Silvan Zurbriggen – a distant relation of former Swiss ski stars Pirmin and Heidi Zurbriggen – stood on skis for the first time at the age of three and took part in his first race at the age of nine. He enrolled at the Austrian Ski Academy in Stams at the age of 15. In 1993, he was accepted into Swiss Ski’s C-squad and returned to Switzerland, where he continued his studies in Engelberg and graduated with the Swiss baccalaureate in 2001.
He participated in his first races under International Ski Federation (FIS) rules in November 1997 and claimed his first victory at this level two years later, competing in European Cup races from December 2000. Zurbriggen was runner-up in the downhill at the 2001 Junior World Championships in Verbier, following up this success by winning three European Cup races one year later.
His World Cup debut was on 21 January 2002 in the slalom in Kitzbühel, where he failed to qualify for the second run. Zurbriggen won his first World Cup points on 24 November 2002, when he placed 13th in the slalom in Park City.
World Championship silver – at the age of 21, Silvan Zurbriggen burst onto the world stage in St. Moritz.
Further good results secured qualification for the 2003 World Championships in St. Moritz. This is where he unexpectedly won silver behind Ivica Kostelić of Croatia. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, came this talented young slalom racer. No one had reckoned with him. The young man from canton Valais claimed a podium spot to become Vice World Champion! It was only the third Swiss slalom medal since 1950 and a milestone in Swiss skiing history.
Zurbriggen found his place amid the world elite during the 2003/04 season, his best results being a fifth place each in the slalom and combined events in Kitzbühel. On 13 December 2004, he earned his first World Cup podium as runner-up in the slalom in Sestriere. A fifth place in the Bormio downhill two weeks later confirmed his talent as an all-round ski racer.
In August 2005, a training accident left Zurbriggen with fractured ribs and concussion. His interrupted preparation phase meant that he could not improve his performance the following season, recording a sixth place as his best result. Things started to look up again in 2006/07 with eight top 10 rankings, including two podiums in the super combined events in Wengen and Kvitfjell. In the Gröden downhill on 15 December 2007 however, Zurbriggen crashed badly and suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament. He was unable to compete for the rest of the season.
Zurbriggen staged a successful comeback in 2008/09 – his first race, the slalom at Levi on 16 November, earned him fourth place) and he established himself as a world leading skier, notably in the combined events. After coming third in Wengen, he claimed his first World Cup victory in the classic Hahnenkamm combined (25 January 2009) in Kitzbühel. He was narrowly beaten into second place in the overall combined rankings by countryman Carlo Janka. In slalom in particular, Zurbriggen’s performance in 2009/10 was consistently good, earning him two second places and a third place in the season’s discipline standings.
Olympic bronze in Vancouver – a dream comes true!
Winning an Olympic medal is the highest achievement for any athlete. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Silvan Zurbriggen took the bronze medal in the super combined event.
The winter of 2010/11 saw Zurbriggen put himself in the spotlight with good results in the downhill and super-combined disciplines. On 18 December 2010, he was victorious in the Gröden downhill, the course where he had suffered a serious accident three years earlier. He spent the end of the year at the top of the overall World Cup rankings before being clearly overtaken by Ivica Kostelić in January. Zurbriggen completed the season with a sixth place in the overall and fourth place in the downhill World Cup rankings. He remained without a win in the 2011 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Zurbriggen did not race any slaloms in 2011/12, and specializing in the speed disciplines did not yield the desired results with one exception, a third place in the Kitzbühel combined. His performance stagnated during the following two winters, resulting in an increased participation in European Cup fixtures. He was unable to qualify for the 2014 Olympics but won three races and the European Cup overall downhill rankings in 2013/14.
Zurbriggen retired from professional skiing at the end of the 2014/15 season.