven times. In the slalom he “only” made it to the top of the podium 40 times, but won the discipline World Cup eight times.
The man from Joesjö won the overall World Cup three times in a row between 1976 and 1979. In addition, he won two gold medals at the Olympics and five World Championship titles. Just how superior Ingemar Stenmark was to his colleagues was demonstrated in Jasná, Slovakia, in 1979. The Swede won the giant slalom there with a record lead of 4.06 seconds!
Hannes Schneider, born in 1890, practised his first turns on snow at a young age on skis he made from old wood and became the first ski instructor on the Arlberg at the age of 17. In addition, Schneider served as a ski instructor with the Austrian mountain troops during the First World War. After the war, he founded the Arlberg ski school in 1921, which is now the oldest ski school in the world. While the telemark style was still being taught elsewhere, he and his ski instructors were already teaching the first precursors of the parallel turn, the so-called Stemmbogen, which is still in use today. He also introduced the state skiing examination for ski instructors and was a co-founder of the important Arlberg-Kandahar race. in 1939, he immigrated to the USA, where he took over a ski school at Mount Cranmore in New Hampshire and helped build the ski resort. In the USA, Schneider is still called the “Father of American Skiing” for this reason.
2. Biathlon legends
Before Magdalena Neuner entered the World Cup stage in 2006, biathlon was already very popular in Germany in winter. But with her successes, the Wallgauer raised her sport to a new level. She won her first title at the Biathlon World Championships in Antholz in 2007 at the age of just 19. After that, Neuner won no less than eleven more World Cup gold medals until 2011, making her the biathlon record world champion to this day. With 47 World Cup victories (13 of them in the relay), three triumphs in the overall World Cup and two Olympic victories at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, the Bavarian is a true winter sports legend not only in her home country.
After her retirement from active top-class sport in March 2012, Magdalena Neuner worked for a time as a TV pundit and now lives with her family in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen region. In Neuner’s home town of Wallgau, in addition to a panoramic hiking trail, the cross-country ski trail near her parents’ house was named after the three-time Sportswoman of the Year (2007, 2011 and 2012).
Ole Einar Bjørndalen
It is no coincidence that Ole Einar Bjørndalen is still considered the “King of the Biathlon”. After all, he racked up an incredible 94 individual and 41 relay victories in the Biathlon World Cup between 1996 and 2017! And in other respects, too, the bare figures show what status the Norwegian has in the biathlon and why he is regarded overall as one of the greatest winter athletes of all. Bjørndalen won 13 medals (eight of them gold) at five Olympic Winter Games, while he won 45 medals (20 of them gold) at Biathlon World Championships as well as securing the overall World Cup six times. And it did not stop there. The exceptional athlete from Drammen even celebrated a World Cup victory in cross-country skiing in Gällivare, Sweden, in November 2006. He was the first male winter sports athlete to achieve this feat in two different sports.
After the retirement of Magdalena Neuner, fans did not have to wait long for the next biathlon superstar from Germany. In March 2013, Laura Dahlmeier completed her first World Cup race at the legendary Holmenkollen in Oslo after an extraordinary performance in the junior ranks. It was the start of an extraordinary career, which the athlete from Garmisch-Partenkirchen ended only six years later at the age of 25, in order to dedicate herself to studying sports science and her other passions such as mountaineering and mountain running.
On the one hand, Dahlmeier wanted to take herself out of the limelight and on the other hand, she had actually won everything there was to win in the biathlon at that time. In addition to 20 individual victories and 13 relay wins in the World Cup, she also won the World Team Challenge in the Arena Auf Schalke with Florian Graf in 2013. However, the 2017 overall World Cup winner celebrated her greatest success one year later in Pyeongchang. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Laura Dahlmeier won gold in both the sprint and the pursuit. However, her most impressive performances, at least in terms of performance, were at the 2017 Biathlon World Championships in Hochfilzen. There she won three gold and one silver in four individual races. In addition, the German women’s relay team and the German mixed relay team ended up with two more World Championship titles.
Dominant. This is probably the best way to describe Martin Fourcade’s biathlon career. Between 14 March 2010 and the exact same day, 10 years later, the Frenchman won 79 individual races in the World Cup and thus came as close as anyone to Ole Einar Bjørndalen’s record. What the man from southern France has ahead of the “king of the biathlon”, however, is the number of overall World Cup victories. With seven, he is just ahead of the Norwegian (6). What is also unique is that Fourcade won these titles in series between 2012 and 2018. However, his successes at the World Championships and Winter Olympics have also made him a true winter sports legend.
In addition to 13 World Championship titles, the father of three also has five Olympic gold medals in his trophy cabinet in Villard-de-Lans. In his letter of resignation from 2020, Martin Fourcade, who was always critical during his active career, especially with regard to the issue of doping in top-class sport, emphasised his intention to remain active in sports politics in the future.
The most successful athlete in the history of the Biathlon World Cup is Magdalena Forsberg. Between 1997 and 2002, the Swede dominated the competition between cross-country and shooting range. Forsberg stood at the top of the podium a total of 42 times in her career, and she also won the overall World Cup six times. In addition, she also won 17 small crystal globes from the disciplinary World Cup rankings. A mark that is unrivalled so far in women’s biathlon. Biathlon guru Wolfgang Pichler from Ruhpodling was always at her side as a coach. And while Magdalena Forsberg was denied Olympic gold until the end of her career in 2002, she won a total of twelve medals (six of them gold) at six Biathlon World Championships. The former cross-country skier secured her very first World Championship medal in 1987 with a relay bronze at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf. What makes Forsberg’s achievements even more remarkable, however, is the fact that due to the lack of sports funding in Sweden at the time, she worked part-time as a tax consultant as a competitive athlete in order to earn enough money.
3. Ski jumping legends
Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards
Michael Edwards is probably the worst ski jumper of all time. All he really wanted was to compete in the Olympic Games for his native England. In fact, the talentless ambitious athlete was the first British ski jumper to compete at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary. He finished last with a jump of 71m and was labelled the “laughing stock of the nation” by the press. But Eddie had realised his childhood dream according to the motto: “Taking part is everything”. He was nicknamed “Eddie the Eagle” and despite his poor sporting performance, “the Eagle” became a cult figure in England.
His incredible story was captured in 2016 with the film “Eddie the Eagle: Anything is Possible”. Starring Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken:
Today, ski jumper Kamil Stoch is considered the legitimate successor of the Polish national hero Adam Małysz. In the mid-1990s, Małysz triggered a real ski jumping boom in his home country with his duels against Martin Schmitt and the associated successes in the World Cup and at the Nordic World Ski Championships. And Stoch took advantage of it. After his entry into the World Cup in 2005, it took almost six years until he could celebrate his first individual success. And of course it happened in Poland’s “ski jumping capital” and his birthplace, Zakopane. It was to be one of dozens of great victories for the Pole. Just ten years earlier, for example, Sven Hannawald had set a record in Bischofshofen that the ski jumping superstar from the High Tatras was to break 17 years later. In the 2001/2002 season, the German was the first ski jumper ever to win all four jumps of the Four Hills Tournament.
Stoch then repeated this hitherto unique “Grand Slam” in 2018/2019 as the second athlete ever to do so, winning the second of his three Tour titles to date. With two overall World Cup victories, three Olympic gold medals, two World Championship titles and the successes in the Four Hills Tournament, Kamil Stoch is also one of only five ski jumpers who have triumphed in the four most important competitions in their sport. The other four from this illustrious circle are Espen Bredesen, Thomas Morgenstern, Matti Nykänen and Jens Weißflog.
Without Jan Boklöv, ski jumping would not be what it is today. After all, he is considered the inventor of the V-jump technique. According to his own statement, he was “forced” to do it by chance during a training jump in 1985. Only by tearing the skis apart in the air was the Swede able to avoid a serious fall in Falun. In the competition, Boklöv immediately used his newly discovered technique and, thanks to the lift he gained, sometimes sailed up to 20 metres further than his competitors.
In the end, they continued to jump in the classic parallel technique. For the “Victory” pose, however, Boklöv kept getting deductions in the posture score. Nevertheless, as a five-time winner of individual World Cups and overall World Cup winner in 1989, he was so successful that his style became established after all. One day, the jumping committee realised that the V-style made greater distances possible, so that in 1990 it officially and definitively replaced the parallel jump technique.
Anton “Toni” Innauer became the idol of the Alpine nation as a ski jumper in the 1970s. He was the first in the history of ski jumping to receive the top score of 20 for a perfect flight five times. In 1982, however, at the age of just 22, the ultra-talented Austrian’s career came to an abrupt end after a serious fall. Later he was sports director of the Austrian Ski Association (ÖSV) and worked through his career experiences in the book “Am Puls des Erfolgs” (On the Pulse of Success). In it, today’s sports philosopher takes a critical look at top-class sport and notes that he himself did not want to be seen as a (popular) hero.
When ski jumpers in Germany were celebrated like pop stars at the beginning of the 2000s, Sven Hannawald was right in the middle of it. After his first individual victory in the Ski Jumping World Cup in Bischofshofen in January 1998, it was to take some time until the present-day TV expert cracked the myth of the Four Hills Tournament there four years later to the day. After he had already won the competitions in Oberstdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck in the 2001/2002 season of the most prestigious of all ski jumping competitions, Hannawald triumphed for the second time at the Epiphany on 6 January 2002. He thus became the first ski jumper in history to win the “Grand Slam” at the Tournament.
And although Hannawald did not manage to win the overall World Cup in his career, he is now one of the most successful ski jumpers from Germany and thus also a true winter sports legend. In addition to two gold medals each at the Nordic World Ski Championships and the Ski Flying World Championships, the Black Forest athlete also won the Olympic team ski jumping title in Salt Lake City 2002 together with Stephan Hocke, Martin Schmitt and Michael Uhrmann.
4. Cross-country skiing legends
In Polish cross-country skiing she has the skiing lead: Justyna Kowalczyk. She was the first Polish woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing and four times an overall World Cup victory. In addition, Kowalczyk is the sole record winner in the Tour de Ski with four overall victories. And as a two-time Olympic champion (2010 and 2014), she is one of the most successful Polish cross-country skiers in the history of the sport. Her run in Sochi 2014 became legendary when, despite a broken bone in her foot, she bravely mastered the 10-km race in the classic style and won Olympic gold in spring-like temperatures:
The 10 km cross-country race in the classic technique at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano went down in history for two reasons. Firstly, because Bjørn Dæhlie won his unprecedented sixth gold medal at the Winter Games, cementing his status as the best cross-country skier of all time. And secondly because of the performance of Philip Boit from Kenya. As his country’s first Winter Olympian, he was of course hopelessly outclassed in the cross-country. So he reached the finish line in 92nd position and thus last, more than 20 minutes behind the winner. But exactly there, a few seconds later, a real Olympic moment occurred. Instead of collecting his medal, Dæhlie was the only athlete left in the finish area. Receiving the Kenyan in person was finally more than just a sign of respect for him.
Since then, the two men have been good friends and Boit even named his son Daehlie after the winter sports legend. For the Norwegian himself, the victory in Nagano came in the autumn of a career that has remained unmatched to this day. In total, he won eight gold medals in cross-country skiing at three Winter Games. At the Nordic World Ski Championships, the Norwegian national hero even won the World Cup title nine times. And in the cross-country World Cup, the six-time overall World Cup winner stood at the top of the podium 46 times in individual races between 1989 and 1999.
Nobody expected that it would be a cross-country skier from Germany who would make history in the most Nordic of all sports at the turn of the year 2006/2007. The highlight of the World Cup season was the first Tour de Ski. And the overall winner of the race, which, like the famous Tour de France, consists of several stages, was in fact Tobias Angerer. After his compatriots René Sommerfeldt (2004) and Axel Teichmann (2005) had won the overall World Cup, it was also Angerer who continued the German series with his triumphs in 2006 and 2007. With 16 World Cup victories (individual races and relays) as well as six silver and five bronze medals at World Championships and Olympic Winter Games, the Bavarian is also one of the best cross-country skiers from Germany today.
The unofficial title of best female cross-country skier of all time goes to the motherland of the sport, Marit Bjørgen. After her retirement in 2018, the Norwegian could call a total of 15 Olympic medals her own. This CV made her the most successful Winter Olympian in history. Bjørgen won the last two of her eight Olympic medals in Pyeongchang, firstly over 30 km and with the Norwegian women’s relay team:
In addition to an overall victory in the Tour de Ski (2015), the trained sprinter also scored four triumphs in the overall World Cup (2005, 2006, 2012 and 2015). Especially in the top league of cross-country skiing, no one has been as successful as Marit Bjørgen – not even a man. She stood on the podium an incredible 220 times in the World Cup and even on the top step after 114 individual races. And the Norwegian was also successful 30 times with the team (sprint and relay).
The Tour de Ski was his thing. No one has won the overall men’s title as often as Dario Cologna. The Swiss also took the yellow bib of the stage race leader four times at the end of the final climb up the Alpe Cermis. The Tour record winner was born in 1986 in Münstertal in the canton of Graubünden and started alpine skiing at the age of 5. At the age of 13, however, he switched from the piste to the cross-country track, where he rose to become the best cross-country skier in Switzerland until his retirement in 2022. In the World Cup, Cologna won 15 individual races and the overall World Cup four times. At the Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme in 2013, he also won his only World Championship title in the skiathlon.
in 2010 (in Vancouver), 2014 (in Sochi) and 2018 (in Pyeongchang), the man from Münstertal underlined his special motivation for the Winter Olympics. He won gold for Switzerland here four times. In recognition of his achievements, the Rhaetian Railway in Switzerland christened one of its trains “Dario Cologna” in 2010. While the municipality of Tschierv near his birthplace named a street after the winter sports legend.
FAQs on winter sports legends
With 13 victories in individual World Cup races, Felix Neureuther is considered the best German skier in this category. However, he is outdone by two compatriots. Katja Seizinger (36 World Cup victories) and Maria Höfl-Riesch (27 World Cup victories) not only have more than twice as many race successes, but with two (Seizinger) and one (Höfl-Riesch) large crystal globes, they are also the only two Alpine skiing overall World Cup winners from Germany to date.
Marcel Hirscher has won a staggering eight Alpine skiing World Cups in his career. This makes him not only the most successful skier from Austria, but also one of the most successful skiers of all time. With six large crystal globes in her trophy cabinet, Hirscher’s compatriot Annemarie Moser-Pröll can still call herself the most successful female skier in the world.
The best skier from Switzerland is Pirmin Zurbrüggen. In addition to four overall Alpine Ski World Cups, he won a total of 40 World Cup races between 1980 and 1990, eleven small crystal globes in the discipline World Cup, four gold medals at Alpine Ski World Championships and Olympic gold once in 1988. The best skier from Switzerland is again considered Verni Schneider, who won the overall Alpine Skiing World Cup three times.
The US American Lindsey Vonn has won the most downhill races in the history of the Alpine Ski World Cup. She has topped the podium 43 times in this discipline. With 36 downhill victories, Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Pröll is in 2nd place here in the eternal best list. She is ahead of her compatriot Franz Klammer, who has 25 victories in the fastest of all alpine skiing disciplines, four of them in the legendary Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel alone.
The most overall World Cup victories in ski jumping are shared by Japan’s Sara Takanashi (2012/13, 2013/14, 2015/16 and 2016/17), Poland’s Adam Małysz (2000/01, 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2006/07) and Finland’s Matti Nykänen (1982/83, 1984/85, 1985/86 and 1987/88) with four each. They are thus considered the best ski jumpers in the world. By contrast, the Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer has claimed the most individual victories in the World Cup, standing at the top of the podium 53 times.