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Vonn, Shiffrin make the rounds at ESPYs

Lindsey Vonn won another Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award on Wednesday night sharing the Best Moment Award with the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.

All three athletes retired during the past sports year and were honored for how they finished their storied careers.

Wade returned to the Heat for his final NBA season and finished his career with a triple-double. Gronk won Super Bowl LIII with the Pats and called it a career. And Vonn, of course, retired with a bronze medal in the downhill during the 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden.

“It’s an amazing honor to be up here with these two incredible athletes, incredibly old also,” Vonn said. “In my 19-year career, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I’m happy that I’ve broken more records than bones — just about. I want to thank everyone who supported me, who taught me and helped me along the way, especially my family my friends, and, of course, my incredible boyfriend, P.K. (Subban)

“I think what ski racing has taught me is that nothing is more powerful than self-belief. No matter what setback I faced, I always believed I could come back. So for everyone out there, whatever your struggles are, always believe in yourself and never give up.”

Vonn finished with 82 career World Cup wins, second only to Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. She won four World Cup championships (2008-2010 and 2012), Olympic gold (2010), worlds gold (twice in 2009) and was able to win 23 times on the tour after a devastating knee injury during the 2013 Worlds in Schladming, Austria.

While Vonn joked on Twitter, “How are we going to split this trophy,” the good news is that she has already won two ESPYs for Best Female Athlete in 2010 and 2011.

Morgan bests Mikaela

Speaking of which, Mikaela Shiffrin was up for Best Female Athlete. Alex Morgan of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the honor, voted upon by fans.

Taking nothing away from the World Cup champs, it was an uphill battle for Shiffrin to win the award despite having completed one of the most spectacular seasons in the history of Alpine skiing.

Shiffrin won 17 times on the World Cup, a new record, and won at worlds in the super-G and slalom. In the latter, she became the first athlete in the history of the event to four-peat. She won her third World Cup championship in a row and added globes in super-G, giant slalom, and slalom.

Morgan and Shiffrin were seated close to each other during the ceremony and the skier offered her congratulations.

The red carpet

Since it was an awards show, there was a lot of chatter about fashion. As always, Vonn and Shiffrin looked spectacular.

According to People magazine, Vonn was wearing a crystal-and-sequin Yousef Al-Jasmi gown with Rene Caovilla stilettos.

Meanwhile, Shiffrin had her entire fashion lineup on Instagram.

To sum, Shiffrin was wearing a Pronovias dress and Stuart Weitzman shoes and clutch.

Closing time: The Americans face the Netherlands

Time for the closer, ladies.

Ram the ramparts, take over the airports and do whatever you have to do.  This morning, we want the Star-Spangled Banner to wave defiantly as the United States takes on the Netherlands in the women’s World Cup Final at 9 a.m. on Fox.

Some of you didn’t realize on July Fourth that the peculiar speech given by our president was actually a coded message to US coach Jill Ellis about how to set up her attack. 

Of course, we took over the airports against the British on Tuesday. Why, in the semifinal, Christen Press and Alex Morgan scored with headers vs. England. What did you think he was talking about?

The message was a tactical one, overload the wings, get Kelley O’Hara, Tobin Heath, Press, Lindsay Horan, Crystal Dunn, and Meghan Rapinoe — actually, our group was speculating that POTUS had ordered the Press for Rapinoe sub during the semifinal — to bombard the Dutch from the air and get Morgan, Julie Ertz and the rest in the middle of the field to ram the ramparts and get on the end of it. 

It was perfectly clear if you just listened.  

Nothing preordained

Consistency is an incredibly hard thing to maintain, just ask the German men who were defending champions but beaten by Mexico and knocked out in the group phase of the 2018 World Cup. 

Steph Curry saw what happens when the fan base starts to think athletic events are preordained or easy. As we saw in the NBA Finals, injuries, luck and the rise of another team peaking at the right time can derail the best-laid plans and the strongest teams. 

Even on our high school level, the best teams falter if they aren’t on their game. The Battle Mountain boys soccer team has won four league titles in a row on three occasions but has never been able to win five. Maybe this year.

Complacency is a human trait that is difficult to avoid.

All of which goes to show how remarkable this run has been for the United States. They have been in three finals in a row in a competition which only occurs every four years. 

Think of the concentration, luck with injuries and superb preparation that goes into a run like that. Lindsay Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin have expressed on social media their best wishes and few athletes, apart from them, would know what it takes. 

We must tip our hats to the players who played in all three finals, the 2-2 draw with Japan in 2011 — the Japanese won on penalties — the 5-2 shellacking payback in 2015 in Canada and this morning’s game. 

Rapinoe, if healthy enough to start after sitting out the semifinal, will be the only player to have started all three finals. Carli Lloyd started and missed a penalty in the 2011 shootout loss before roaring back with a hat trick four years later. 

Today, Lloyd looks set to play the aging superstar, the closer role that Abby Wambach played with such dignity in 2015. Heath and Morgan were young substitutes in 2011 before starting in 2015 and should be in the lineup again in 2019. Ali Krieger played late in the semifinal this week and hopes to appear as a sub in the final after starting in both 2011 and 2015.  

Different paths

The Netherlands are the champions of Europe, crowned in 2017 and will be looking to collect more than just appearance bonuses in this final. 

The US will have to be aware of the potent attacking players the Dutch possess. The Netherlands’ route to the final has been far easier than the US’. Japan gave them a great game in the round of 16, but if the Japanese were honest, they put their team together with an eye towards hosting the Olympics next summer more than winning this event. 

Netherlands faced upstarts Italy in the quarterfinal to acclimate themselves to playing a team whose men hadn’t qualified in the 2018 men’s World Cup in case they met the US in the final.

Then they played a relative sleeper of a semifinal against Sweden which wasn’t easy on the eyes if a viewer had watched the fireworks the day before between the US and England.  

Our route, by contrast, has been brutal. After racking up the goals in an easy group, the US faced a Spanish team that has recently put resources into the women’s game and who looked very strong, falling 2-1 on two Rapinoe penalties. 

In the quarters, the US dispatched the host country on another pair of Rapinoe strikes. We sat Rapinoe in the semifinal for one of several possible reasons:

• The aforementioned executive order from the White House.

• To increase the degree of difficulty.

• To rest Rapinoe for the final.

• To shore up the left side of our team defensively.

• To give Press a chance to play.

• Or maybe she really had a hamstring injury. 

Whatever the reason, we hope to see her back for the final.  

The gameplan

Let’s hope that the style that the US employs late in the game is a little more attack oriented. Taking the ball to the corner, time wasting and drawing fouls intentionally to run the clock down has been the hallmark of this US team in the last 15 minutes of each knockout game that they have played.

While this tactic has been effective, most fans would rather see them possess the ball and go for that additional goal to kill the game off. Not only have these tactics resembled the men’s game, but they are more like what a team does at the end of a game where they are pulling off an unlikely win against a better opponent. 

We are the favorites. Let’s finish off this last game with a bit more swagger. 

A world for goalie Alyssa Naher is due here. After a diving save to tip one over the bar, earlier in the game, perhaps the save of the tournament, Alyssa dove to her right to stop English captain Steph Houghton’s penalty kick. 

Saving PK’s requires poise, patience and a bit of luck, but as the Grateful Dead sang in “U.S. Blues,” “Ain’t no luck, I learned to duck.”

Speaking of the Grateful Dead, Morgan caused more controversy with her alleged tea toast to the English after scoring the winning goal, although we have to ask Morgan for a clarification of her intentions on that celebration. 

Alex Morgan is either celebrating a goal with a cup of tea or something else pertaining to the great state of Colorado. What does she do for a celebration against the Netherlands? (Associated Press file photo)
France England US WWCup Soccer

Many of us in Colorado saw it as a tribute to our state, err, flower and a salute to the immaculate chipped pass from Golden’s Horan. One can only imagine what she has in store for the Dutch and the Amsterdam cafe culture.

Whatever you have to do Alex, whatever you have to do. ”Summertime’s done, come and gone, my oh my!” 

Battle Mountain social-studies teacher and soccer coach David Cope watches far too much soccer, quotes The Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen too much and hopes his Huskies can win that elusive fifth league title this fall.

Mikaela Shiffrin off to the ESPYs

So after you fly with the U.S. Air Force, what does one do with the rest of the summer?

Well, if you’re Mikaela Shiffrin, you’re still keeping busy. While it is the offseason, there really is no offseason. But it’s worth noting that she’s been in the news.

Hitting the red carpet

Shiffrin is up for an ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly, what an awkward acronym) as the year’s Best Female Athlete.

Shiffrin’s up for the honor with UConn basketball’s Breanna Stewart, USA Soccer’s Alex Morgan and gymnast Simone Biles. While it’s an honor to be be nominated, she has no chance.

Please don’t shoot the messenger. It’s a fan vote, and with the World Cup leading up to Wednesday’s ESPYs, whoever was the nominee from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is going to be the winner.

In this case, it’s Morgan in a landslide.

Trivia: The only World Cup skier to win Best Female Athlete was shockingly Lindsey Vonn in both 2010 and 2011.

U-S-A … U-S-A

Although Shiffrin really should win the ESPY — she had a season for the ages — that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like herself some soccer.

Shiffrin has been tweeting enthusiastically throughout the women’s Word Cup.

After the USA’s win against France, she whooped it up over Megan Rapinoe.

And Morgan, whom she’ll see at the ESPYs, also seems to be a buddy.

Italy 2026

Last week, we also got the news that Milan and Cortina in Italy will host the 2026 Olympics. Shiffrin’s reaction was telling in her tweet when she crossed her fingers that she hopes to be at those games.

As spectacular as she is — sitting at 60 World Cup wins, five FIS Alpine World Ski Championships titles, three World Cup championships and a partridge in a pear tree — she knows that seven years is a long time.

After all, she’ll be 30 for the 2026 Olympics. (Does that qualify her for social security?) Not that we would look ahead, but Cortina is one of Shiffrin’s favorite speed venues — it’s hosted no tech events during her career — including a super-G win last season.

Back to work

While the ESPYs, the soccer World Cup and the 2026 Olympics are all fun, there’s still the little matter of the upcoming season.

It’s less than four months to the opening race of the season. Shiffrin is already posting about her newfound ability to pull-ups.

Mikaela Shiffrin flies with US Air Force Thunderbirds

Mikaela Shiffrin likes to go fast, even when she’s not skiing on the World Cup circuit or at the Olympics.

On Tuesday, the Olympic gold medalist, World Cup overall champion and Vail Valley native met up with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Through her Instagram story, Shiffrin details the whole experience with lots of excitement and emojis.

“You don’t really have perspective for how fast you’re going until you’re soaring through the clouds,” she wrote on her Insta story, from the clouds.

“It was incredible,” she said on her story, “the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Her instructor was also impressed. Major Jason Markzon said “she killed it,” adding that they hit 9Gs in the Thunderbird.

Follow Shiffrin on Instagram at @mikaelashiffrin.

Is the IOC getting something right or just lucky?

Have we lived long enough to see the International Olympic Committee learn some common sense?

The candidates to host the 2026 Winter Olympics are Italy (a combination of Milan and and Cortina) and Sweden (Stockholm and Are). Shockingly enough, these are countries and sites with actual winter weather and built-in venues for winter sports.

It shouldn’t seem so shocking, but the finalists for 2022 were Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, not exactly snow spots, with the former earning hosting duties.

Perhaps, it’s not so much the IOC having a come-to-Jesus moment, but the rest of the world just giving up on on the profligacy of both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Athens (2004) and Rio de Janeiro (2016) have left pools of debt and white elephants of athletic complexes for the summer cycle, and Tokyo 2020 seems headed down that path.

In the winter, it was unquestionably Sochi (2014). The Russians’ first foray into the winter festival destroyed all the parameters of financial normalcy, whose largesse may only be surpassed by the glories that will be Beijing 2022.

Of course, the Winter Games have evolved with the addition of sports like snowboarding, freestyle skiing and short-track speed skating to the point where old ski towns like Lake Placid, New York, (1932 and 1980) or Lillehammer, Norway, (1994) can no longer host.

Hence you have combination bids like Vancouver and Whistler in British Columbia in 2010, the blob that was Sochi (the coastal and mountain clusters) and the 2026 bids.

Taking a pass

But it’s still worth noting who dropped out of the bidding for the upcoming 2022 and 2026 Olympics.

For 2022, Olso and Stockholm both said, “no thanks.” Austria and Italy considered a joint bid as did Quebec and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the host city back in 1984. All of them said no mas for 2022.

Before 2026 got narrowed down to Italy and Sweden, Calgary, Alberta, (1988 host), Erzurum, Turkey (not happening), Sapporo, Japan (1972 host), Graz, Austria, and Sion, Switzerland also begged off.

Think about that. Norway, Sweden, and Finland (Helsinki also briefly considered 2022) invented Nordic sports and said no. The country known as “The Great White North” bowed out twice. Austria twice, Italy and Switzerland once, all slightly mountainous, said nope.

Three different former host cities said, “Too rich for our blood.” (I’m sentimental and would have liked to Sarajevo host, no matter how unpractical.)

By sheer luck, it seems we have two well-qualified bids for 2026.

Alpine at the Olympics

As an added bonus, both the Italian and Swedish bids have true Alpine venues — Cortina and Are. They are regular World Cup sites and have hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships (Cortina, 1956 and 2021, and Are, 2007 and 2019).

How novel. Sochi’s snow was wretched. However, well-intentioned Pyeongchang, South Korea, was, it was a wind tunnel. When a slalom course needs to be shortened because of wind as was the case last winter, it’s not a freak occurrence. And I can hardly wait for Beijing.

But the Olympics in Cortina? (The Italian bid leads its Swedish counterpart) Lindsey Vonn might come out of retirement. We’re kidding, though she had 12 World Cup wins there. Mikaela Shiffrin? She can ski tech anywhere, and she won in super-G in Cortina last winter.

Keep up the good work, IOC.

Mikaela Shiffrin shares stories of her record-breaking season with hometown crowd in Avon

After a record-breaking season, Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin returned home to Eagle County last week and treated fans to some insights of the past season and her personal life. She was grateful for the hometown crowd and shared everything from what she does to calm down before going out of the start gate to how she picks from the seven pairs of boots and 30 to 40 pairs of skis she travels with for each race.

With 17 World Cup wins and two World Championship wins this season alone, Shiffrin said she felt lucky to have had a season like that and credits the team that surrounds her. Her mom, Eileen Shiffrin wears many hats while traveling the globe with her daughter. “My mom plays the role of my coach, sometimes she’s my sports psychologist, sometimes she has to be my friend and sometimes she just needs to be a mom,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin’s’ dad, Jeff, who is an anesthesiologist, also plays the role of arranging all of Mikaela’s travel. “He takes care of our travel, making sure the airline tickets are booked, flights are right, if anything goes wrong, we’ll call him and even in the middle of the night, he’ll fix it,” Shiffrin said.  

From her coaches, who do more than coach, they take video, set up the courses, inject the snow, do strength and conditioning training on the road, along with numerous other jobs, to her sponsors, Shiffrin said, “With all their help, they make my job easy…well, it’s not easy,” Shiffrin laughed, “but it makes racing easier knowing I have such a great team.”

Even though Shiffrin has a lot of support, she gives back to many other organizations. One of the questions from the audience asked which charities she champions.

Shiffrin said she cares about so many causes, but a few she supports right now are the Kelly Brush Foundation which helps with research for spinal cord injuries and brings safety practices to ski areas and the Tyler Robinson Foundation which supports pediatric cancer patients.  

Shiffrin also does what she can to help raise money for her own team. “The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is not funded by the government like most of the countries we compete against. So we rely on private funding,” Shiffrin said.

“One of my biggest priorities is to give back to the team and find any way to raise money for the organization so that other athletes who make it on to the team have the opportunities that I had or even more opportunities,” Shiffrin said.

The star athlete remained on stage and took countless photos and signed everything from ski poles and ski helmets to ball caps. Several adults got in line, too, in order to take a photo with this hometown legend.

“I remember the few times that I got to see my idols, even if they just skied by me getting on the chairlift,” Shiffrin said. “It was important for me, so I’m hoping that it’s also important for the younger kids the same way that I always felt. And if that’s enough to inspire them to keep shooting for the stars, keep reaching for their dreams, then that’s huge.”

To view the entire Q and A event with Shiffrin, go to the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WestinRiverfrontAvon.

Mikaela Shiffrin welcomed home by Vail fans

Mikaela Shiffrin got back into town over the weekend and was already meeting with fans on Sunday.

In what has become an annual celebration at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, Shiffrin was welcomed back by the community in Eagle County where she lives, meeting with fans and answering questions from local kids.

Lars Wible, a fourth-grader from Stone Creek Charter School, asked Shiffrin what is her favorite element of skiing and ski racing.

Shiffrin’s answer — that feeling of linking together good turns — resonated with Wible.

“Just skiing in general is such a great sport,” he said.

Shiffrin said it’s important for her to meet with fans when she returns back home from a successful season.

“I remember the few times that I got to see my idols, even if they just skied by me getting on the chairlift,” Shiffrin said on Sunday. “Bode Miller, getting on the chairlift, I freaked out, because he’s my biggest idol, and I never even got to speak to him, so having a chance to meet somebody that you look up to and look them in the eyes and get a picture with them and feel that connection, it was important for me, so I’m hoping that it’s also important for the younger kids the same way that I always felt. And if that’s enough to inspire them to keep shooting for the stars, keep reaching for their dreams, then that’s huge.”

In what has become an annual celebration at The Westin in Avon, Shiffrin was welcomed back by the community in Eagle County where she lives, meeting with fans and answering questions from local kids.

Lars Wible, a fourth grader from Stone Creek Charter School, asked Shiffrin what is her favorite element of skiing and ski racing.

Shiffrin’s answer — that feeling of linking together good turns — resonated with Wible.

“Just skiing in general is such a great sport,” he said.

Shiffrin said it’s important for her to meet with fans when she returns back home from a successful season.

“I remember the few times that I got to see my idols, even if they just skied by me getting on the chairlift,” Shiffrin said on Sunday. “Bode Miller, getting on the chairlift, I freaked out, because he’s my biggest idol, and I never even got to speak to him, so having a chance to meet somebody that you look up to and look them in the eyes and get a picture with them and feel that connection, it was important for me, so I’m hoping that it’s also important for the younger kids the same way that I always felt. And if that’s enough to inspire them to keep shooting for the starts, keep reaching for their dreams, then that’s huge.”

‘BEING YOUR BEST’

Representatives from the Westin said they feel honored to have hosted welcome back celebrations for Shiffin, who lives in Eagle-Vail, over the last few seasons.

Representatives from The Westin said they feel honored to have hosted welcome back celebrations for Shiffrin, who lives in Eagle-Vail, over the last few seasons.

“Every year the event grows,” said Gaye Steinke with The Westin. “We had to move it to the ballroom this year.”

More than 250 people were in attendance on Sunday, with adults and children waiting in line to get a picture with Shiffrin.

“People look forward to it every year,” Steinke said. “She just embodies good work ethic, health and wellness and being your best.”

“Every year the event grows,” said Gaye Steinke with the Westin. “We had to move it to the ballroom this year.”

More than 250 people were in attendance on Sunday, with adults and children waiting in line to get a picture with Shiffrin.

“People look forward to it every year,” Steinke said. “She just embodies good work ethic, health and wellness, and being your best.”

Mikaela Shiffrin answers questions about her historic ski season Sunday at the Westin Riverfront Resort in Avon. Shiffrin also posed for photos with kids at the event, which welcomed her back home to Eagle County.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

RECORD SEASON

Shiffrin’s season was one for the record books. She became the first ski racer to win 17 World Cup events in a single season and also became the first skier to earn more than $1 million in race winnings alone.

She said her success this season surprised even her.

“If you told me that this season was gonna go that well at the beginning, I would say you’re crazy,” she said.

Upon returning home, she’s been on a whirlwind media tour, appearing on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America and other popular national programs.

“I just want to push the limits of the sport,” she told Rob Marciano with Good Morning America.

Shiffrin said the media attention has been surprising to see in a non-Olympic year.

“It shows that there’s a lot of interest in ski racing and even more interest this year than I felt last year after the Olympics,” she said. “I’m really proud of that.”

She said her success this season surprised even her.

“If you told me that this season was gonna go that well at the beginning, I would say you’re crazy,” she said.

Upon returning home, she’s been on a whirlwind media tour, appearing on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America and other popular national programs.

“I just want to push the limits of the sport,” she told Rob Marciano with Good Morning America.

Shiffrin said the media attention has been surprising to see in a non-Olympic year.

“It shows that there’s a lot of interest in ski racing and even more interest this year than I felt last year after the Olympics,” she said.

“I’m really proud of that.”

Mikaela Shiffrin aside, the US Ski Team has work to do

Mikaela Shiffrin really covers up a lot of warts.

The Austrian Ski Team — men and women combined — not surprisingly won the most World Cup races this season with 21. The United States had the second most wins with 17, followed by Italy with 10.

Of course, Marcel Hirscher powers the Austrians.. The eight-time defending World Cup champion won eight times, a little more than a third of the Land of Mountains’ wins.

That one person — Shiffrin — finished second among nations with 17 wins is yet another way of describing Mikaela’s sublime state. The flip side of that coin is that U.S. Ski Team is one-person squad, essentially down from a two-women troupe with Lindsey Vonn’s retirement.

Right now, there really is no there there when it comes to American skiing as team.

Cue the ‘Jeopardy’ music

Trivia time: Who was the last American not named Mikaela or Lindsey on a World Cup podium?

Ted Ligety took third in a giant slalom in Garmisch, Germany, on Jan. 28, 2018.

Who was the last American not named Mikaela or Lindsey to win a World Cup race?

That’s Travis Ganong in downhill on Jan. 27, 2017, in Garmisch. (Eerie date and similarity there.)

Last woman on the podium not named Mikaela or Lindsey? That’s Alice McKennis at World Cup finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14, 2018. Jacqueline Wiles also had a podium that season in Italy.

Last woman to win a World Cup not named Mikaela or Lindsey? To the way-back machine we go with Julia Mancuso in a city event in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2012. “Super Jules” also won a super-G in Garmisch that year. (The U.S. Ski Team should petition to have all future races in Germany, right?)

This is a way of saying that there is little if any depth on the U.S. Ski Team.

Yes, Wiles went down right before the 2018 Olympics with an injury. Breezy Johnson got hurt right after the 2018 Olympics. For the guys, Ganong tore his ACL around New Year’s 2018.

But even if none of these injuries had happened, the U.S. Ski Team would not have depth. Depth is having skiers who are capable of top 10 World Cup finishes competing for the four spots in a discipline on Olympic or FIS Alpine World Ski Championships teams.

Facing some facts

On the men’s side, we do note that Bryce Bennett seems to be on an upward arc. He had four top 10 finishes in World Cup downhills, another at worlds and finished seventh in the points in the discipline. (Dear U.S. Ski Team, please put him on the A Team for full funding.)

We also acknowledge that Ganong came back early from his ACL, and that his 2018-19 season was going to be part of the rehab process.

For the women, we’ll see how Johnson and Wiles recover. This is the glass-is-half-full look at things.

The empty part of the glass is difficult. Ligety has had two full seasons on tour since his injuries and he’s not close to the skier he was. He hasn’t won a race since Oct. 25, 2015, the Soelden, Austria, opener.

It’s been three-plus years since Ted Ligety has popped the bubbly on the World Cup tour. As much Ligety means to U.S. ski racing, the team needs a new generation.
Justin Q. McCarty | Daily file photo

Since his injuries he has five top 10s in two years, respectable, but nowhere near the automatic-podium/winning status he once held. He turns 35 this summer, and time is not on his side.

Should Ted be given the opportunity to call his shot with when he retires? Absolutely. (To the previous point, it’s not like anyone else on the squad is pushing him out.) Should Birds of Prey honor Ted by naming part of the course for him, just as it did for Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller? Totally. I’m thinking something like Ligety’s Left.

Should all honors be accorded Ted for being the best GS skier in American history? Yes. However, the fact remains that Ligety’s best days are behind him, and it’s likely the case with Steve Nyman as well.

Who’s next?

Outside of Shiffrin, the U.S. Ski Team is in transition. It’s happened before. When we hosted the 1999 Worlds at Vail and Beaver Creek, the cupboard seemed equally bare. Chad Fleischer (super-G) and some guy named Miller (slalom) logged the only top-10 finishes for the Americans. The U.S. was blanked on the medal table.

Sarah Schleper was injured. Picabo Street was also hurt, and on the downside of her illustrious career. We’ve been here, done that and have the T-shirt.

Vonn was 13 during Vail ’99 and Shiffrin was 3. (Egad.) Four years later, Daron and Bode started their rampage and some youngster named Ted made GS races must-see viewing. And you know the rest of the story.

The task for the U.S. Ski Team this summer and in the next few years is to find who follows in those footsteps.

Skiing bonds Shiffrin, cancer survivor Walsh

Ten years ago, Mikaela Shiffrin visited a friend and fellow ski racer in the hospital who was diagnosed with cancer.

Thomas Walsh could barely sit up or eat and later had parts of his pelvis and lung removed due to the tumors. Shiffrin grew up skiing with Walsh, the two sharing a similar instructor in Shiffrin’s mom and an equally similar passion for the slopes.

His condition hit Shiffrin hard.

Zip forward to the present: Walsh is a rising Paralympian fresh off a season in which he captured the overall World Cup slalom title — just like Shiffrin — and earned two bronze medals at the world Para Alpine championships.

His success now melts the two-time Olympic champion’s heart.

“He has that kind of ‘zest-for-life’ that is very rare, very contagious, and cannot be stifled. Not even by cancer,” said the 24-year-old Shiffrin, who wrapped up a season in which she won 17 World Cup races and her third straight overall title. “Thomas was always a much better athlete than I was. He was literally good at everything. I mean, everything. Skiing, soccer, a triathlon, dancing, acting, singing, school — you name it. He did it all and he was always the best.”

A detour

Cancer just forced him to take a slight detour.

Growing up in Vail, he naturally took to the mountains. Walsh met Shiffrin in kindergarten and they became teammates on Ski Club Vail as it was known then. He and Shiffrin learned to ski under Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen. He was talented, too, and was accepted into the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont, which has produced such notable racers as Daron Rahlves and AJ Kitt.

About then, Walsh noticed something was wrong. An accomplished triathlete at the time, it bothered him to sit on his bike. Then, to sit in regular chairs.

On May 28, 2009, Walsh was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones.

It was Stage 4. The disease started in his pelvis and spread to his lungs. He began chemo treatments.

“Up to that point in my life, I had never really known anybody with cancer,” said the 24-year-old Walsh, who captured a giant slalom national crown this week at the U.S. Paralympic Alpine championships in Winter Park, Colorado. “I very quickly learned much more than I wanted to.”

That October, he underwent a resection that removed key bones from his pelvis. There went his ski racing career.

Or so he thought.

“As with every traumatic event, it takes a little minute for it to settle in — for the bigger picture to come into play,” Walsh said.

Three months later, he convinced his doctor to allow him to hit the slopes. Just a few turns on the beginner’s hill.

“Emotionally, it was way impactful,” said Walsh, who also suffers from lymphedema, a progressive disease that causes his leg to swell. “It was an emotional rescue where I said skiing is what I want to do.”

But he didn’t know anything about the Paralympic movement. Not yet, anyway.

After dealing with cancer treatments for a year, he attended Green Mountain Valley where he returned to racing and got more involved in theater. He starred in the production of “Anything Goes,” with Shiffrin showing up in the audience.

“There was a whole tap-dancing scene and he was front and center, tapping like crazy and singing at the top of his lungs, and I was just bawling in the audience because I just felt like he was shining like a star,” recalled Shiffrin, who was attending nearby Burke Mountain Academy. “It was a gift just to be able to watch.”

The friends also attended a “ski-academy” prom together in 2013.

“When I was sick, we had a pact that we’d go to prom together,” Walsh said. “It was fun.”

Turns out, he’s a skillful teacher, too, as he turned the graceful slalom artist into a confident dancer.

“I was so shy and didn’t want to dance,” Shiffrin said. “You could tell he was the best dancer in the room. … I was baffled because I actually looked like I kind of knew what I was doing. That’s the kind of stuff that Thomas is able to do.”

Back to competition

Following high school, Walsh attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia to study performing arts. It also provided a test: To see if he would miss the thrill of ski racing.

He did.

About that time, he and his mom, Kathleen, learned he could be classified as a disabled ski racer because of his pelvic resection. So he embarked on a path to become a Paralympian .

This only sharpened his determination: Using his Make-A-Wish request, Walsh attended the 2014 Sochi Games and was there when Shiffrin won the slalom gold medal. He posed for pictures with her and imagined that maybe one day he could have a similar moment.

Like Shiffrin, his specialties are the slalom and giant slalom. And like Shiffrin, he’s also incorporating the super-G. His idols include Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher, American Steven Nyman and, of course, Shiffrin.

A year ago, Walsh took fifth in the slalom and seventh in the GS at the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Now, he’s setting his sights on the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

In his corner? Shiffrin, of course.

“Thomas and the way his life and his story have evolved, and the role that he now played in the Paralympic family and as one of the top athletes competing, I realize that it is the most inspirational comeback story I have ever witnessed,” Shiffrin said. “And even though that was never the intention, it is incredible.”

Vail Mountain expansion of Golden Peak to start in summer 2019

VAIL – Construction will begin in a few months on Vail Mountain’s first expansion since Blue Sky Basin some 20 years ago.

The idea to take Golden Peak to the top of the slope, a project that’s been dubbed as “two years away for the last three decades” by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, received final approval from the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday.

Using an existing cut up the slope that is visible from Gondola One, a new surface lift will take skiers and snowboarders to the top of Golden Peak, an additional 760 vertical feet higher than Chair 6 now takes guests.

The terrain will be used primarily by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes, but it will also be available to the general public.

Pete Seibert Jr., the son of Vail Mountain founder Pete Seibert, calls it the Golden Peak completion, rather than the Golden Peak expansion.

“There’s a reason why there was an old lift line cut to the top of (Golden Peak),” Seibert said last fall. “It was always the intention to get there. … I was on the Ski Club Vail board for 16 years, and we were always two years away from getting that done.”

If at first you don’t succeed …

The project has been submitted to the Forest Service and denied in the past, due to concerns with stream health, soil stability and sedimentation.

Vail, in collaboration with Forest Service hydrologists, addressed the environmental concerns in the project proposal area with the development and implementation of a drainage management plan and slope stability analysis, which improved the resource conditions on Golden Peak, said Aaron Mayville, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. Mitigation measures also include restoration of native vegetation on 7 miles of the Mill Creek Trail near Golden Peak to improve conditions in nearby Mill Creek.

The newest version of the project has been under examination since 2014.

“After many years of work, I’m happy to have a final decision for the Golden Peak Project,” Mayville said in a Forst Service release. “While race facilities at Vail are already world-class, I’m confident that the robust and thorough analysis of this project will go a long way in making it even better.”

The world class competition facilities cited by Mayville were also mentioned by Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, in authoring the decision.

“I believe that the approved projects will enhance the visitor experience of competitors and the general public alike by expanding the competition and training terrain and providing adequate separation between the general public and the athletes,” Fitzwilliams wrote.

Double the size

The expansion will double the training space on Golden Peak and create three new trails — two that will primarily host alpine ski racing activities and one that will serve as a dedicated mogul venue. A third alpine trail on the north side of Golden Peak that was also approved has been postponed for a future phase of construction.

“By moving forward with the Golden Peak Improvement Project, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail will fulfill its top strategic priority and create the single-best training environment in the United States,” Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Executive Director Kirk Dwyer said in a statement. “The expanded terrain will provide a higher-quality, safer and more productive training arena for our athletes, allowing families to save on travel expenses while providing an economic benefit to the Vail community. We couldn’t be more thrilled about this development and thank Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service for their dedication to the project over many years.”

The two new alpine trails will extend the current training and competition arena to the top of Golden Peak, adding 760 vertical feet to the venue for a total of more than 1,500 vertical feet, top to bottom. This extended race hill could be FIS-approved for a women’s World Cup downhill and men’s NorAm downhill. Additionally, these upper two trails will be serviced by a new surface lift from the Riva Bahn Express (No. 6) mid-station — enabling racers to access higher elevations earlier and later in the season with maximum productivity.

The project also includes the creation of a dedicated mogul venue not far from the base of Golden Peak. The addition of the mogul venue will provide easier access for the club’s athletes and provide a more prominent mogul course near Vail’s base, making it an attractive site for high-level competitions. 

“There are huge advantages to having a site over on Golden Peak,” John Dowling, the club’s mogul program director and 2018 Domestic Coach of the Year, said in a statement. “It’s really going to save us a lot of time. It’s going to allow coaches to get to the site early, start prep and get our athletes right to work. Plus, by allowing us to get a full course open so much earlier in the season, for our development-level athletes and our top-level athletes, that’s the most important part of the training season.”

Along with the expanded terrain, Vail plans to install a high-powered, state-of-the-art snowmaking system on the new trails and enhance its snowmaking infrastructure on the existing Golden Peak terrain. The project entails roughly 30 new fan-gun towers, plus additional carriages. Also part of the improvement project, Vail is set to build a new pump house, allowing for increased productivity and efficiency.

The Golden Peak Improvement Project is occurring alongside development of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s new clubhouse at the base of Golden Peak.

“The expansion represents another element of the incredible progress that is happening at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail,” Chief Operating Officer John Hale said in a statement. “Both the expansion and the new clubhouse have been projects that have long been dreamed about at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Happily, within the next year, they will both become reality.”

More information about the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail can be found at www.skiclubvail.org.

— This story contains material from a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail press release.