BEAVER CREEK — Lindsey Vonn plans on racing here next year, and she wants you to be in the stands with cowbells.
In a role reversal Saturday, Vonn cheered on ski racers competing at Beaver Creek in Vail Resorts’ annual Lindsey Vonn Race Series Event finals, part of a day of activity which the Olympic champion said she looks forward to all year.
“The kids are really, really cute, and to me that’s one of the most rewarding things about being a professional athlete, is being able to give back to kids,” she said.
In addition to participating in the EpicMix Racing awards, Vonn also cheered on the youth athletes in her Ski Girls Rock program, which wrapped up its 2013-14 season on Saturday.
“Ski Girls Rock is pretty special,” Vonn said. “A lot of times when girls are grouped up with boys, even if their skill level is higher. They don’t come out of their shell, and they’re not maybe having as good of a time because there’s boys there,” she said. “In this program it’s not necessarily about having strict guidelines to be a perfect skier, it’s just about having fun.”
‘I’M GOING TO BE HERE RACING’
In a speech to a crowd of hundreds, Vonn stoked excitement for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championship races, which take place at Beaver Creek next February. Now recovering from a knee injury, Vonn has stated multiple times that her plan is to be 100 percent by the time the World Championships arrive here next year.
“I hope you guys are all going to be out here,” Vonn told the Beaver Creek crowd. “I’m going to be here racing, so I’ll need your support.”
In an interview Saturday, Vonn said her experience as a course slipper during the 1999 World Championships, which were also held here, ignited her passion to be a world championship ski racer.
“I remember watching Marco Buchel get a silver medal in the GS,” she said. “I was slipping right behind him, and I remember watching his style and thinking how amazing it was. It was a beautiful, typical sunny Vail day, the crowds were going crazy and I just thought how amazing it would be to be able to have this experience.”
‘NEED TO KEEP HER IN ONE PIECE’
Vail Resorts’ EpicMix Racing program, now in its second year, allows amateur racers at all of Vail Resorts’ mountains to compete against a time set by Vonn at the Golden Peak course.
Racers are divided into age categories, with top qualifiers selected to race in Saturday’s annual Lindsey Vonn Race Series event.
Vail Valley local resident Natron Smith took top honors with a time of 33.53. Smith was also last year’s event overall winner.
“It felt great to come back and defend the title,” Smith said. “The course was good, and the event overall was really fun again this year.”
Smith won a commemorative first-place medal and got to meet Vonn once again on stage following the victory.
“I gave her a lucky crystal, and told her we need to keep her in one piece for next year’s championships,” Smith said.