A Difficult Course
Maier, the older of his father Hermann Maier Sr.'s two children, first strapped on skis at age three. "Two days later he was off riding the lift by himself," the elder Maier, the owner of a skiing school, recalled to Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated. Skiing was a common passion in the Maiers' hometown of Flachau, Austria: The town had four other skiing schools, in addition to the Maiers', for a mere 2,500 inhabitants.
Maier was always recognized as a good skier, but Austria is full of good skiers. Although he was accepted to the Austrian national ski academy at the age of 15, after a year there he failed to stand out as a potentially great skier and he was asked to leave. Undeterred, he returned to Flachau, where he worked as a bricklayer in the summer. In the winters he taught skiing at his father's ski school for five hours a day and practiced his own skiing the rest of the time.
He soon established himself as the local champion in slalom and giant slalom, and in the spring of 1995 the president of his regional ski federation, Alex Reiner, helped to get him the opportunity to ski in the Austrian national championships. Maier finished eighteenth. Encouraged by this result, Maier quit his bricklaying job late in 1995 and started training full time again, hoping
to be able to qualify for the Europa Cup circuit, one step below the top World Cup circuit.
Reiner arranged another tremendous opportunity for Maier in January 1996. A World Cup giant slalom event was being held in Flachau. It is customary for a forerunner, a noncompeting skier, to ski the course before the competitors go down, and Reiner arranged for Maier to do this. Had Maier actually been a competitor, his time on the course would have placed him seventh after the first run-only a second behind then-champion Alberto Tomba-and eleventh after the second run. After those performances, he was offered a spot in the Austrian national program. He skied on the Europa Cup circuit for a few months and won the overall Europa Cup title. By the end of the season he had been promoted to the World Cup team.