The graceful slalom specialist recorded his first-ever victory on the World Cup circuit when he took top place in the slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, in December 2007. That success set off a chain of events which would take the stylish French skier to the heights of success and then to the depths of despair over a rollercoaster season. He then posted the fastest times over the two runs on the world-renowned Lauberhorn course in the Swiss resort of Wengen to complete a rare slalom-double, having landed the Super Combined the previous day.
In doing so, he emulated his compatriot, the legendary Jean-Claude Killy – the doyen of skiing cool and high fashion - who was the first to achieve the feat in 1967. In fact, France had not celebrated slalom success at the venue since Jean-Noel Augert’s victory in 1972. Having been brought up in Valliore which houses the French ski school, and having a mother and father who raced for the national team between 1973 and 1977, it was a natural progression to follow his parents on to the slopes.
After success as a junior which included a World Cup win on the home slopes of Chamonix, Grange’s early senior career was dogged by an inconsistent streak, but the turning point arrived when he won a bronze medal at the 2007 World Championship in Are, Sweden. The victory not only underlined his growing status as a serious contender but was the proof he needed to believe that he could react under pressure and produce results worthy of his undoubted natural ability.
The ascent towards the pinnacle of the sport continued with a breakthrough second-place finish in the Super-Combined at Beaver Creek in America. With a new personal best now secured, the only way was up and so it proved as seen by the wins at the turn of January 2008. Wengen was followed by another slalom top-spot, this time at Kitzbühel, Austria, where another French slalom exponent Jean-Pierre Vidal had won in 2006, to make it four wins overall for the season and seemingly a shoo-in for the World Cup slalom title.
However, he faltered at Garmisch, Germany and then again in Slovenia at Kranjska Gora as the old doubts started to creep in. By the time the last race of the season took place in the Italian Alps at Bormio, a 21-point lead over Manfred Moelgg was slowly evaporating and it all came down who could hold their nerve. A fourth place in the first run meant that he could not afford a slip up in the second but that is what happened as he skied out with just four gates to go, and despite struggling back on to the course, finished last in the field.
He could only look on, a dejected figure, as his Italian rival grabbed what had seemed an unlikely title.
However, he got his revenge and his just rewards the following season when once again he started with a flourish, winning the slalom in Levi and Zagreb and finishing on the podium in Alta Badia, making it three podium finishes in the first three slalom events. No other victories followed but he maintained a high level of consistency throughout the winter and this time the globe was never in danger of slipping through his fingers.
The only sour point came in the World Championships on home snow in Val d'Isère where he skied out in the second run and did not slip a medal around his neck.
Grange also improved enormously in the giant slalom event throughout the winter of 2008/09 - an event that could well see him a real protagonist in future seasons.
With his musical tastes varying from Nina Simone to AC/DC and a bit of reggae in between, the laid-back mountain man likes nothing better than to get away from the rigours of the circuit to play a game of chess but is equally at home heading into the mountains to hit the motorcross trail or joining friends on the beach for a spot of volleyball.
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