Toni Sailer: Skiing’s Most Stylish Gent

Toni Sailer: Skiing’s Most Stylish Gent


James Jung has taught in ski schools from Vermont to Switzerland and currently curates @theapresski, an Instagram that celebrates the classic styles of skiing’s golden years (with a little bit of ‘80s ridiculousness thrown in for good measure).


This weekend, the Men's Alpine World Cup descends on Kitzbühel, Austria for the annual Hahnenkamm downhill—a 77-year old ski race that remains the biggest and baddest on the FIS Tour. With pitches as steep as 85-percent, icy, off-camber turns, and as many as 100,000 rowdy, drunken spectators, a win in Kitz remains the Holy Grail of downhill racing, even more coveted than Olympic gold.


Impressive stats, but I’ve always been more taken by Kitzbühel’s most famous son, former three-time Hahnenkamm champ Toni Sailer. Having grown up with an Austrian father who’d emigrated to the U.S. to run ski schools (not to mention chase my American mother, a Brooklyn girl he’d met at après-ski in the Alps), I’d heard endless tales about Sailer’s near mythic skiing ability. Turns out dad was right. Nicknamed the "Blitz aus Kitz" for his lightening-fast style, Sailer became ski racing's first international superstar and—in my opinion—remains the most stylish gent to have ever graced the slopes.


Before we rummage through the man’s wardrobe, however, let’s take a look at his race resume. The son of a local glass shop owner, Anton Engelbert "Toni" Sailer won his first ski race at age 11 (the prize: two sausages), and began dominating international competition soon after. By the ripe age of 20, he represented Austria at the 1956 Cortina Winter Olympics, where he became the first skier to sweep the Alpine events. He'd nearly repeat the feat two years later at the World Championships in Bad Gastein, falling just short in the slalom and settling for silver. By then, Sailer had become a household name, and he capitalized on his good looks and charisma by retiring from ski racing to become something of a matinee idol, recording a series of pop records and starring in a schmaltzy collection of musical comedies (typically set on skis).


The film career is largely forgettable (despite some stunningly quirky ski footage), but the man's style endures. Sailer's crouched, angular technique still looks modern today, and his wardrobe was equally timeless. Peruse old pictures of Sailer in his heyday and you'll get a veritable lookbook of flawless Alpine style—striped ski sweaters, tailored anoraks, rakish scarves, crisp, white pom pom hats, and handsome leather gloves that would be just as suited power-shifting a vintage Porsche as they are wrapped around a pair of ski poles. He was skiing’s version of Steve McQueen. Indeed, in each photo, Sailer cuts an impeccable silhouette that embodies all the romance and history that go hand in hand with the sport we love. 

Sailer died in 2009 from laryngeal cancer, but this weekend his presence will still loom large over the Hahnenkamm, a race he directed for 20 years. Despite all the acclaim, Sailer always remained close to the simple sport that made him famous. He ran everything from the local ski school to the powerhouse Austrian Ski Team, and inspired legions of his countrymen along the way. Franz Klammer—the man credited for making the downhill famous with his ragged, go-for-broke win in the 1976 Olympics—said of Sailer, "As a small boy, I wanted to be just like him." 


I couldn’t agree more with Klammer. And while the talent to ski like Sailer might elude even the best of us, we can emulate the man’s sartorial style. Today, skiing is a sport often marred by bland gear, highly technical jackets that all look the same and ill-fitting pants that are too baggy to be flattering. But, here’s the thing: the same fashion rules that apply to living handsomely in your day to day life—a pair of slim trousers, a classic sweater, a tailored jacket—should apply to your style on the slopes. Thankfully, there are some well-tailored exceptions on the market (ahem, Alps & Meters).



In other words, you can never go wrong opting for a classic look. So, when you’re kitting up this season, first ask yourself: What would Toni Sailer wear?