He's a great skier first....however he is the classic anti-hero Americain, l'enfant terrible (where is phillipeR?), even though he is white (trash?), he irritates and provokes those who worship normalcy by playing the edge of all rules. Then there are the boyish good looks, the booze, the early hardship, his pluck and luck, his ultimate (drugged?) wild ride on the mountain of success; he's a myriad of Americana characters: small town boy makes good. He is rebel. We have to be happy for him and buy something, least we violate virtuous American obsessions.
To Europeans perhaps he is the consummate American icon: a jazz like improvisor from culturally oppressed origins from which he has escaped, even though he is white, (he would have been a god to them had he been black), to an appreciative European sanctuary, a reeking, bawdry, carnivalesque Barnum & Baily show, and yeller/barker promoter of his own and the crassest American materialism, a primitive, swaggering, hormone crazy cowboy skiing from the hip, a rich, disdainful corporate icon who disregards the FIS law while grinding those opposed and competing with him under ski/jack boot, a dashing decadent cad who seduces and deflowers staid, innocent European skiers.
Without the skiing, he would be just like you, you know: a vomited hairball of juvenile alternative culture covered with the phlegm of semi-literacy/consiousness.