Every July they troop up to the Plateau Ros√† to run through the midsummer rite that will determine who among them is the fastest man in the world on skis. It is an exotic championship, off somewhere beyond the pale of most sporting experience, the sort of thing mad skiers do while waiting for winter to return. When they assembled for the Kilometro Lanciato two weeks ago there were 41 competitors from nine countries, and they all looked like they might have dropped in from Mars.
Suited up, speed skiers do not seem so much dressed as spray-painted right from the buff in pearlescent, candy-apple coatings that make their every move glitter in the sun. Their crash helmets are bullet-shaped and lacquered, their ski poles are curved to wrap around their bodies and their skis are heavy and stable, making it virtually impossible to turn. No need: the run is a glacier straightaway, 561 meters long, 65 degrees at its steepest. One aims, drops into full tuck, and lets go.
The setting is suitably storybook. Cervinia lies below on one side, Zermatt on the other; the Matterhorn looms nearby, and on bright days bikinis blossom at the 11,900-foot altitude like wildflowers in the snow. Small wonder that this year's contest evolved in almost fictional form. The championship was decided on the last run of the last day.
Italy's Alessandro Casse, 146 pounds of skintight cool, was the man to beat. He had set a stunning 114.353-mph record two years ago and the feeling was that to go any faster one would have to add jets. For three days they all tried, flickering down in bright streaks, but without success. And then Casse himself closed the show. With one perfect run he pushed the record to 114.411 mph and emerged the winner and still champ in the fastest snow game of all.