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Inside the skiing pipeline: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Olympian Paula Moltzan, who skied for Buck Hill Ski Team and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, competed for the University of Vermont, where she won the 2017 slalom national title. Her NCAA stint came after a nomination to the U.S. Team and a world junior championship, but propelled her back into World Cup success.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

As our car crossed the Rio Grande River into Alamosa, Colorado, a large stone monument greeted my wife and I to the “City of Champions.” When I walked into my first graduate course at Adams State University, surrounded by lean endurance athletes, it was evident what those “champions” tended to do. I was walking into a room full of elite runners, who, eager to etch their names into their sport’s pipeline through continued competition, future coaching, or further education and research, often wound up dabbling in all three.

Of the school’s 64 team national championships, 46 have come courtesy of cross-country and another 10 from track and field.

While the majority of my Adams State classmates’ quest for a thesis involved simply walking to the back of the school’s computer lab to find inspiration from alumni dissertations, my search for research gaps in the American Nordic ski literature felt a bit like wandering into the woods to find a timberwolf. Yeah, it might be out there, but there’s probably a reason to leave it alone. Eventually, I turned to Norway’s database, and one name kept popping up at the top of study after study: Oyvind Sandbakk.

The Aspen Institute article’s authors Inge Anderson, Johan Olav Kloss and Sandbakk himself wrote the following:

“Norwegian sports facilitate learning across sports. We have joint research and development projects, and arenas, where athletes and coaches meet across disciplines. This form of competence sharing has systematically been valuable. Few countries, if any, match Norway in this area.”

Oyvind Sandbakk, who recently penned a piece for Aspen Institute on the Norwegian athletic model, is one of the leading sports science researchers. He is based in Trondheim, Norway.
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Sandbakk, director of the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance — and one of Farrey’s ‘architects’ — is living proof of the synergy between elite sport performance and elite sport science research in his home country. The opening scene and my blank staring at hundreds of scientific journals, only to come up empty, is more emblematic of America’s lack of such cohesion.

Apparently, one result of having approximately 53,000 NCAA track and field athletes across DI, DII, and DIII – compared with 386 male and 374 female NCAA skiers (according to an 2021 NCAA participation survey) — means infrastructure to support research and development in one sport but not in the other.

“The most underutilized resources in the United States’ ski racing system are the colleges and universities,” is how Aldo Radamus, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Executive Director from 2002 to 2016, opened up part four of his Ski Racing Media column series on Alpine ski development.

“That’s a free development system for the US Ski system,” McMurtry said. “It’s like, the NFL has a free development program with NCAA football. That’s something we have that the Europeans don’t have.”

Dan Leever, who penned an article titled “What’s wrong with U.S. Ski Racing?” for Snow Brains in 2018, stated, “We must fully embrace NCAA skiing.”

“There is millions of dollars of funding available in the NCAA system.The NCAA programs can do a perfectly good job of developing athletes in-season, the biggest gap is in the prep period. This should be easily doable and affordable for USST,” he wrote.

He also wrote that he believes “college skiing is the pinnacle of the intrinsic joy in ski racing.” When interviewed for this story, he pointed out that one reason the NCAA hasn’t been a better pipeline to the World Cup is because “we’re not producing good enough skiers to be competitive at DI NCAA schools.”

“It does relate to a weakness in our system,” he added.

Kicked out of class

Ski Racing Media published a story on Thomas Stauffer, the mastermind behind the Swiss team that unseated the Austrian mens team’s grip on the Nations Cup in 2020. That year the Swiss ended the Austrian’s 27-year winning streak. In addition to pointing out the national team’s patience in developing athletes, author Peter Lange asked Stauffer about his philosophy in regard to education. Of the more than 40 Europa Cup and World Cup athletes, only one had not continued his education beyond mandatory school at the time of the article’s publishing.

Tanguy Nef skied for Dartmouth in addition to World Cup races for Switzerland that year. “When Tanguy went to Dartmouth to continue his education, I was fine with that,” Stauffer told Lange. “You want to have mature athletes with their own minds, I absolutely had no problem with it.”

Because NCAA skiing, along with ice hockey, received a waiver to the collegiate rule requiring athletes to complete their athletic eligibility within five years of high school graduation, Radamus believes the system has been displaced from its possible slot in the pipeline.

“…the common advice from NCAA coaches and club or academy coaches alike is to recommend athletes commit to one, two or even more post-grad years to continue to progress, mature and become more competitive before entering the collegiate ranks,” Radamus wrote in part four. “Athletes already at the national team level around the world pursue that pathway until failing to re-qualify or wanting to leverage their accumulated skills by receiving an education.”

The result is that the NCAA ranks are saturated with elite European athletes looking to improve their FIS point profiles in the “soft” American collegiate carnivals while also getting an education, severely limiting access for U.S. athletes to the system. Radamus pointed out that if the NCAA revokes the eligibility exemption, top American high school athletes will become the most desired recruits and can “seize the opportunity to receive the support for their continued development and the need for expensive post-grad years will be significantly reduced.”

“An athlete continuing his or her development through his or her college years would be able to graduate at 21 or 22 years of age with the possibility of a professional career as a ski racer still ahead of them and their degree and future in their back pocket,” Radamus continued.

In a phone interview last month, Radamus expressed that while Olympic medalists haven’t typically come through the NCAA pathway, that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful.

“I do think college is important to this as another pathway for athletes to stay involved in the sport,” he said. “Colleges play an important part today, but they could play an even more important part in the pipeline. I think if you eliminate that rule in skiing, you enhance that possibility that somebody in the normal course of their development will spend at least one year as a member of an NCAA team as part of their pathway.”

He pointed to Paula Moltzan, a 2022 Olympian with ties to Vail. “She was identified early, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, a world junior champion,” he said. “She plateaued, lost her position on the team and was able to use college racing to mature, develop additional skills and now she’s come back and she’s a rising talent. She could be the first one who comes through a college pathway to be a U.S. Olympic medalist.”

Leever pointed to Brian McLaughlin and Erik Read as examples of athletes who utilized the NCAA and NorAm circuit en route to the World Cup. As someone who devoted thousands of hours to understanding development trends, much of which is captured in the “Leever Study,” the longtime U.S. Ski and Snowboard board member fully understands the statistical probabilities behind podium-track athletes.

Dartmouth skier Brian McLaughlin competes at the NCAA Men's Slalom Skiing Championship on March 10, 2017. McLaughlin was named to the U.S. Ski Team for the 2019-20 season.
Fred Kfoury/AP photo

“I get that athletes not on this initial progression are outliers. However, we do not have the depth of athletes like other, predominantly European, nations that allows us to only rely on phenoms,” he wrote in 2018. “We don’t have that luxury, so we need to think differently, and commit resources to a wider base of skiers. Promoting the culture of ski racing is also important. We need fans, and a broad base of supporters … Without a robust college circuit, there is no long game for 99% of our junior racers. Without a long game, how do we expect the grassroots of our sport not to wither and die? Think about it.”

Late bloomer boom

Because Alpine and cross-country skiing rely on physical maturity, the NCAA could be one of the uniquely American solutions for late bloomers.

“There’s also a lot of skiers in the World Cup that were totally off the map at all those races and missed the stepping stones we talked about — the JO’s, the Junior Championships, the out-of-region races — and are still competing on the World Cup, succeeding in the sport, and moving upwards because they’ve worked hard, taken all the steps and they have the platform to build from there when they have more skiing volume,” River Radamus said on the Arc City podcast in March. He referenced Austrian skier Johannes Strolz as a perfect example of someone who needed time to blossom.

“He was working construction and working his butt off in the gym and doing the work when nobody watched. He was overlooked for the resources and the opportunities that are provided for the team athletes,” he said.

Strolz won the Adelboden World Cup from bib No. 38, went to the Olympics, and won two golds.

“This sport is never linear. Just because you’re losing to someone now, doesn’t mean you’re going to be losing to him in a year, if you outwork them. And it goes in peaks and valleys,” River Radamus said on the podcast.

Leever also brought up Strolz in referencing U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s reaction to the Leever Study’s findings. After analyzing the top 30 World Cup skier’s junior progressions, Leever proposed rough necessary performance markers along a World Cup career trajectory. U.S. Ski and Snowboard decided Leever’s statistical pathway wasn’t tough enough.

“They made it much more stringent than that, and as a result, no one could meet the criteria and it basically demoralized the whole community,” he said. “They’re so myopic in the way that they’ve looked at it historically that they don’t realize that there are people like Johannes Strolz. There’s a guy at 29 years old, never been in the top 30, gets three medals at the Olympics. Is that not proof positive enough for you?”

For cross-country skiing, the relevance of the NCAA system has flowed in and out of prominence, with the number of American-born individual national champions countable on a pair of hands in the 1990s and early 2000s. The relationship with the U.S. Ski Team and the college system was on full display in a recent repost of an archived Fasterskier.com article from 2009. In the story, one Rosie Brennan, then a Dartmouth sophomore, was dismissed from the U.S. Ski Team.

Nat Hertz wrote, “According to USST staff, these three skiers—and the other four that were dismissed from the team—were not dropped because they were attending college, per se. Instead, they were dropped due to a simple lack of improvement, and a lack of integration into an international-caliber development pipeline.”

Ironically, Hertz would cover Brennan, now 33 and a poster child for late-blooming Nordic skiers, at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she raced every event, including a fourth-place finish in the classic sprint. Brennan was fourth in the overall World Cup standings in 2021 and is the best female skier in the country not named Jessie Diggins.

“The opportunities in terms of training that I have at Dartmouth are much better than I could have gotten anywhere else,” Brennan stated in the 2009 article. “I have a great coach, and great teammates.”

Hertz highlighted one of the other potential battles when it comes to integrating the NCAA into the pipeline when he wrote, “Brennan said that while she also thought there were other pathways to success, ‘sometimes, you’re fighting a political battle as well, if you’re not on the [USST].’”

Jim Galanes, a four-time U.S. Olympic cross-country skier and Summit County resident, believes the college route can be part of the pathway, but he said, “I refuse to call it a pipeline. Because that means there is a strictly defined pathway. There is not.”

During her era (1978-1984), Judy Rabinowitz described how being on the U.S. Ski Team meant “eschewing (or postponing) higher education, training on one’s own during the summer months (except for the odd training camps on European glaciers), followed by winters traveling full-time with the team, either domestically or in Europe, coached by USST coaches.” Rabinowitz ended up getting a degree from Harvard and Harvard Law School before working in the U.S. Department of Justice in San Francisco and eventually Denver.

“Today’s more decentralized and club-based model seems healthier, as does the increased openness to USST members attending college while on the team and even leaving the World Cup circuit to compete for their colleges!” she wrote.

Recently, cross-country coaches have shifted toward encouraging the collegiate route. At the 2022 NCAA championships, American Olympians swept the individual titles, with Ben Ogden claiming both men’s races and Novie McCabe and Sophia Laukli each winning one of the women’s races.

“I suspect this change will lead to less athlete burnout and increased confidence that comes with having more preparation for life after skiing,” Rabinowitz stated.

Cindy Nelson remembers a similar situation to Rabinowitz’s.

“It was really taboo to go to college,” she said.

Nelson, who has been on the U.S. Ski Team’s board of trustees since retiring in 1985, has been impressed with how the team has improved in this area.

“The ski team has a great educational program now. Scholarship programs — we work hard on it — it’s really come to light in the past 20 years I suppose.”

John McMurtry, the coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team from 1976-84, suspects the bridges have been burned and no one is looking to rebuild.

“Here’s the other message that really hurt this sport,” McMurtry stated. “The director of athlete development and Alpine director made it clear to this country that you have to make a choice between either going to college or being on the U.S. Ski team … you can’t do both. That killed it.”

“Jesse Hunt sat in front of the whole community at U.S. nationals four or five years ago and berated college skiing right in front of everybody,” Leever recalled. “Saying college skiing doesn’t lead anywhere, they’re not serious athletes — it was hogwash. Those are the kinds of things they have to fix.”

He continued, “They have to change that so that people recognize that wherever someone comes from, whatever his background, his means, his pathway — we’ll find a home for him, and if he or she is fast enough, we’ll put them in a race and away they go.”

McMurtry added, “What it takes is the ski team’s gotta sit down with the NCAA and work these issues out so that it’s for the kid’s benefit, and I don’t see anybody doing that.”

Science and skiing

Unity between scientists and the ski team was an integral element to the success of the teams in the 1980s, according to McMurtry.

“We had a tremendous sports science program, which really became a model for other sports,” he said, pointing to Richard Steadman, the chairman of the sports medicine counsel. A full-time sports psychologist, Jeremy May, as well as PhDs in biomechanics and exercise physiology, worked alongside the coaches and athletes during his era.

“We had absolutely the best,” he proclaimed.

Cindy Nelson remembered John Atkins, the athletic trainer for both men and women, pushing athletes out of their comfort zones by prioritizing the team over the individual.

U.S. skier Cindy Nelson is shown in action during the ladies' giant slalom in Val-d'Isere, France, Dec. 11, 1984.
AP Photo

“He really worked hard at putting individual athletes who were competing with each other under the same flag, to win. Do you want to share your training secrets with the person that’s going to beat you? Probably not,” Nelson said. “So, how do you balance that and make each other stronger because you’re competing against your teammate who’s also as good. John came up with some things that were really hard for all of us to abide with.”

Before the “Atkins influence” it was common for athletes to depart from the finish line after their run.

“John told us it didn’t matter what your result was, you needed to support each one of your teammates,” Nelson said.

Cindy Nelson, one of the most successful U.S. skiers in the ’70s and ’80s, is shown after suffering a broken ankle in a World Cup race in West Germany. This January 1977 photo was taken before she went home to Lutsen, Minnesota, to rest and recover.
AP photo

He absolutely changed the environment from its ‘me-me-me — if I don’t win then my days over’ — to everybody is a whole. And I think it was a lot of that cultural change that helped us win the Nation’s Cup.”

“It was a sweet spot in time,” McMurtry reminisced.

“It was fully funded, we had state-of-the-art sports science, and when all those pieces come together — and on top of that we had tremendous athletes — that’s when you win Nation’s Cups and more medals at the Olympics than any other country.”

Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Part IV: What happened?

Part V: The Leever Study

Part VI: The importance of Idraet

Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

Part VIII: An American answer

Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Slovenia's Zan Kranjec races during the World Cup giant slalom in Meribel, France. Slovenia, historically a ski-rich nation, only had one slalom skier on the Europa Cup circuit last season, according to Peter Lange.
Marco Trovati/AP photo

Peter Lange, publisher of Ski Racing Media and Alpine coach of youth up to the World Cup level for more than 35 years, remembers a day when Dynastar used to send money to get kids to ski camps.

“That is so gone,” he laughs. “Equipment and access and all these things cost money and yes some people can afford it and have an advantage, but that is true in other sports. How important is the car in Formula 1? It’s part of the sport.”

Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Part IV: What happened?

Part V: The Leever Study

Part VI: The importance of Idraet

Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

Part VIII: An American answer

A veteran of covering and coaching the sport across the globe, Lange has noted that the cost issue in skiing is not unique to the U.S.

“The reality is, it’s true everywhere,” he said. “The expense of ski racing is rocketing all over.”

Given the sport’s inherent relationship with technology, the equipment piece of the puzzle is bound to only get worse.

“The equipment has to get more expensive,” Lange prophesied. “The companies are not making the kind of money they used to. There’s more technology, higher priced materials and more engineering.”

Even though sticker-shock might discourage would be participants, in the overall scheme of things, the major factor in the cost battle — particularly for Americans — is travel.

“Our particular problem is amplified because we have to have overseas flights to Europe,” Lange explained, noting that cost of equipment probably plays the smallest role.

“Let’s not forget, this is a European-centric sport and the European model, because of the close proximity to year-round skiing, it’s very expensive for people to get a lot of volume at a young age,” added Dan Leever, who spent thousands of hours interviewing many European thought-leaders, athletes and coaches on the topic of development in producing The Leever Study, a project discussed later in this series. The prevailing opinion given to him was the U.S. shouldn’t simply copy the European method. Easy access to snow was a big reason.

“For us to ski in the summer, you have to get in an airplane and go somewhere,” he said.

Peter Lange is the publisher of Ski Racing Media and has coached Alpine skiing at all levels for over 35 years.
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Intentional skill acquisition on snow, at an early age, was one of the irreplaceable tenets for success Leever uncovered in his research. Along with a myriad of other club and competition-related costs, Leever feels U.S. Ski and Snowboard has not effectively told parents what they’re getting themselves into when their daughter claims she wants to be the next Picabo Street.

Former World Cup skier Alex Leever, son of Dan Leever, competes in the slalom race at the U.S. Alpine Championships this March. Peter Lange was Leever’s longtime coach before the athlete announced his retirement at the end of the season.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

“So, we historically have not communicated well to parents of upcoming skiers just what the path requires if you want to take it to an Olympic level. And that requires a lot of volume young. There’s just no other way around it,” he said.

Some nations such as Switzerland and Austria don’t have to worry about travel and training camp costs because year-round access to snow is abundant and proximal to team members. Meanwhile, U.S. skiers ring up large bills living what Lange said is “the hotel and restaurant life.”

“That adds to our expense when we’re talking about the top,” he said.

Even with their geographical advantages, financial problems have hindered Alpine-rich nations. Slovenia put out one slalom racer on the Europa Cup circuit this past season.

“That is shocking,” Lange said.

“It is an Alpine ski nation. They don’t have enough people who can afford the sport to produce more than one qualified athlete. There was two, and one quit. It’s the same reason — it takes so much resource.”

Lange believes U.S. Ski and Snowboard would love an answer to the cost problem.

“There’s been all sorts of initiatives to take cost out of ski racing by some very wealthy people in the industry. It’s such a difficult one to solve,” he said, adding that it isn’t helpful to resent those with more resource or talent.

“There have been people trying to answer this question with resource. It’s not like it’s not being considered and looked at or that people aren’t aware of it, but the answer is not an easy one.”

Few have invested the kind of resource into the topic as Leever, who watched two of his sons progress through the Alpine pipeline and spearheaded the aforementioned study on trends in elite development in Europe.

“Typically, most elite programs for development in Europe, if not free, are very inexpensive and underwritten oftentimes by the government,” he said. “As a result, it’s much less expensive to pursue an elite track in ski racing.”

Leever doesn’t expect the price of the sport to ever go down.

“That’s never going to change. It’s always going to be expensive by its very nature, but there are a lot of things that can be done to make it less so,” he said. “And some of those things are a matter of educating families.”

An exaggerated focus on traveling and racing is one area families have been led astray.

“Mikaela Shiffrin raced very little growing up,” Leever pointed out. “A dozen times per year compared to kids doing 50 times per year. That’s just a waste of money. It’s been proven over and over again that the skill acquisition is more important than the ‘learn-to-race’ aspect.”

Battle Mountain ski racers wait for their start during a giant slalom in Beaver Creek in 2019. Peter Lange believes validating all levels of competition, regardless of their position in a pipeline, is an important step for the ski community to take.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

To achieve elite performance in skiing, Leever believes there’s a “well-proven pathway,” that parents have sometimes been sheltered from.

“The U.S. didn’t really articulate that,” he said of the route to the top. “I think that many people or at least some people in the U.S. knew it but they were afraid to tell parents for fear that nobody would do it at all because it was too big of a commitment. And it is the type of commitment that one typically buys into over time.”

Leever has seen some initiatives, particularly in Vail, that have worked wonders in bringing the overall cost down.

“There are clear amazing initiatives, and I think (Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy) is one of them. Where the school district has created a ski academy that’s free to the students, that’s for the local kids, is part of their options available to them,” he said.

“The other thing that’s a big deal, particularly in Vail, is the amount of charitable support that’s available,” he continued. “The kids who ski in Vail, if they’re not well to do, have amazing support available to them. As much as 100% of the total cost of ski racing can be absorbed by scholarships and grants. That’s typically not available anywhere else. So that’s a very powerful model that we have.”

Lange also believes charging its national team athletes was never a part of U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s plan, but the alternative would have been worse.

“It just got to the point where they didn’t have enough support or sponsorship to do it,” he stated. “So, rather than cut the number of athletes on the team, they offered the team, but at a price.”

As idealistic as things were in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the way Leever and Lange see it, those days are gone.

“The days of equipment being free or largely free are over,” Leever stated. “The reason for that is that the skiing market matured and the lack of growth just didn’t provide the funding from the ski manufacturers to be able to give away a lot of equipment. It’s just a different world today than it was 20 years ago.”

Lange agrees, noting that for better or for worse, the days of $100 club fees are in the rearview mirror.

“Back in the day — those days are gone,” he said, noting that the sport’s evolution has fueled the arm’s race as much as disillusioned parents, believing they have to pounce on every opportunity possible, have.

An athlete gets ready to compete in the Steadman Clinic Vail Cup, one of several opportunities for young kids in the Vail Valley to be introduced to ski racing.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

“We make parents and athletes feel like, ‘God, you gotta participate at the NorAm or the FIS level,’” he said. Lange thinks all levels of competition — Buddy Werner, CHSSL, FIS, USSA and NCAA should be validated in and of themselves.

“It itself, standing alone, Buddy Werner is awesome. Not because its a pipeline to the ski team. High school, in itself, is valid. USSA is valid, not because it’s a pipeline to NorAm,” he outlined. “The problem is that parents in their own mind don’t think they’re valid because they know somebody with some money whose kid is on the NorAm circuit and now their kid is going to get the scholarship to the University of Denver,” he hypothesized.

Leever echoed Lange’s sentiment that elite-level skiing shouldn’t be the ‘be-all-end-all.’

“There are pathways for everyone in this sport that can be fantastic. If you’re not looking to achieve an elite level, you want to ski for a high school team, you don’t have to ski year round for that,” Leever said.

While Lange applauds those searching for answers and has shepherded athletes from grassroots to the World Cup, the way he sees it, the focus should be on the journey, no matter what hierarchy it takes place on.

“The top is in and of itself not valid,” he stated. “It’s only the journey that got you there and the friends you made along the way. Relationships are the only lasting value.”

At the end of the day, Lange, who has observed the sport from multiple angles for decades, says there is no easy answer to widening the base and increasing international performance.

“We’re facing headwinds that are real and the solution is not simple.”

Perhaps one uniquely American aspect of the solution that has been overlooked — or at least misused — is the NCAA.

Check out Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline in tomorrow’s Vail Daily.

Inside the skiing pipeline: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

The U.S. Ski Team after the women’s contingent clinched the 1982 Nations Cup in Waterville, Maine.
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    On March 4, 1982 in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire — exactly four decades before it failed to medal at the Beijing Olympics — the U.S. women’s Alpine ski team clinched the 1982 Nation’s Cup, a title calculated by adding every point in a season for all racers from a given nation.

    It was the first — and remains the only time — the United States has claimed the title.

    Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

    Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

    Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

    Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

    Part IV: What happened?

    Part V: The Leever Study

    Part VI: The importance of Idraet

    Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

    Part VIII: An American answer

    “We were loaded. The U.S. team was so deep,” said John McMurtry, the coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team from 1976-1984, in an interview with the Vail Daily’s Randy Wyrick in 2014.

    Cindy Nelson remembers the star-studded lineup on both the women’s and men’s Alpine teams.

    “Anyone could win on any given day,” she recalled of the tightly-knit group. She remembered how the Mahre twins, Steve and Phil, could “finish each other’s sentences.”

    “(Tamara McKinney) was super strong, (Christin Cooper) was super strong, I was super strong. We had a lot of skiers that were good,” she said. “I didn’t want any of them to beat me, but yet, you give the course report back up if you were the first one down the mountain so that your teammates knew if something was different than how it looked in inspection. Somehow, we all became great teammates for each other and I think that was the difference.”

    At the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, McMurtry’s team won more Alpine medals than any other country. In the giant slalom, Debbie Armstrong won gold, Christin Cooper won silver, and Tamara McKinney (the first American woman to win the overall World Cup title and World Cup slalom title) placed fourth in a telling display of dominance. The year McKinney won the overall, Nelson was second. The Vail resident was no. 1 before tearing her ACL in Val d’Isere, France.

    First named to the U.S. Ski Team as a 16-year-old, Cindy Nelson was one of the best international racers ever for the U.S. She won a bronze medal in downhill for the United States at the 12th Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria in 1976.
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    “We have been there — the number one team in the world,” McMurtry flatly stated in a recent phone call.

    “Difficult to do in today’s world, but it was difficult then, too,” added Nelson.

    ‘There’s got to be radical change’

    While no one has carte blanche in speaking to the wider scope of the U.S. Ski Team’s historical performance, some are certainly more qualified than others. If there are people capable of providing an educated insight, McMurtry is one of them.

    “I think I’ve got a background,” he humbly stated.

    In collecting thoughts from a myriad of voices, including several current and former U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches and one prominent Norwegian, a theme emerged in analyzing the overall structure and direction of U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

    Examining the national governing body’s development pipeline health — the key cog in the wheel of elusive consistent international success — reveals an ugly illness infecting all of American youth sports: an increased professionalization and subsequent crippling cost of participation. Coupled with a lack of meaningful access and pedagogically appropriate steps in the development ladder, the participation pool for all winter sports has shrunk.

    U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame member John McMurtry coached the women’s Alpine team to its only Nation’s Cup title in 1982. He resided over U.S. Skiing’s most successful era, guiding the team to the most Alpine medals at the 1984 Olympics and designing a development program that produced the successes of Picabo Street, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety.
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    While the different disciplines underneath U.S. Ski and Snowboard have unique narratives in regard to this discussion, some elements appear collective in nature.

    Where the U.S. has established global dominance — basketball, football and track and field — it harmonizes youth, interscholastic and collegiate systems with national teams, consistently churning out elite professionals as the cream rises to the top of a wide base.

    Conversely, the nature of skiing — one bound to a relationship with mechanical forces like friction and gravity (where increasing grind and ski selection options and expensive wax plant the seeds of cost-inherent advantages), and dependent upon early skill acquisition through structured on-snow practice, expensive clubs and travel-laden competitive schedules — attracts a minority willing and able to engage in the financial arms race required for surviving and thriving in the current pathway.

    Perhaps most importantly, in its stubborn search for the next superstar, some sense the nation has lost perspective on what ought to be its most fundamental sporting value: providing young people an opportunity to compete at something they love, learning life lessons along the way. Proponents arguing for such a holistic philosophy note its mutual inclusivity with world domination, citing the statistic that 93% of youth in Norway, traditionally a world winter sports power, participate in a sport.

    “And they’re not there to win gold medals. They’re there because of the health values that sports give children as they’re developing as people,” argued McMurtry. “Our focus has been wrong. We’ve been from the grassroots club level trying to identify who’s going to be the next Mikaela Shiffrin. And that’s not the point of sports.”

    The tenor of current and former national team athletes’ and coaches’ voices seems to suggest that a uniquely American approach — one which considers the the United States’ geographic, cultural, and socio-economic variables, factors essentially non-existent in homogeneous, ski-rich nations like Austria, Switzerland or Norway — is paramount. Creative solutions which drive down cost, provide attractive access to the sport and appropriate support throughout are needed to strengthen the pipeline. Utilizing the American blend of clubs and schools, NCAA teams and regional development squads, are key to widening the base, ensuring proper retention and development of talent, and reviving a culture of competitiveness.

    “We were there, and we can do it again, but there’s got to be radical change,” McMurtry said.

    Sport for all

    In a call back to their plundering of the 2018 Olympics, three “architects of Norway’s sport system” shared key ideas for nationwide sport development in a February 2022 Aspen Institute article titled, “How Norway won all that gold (again),” a reference to the record 16 gold medals won by the nation’s Beijing Games athletes. As Aspen Institute editor Tom Farrey notes, “The performance burnished Norway’s reputation as having the best sport system in the world.”

    “Children’s Rights in Sports” headlines the seven pillars to the country’s approach.

    “Participation in sporting activities for children up to 12 years of age follows the Children’s Rights in Sports statement, which underscores the intrinsic value of playing sports and encourages experiences and skills that in turn provide the basis for a lifelong enjoyment of sports,” write the authors.

    Oyvind Sandbakk is a professor and director for the Centre for Elite Sports Research at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway, as well as the editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. He co-authored a piece titled “How Norway Won All That Olympic Gold (Again), which appeared on AspenInstitute.org in February.
    Courtesy photo

    “The system as a whole is not just an elite sports system, but the whole cultural milieu is what produces Norway’s excellence at the international level,” said Jim Galanes, a four-time U.S. Olympic cross-country skier and Summit County resident.

    A well-traveled World Cup veteran and former director of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic program, Galanes is well aware of the weight a nation’s sporting heritage can play in this discussion. His larger concern, however, is over perceived differences between the United States Olympic and Paralympic committees and Olympiatoppen — the organization responsible for training Norwegian elite sport — in regards to prioritizing access and enjoyment for all. He points to how Norway focuses on sport’s intrinsic value over simply winning.

    “In Norway, it appears sport serves a greater purpose than elite success, World Cup wins, or Olympic medals,” Galanes said.

    The Olympiatoppen endurance department’s mission statement refers to a “holistic performance development,” centered around four values: joy through mastery, community through development together, health through a holistic life and honesty through viewable attitudes.

    Jim Galanes competed at the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympics as a Nordic combined and cross-country skier. After retiring as an athlete, he coached for the U.S. Ski Team for six years and then for Stratton Mountain School. His visionary creation of the APU program has produced the nation’s top cross-country skiers for over a decade.
    Courtesy photo

    For McMurtry, this is the crux of the conversation.

    “It’s not just skiing, it’s youth sports in general,” he said. “I would say it’s a crisis and it basically comes down to cost. It has to be accessible for all and we’ve built these barriers now — not just in skiing — that are just absolutely horrendous.”

    “The Norwegian model is a much more intelligent model in that rather than paying all the money, it’s just opportunity,” said Vail’s Mike Brown, who was a top-level Alpine junior racer before his 10-year U.S. Ski Team career. Brown competed in the super-G on home snow at the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships and was eventually inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.

    Mike Brown was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014 after enjoying a 10-year career on the U.S. Ski Team. His parents started the Buddy Werner Ski League at Beaver Creek and were instrumental in the founding of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.
    Vail Daily archive

    A 2015 document titled “Joy of Sport for All” lays out Norway’s “cradle-to-grave” approach, which offers access to sport for all who want it.

    “At the core of all activities for this age group are our values, the rights of children in sport, the provisions on children’s sports and child safeguarding in sports,” the document states.

    McMurty believes the present American generation has lost sight of sports’ holistic, transcendent value.

    “I’ve been in local club programs where you’re signing your kids up and already at 10, they’re identifying kids and ‘you’re going to be in this group because we think you’ve got something special,’” he described. “They put them in this little special group — we’re going to send you to New Zealand, season’s going to cost you 100 grand. Well, we didn’t do that back when we built a team that was No. 1 in the world.”

    State of Play: Children’s sports participation in America

    The 2021 Aspen Institute’s State of Play give an inside look at participation data in youth sports in America.

    Below are some key findings:

    76.1% of children ages 6-12 reported playing a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 72.9% in 2012. 37.8% reported playing a team sport on a regular basis, down from 41.4% in 2012.

    73.4% of children ages 13-17 played a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 69.1% just one year ago.

    The percentage of kids ages 6-12 who engaged in no sport activity during the year fell from 16.9% in 2019 to 13.7% in 2020.

    Hockey was the most expensive sport among 21 sports evaluated ($2,583 per child per year). Skiing/snowboarding was second ($2,249). Sports families spent an annual average of $693 per child, per sport.

    Only 12% of parents spent no money for their children to play their sport.

    Travel is the costliest feature in youth sports.

    The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11 (this data was most recently available in the 2019 Project Play survey)

    40% of parents with children in organized sports say their child plays year-round.

    Free play, which has been demonstrated to produce higher levels of physical activity than organized sports, is declining. “According to a household survey of 22 counties in those regions, fewer than one in five youth play football near their home (Aspen Institute/Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation survey, 2017). It’s one in 10 for basketball and less than one in 20 for baseball and soccer,” reads the report.

    In May, Houston adopted the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, an initiative developed by Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program. It has been adopted by over 130 organizations and includes eight rights for children: the right to play sports, safe and healthy environments, qualified program leaders, developmentally appropriate play, share in planning and delivery of activities, equal opportunity for growth, to be treated with dignity, and enjoyment.

    According to Galanes, the U.S. national governing bodies tend to attempt to identify talent too early, resulting in what he calls a “money for medals” approach.

    “They pick their anticipated top performers at a relatively young age and they put all their bets on those few athletes for the entirety of their careers.”

    Nowhere was this more obvious than Beijing 2022 — hold that thought for part four of this series.

    “Nobody has ever been able to identify a champion at 10. Not only that, that’s not the purpose of sport,” McMurtry argued.

    “Building a sport system for the sole purpose of developing World Champions unnecessarily over-professionalizes the athlete experience for most participants,” stated Aldo Radamus, a former ski racer and former executive of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Radamus said there is an “unnecessary arms race” occurring at the youth level, driven by the inherent nature of skiing and parents financially equipped to exploit it.

    “There’s no question — the sport is inherently expensive,” he said.

    Born in Argentina to Estonian parents, Aldo Radamus was a professional ski racer before becoming a coach in 1979. He went on to coach at Ski Club Vail in the early ’80s, where he met his wife Sara, before moving on to the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club, and then the U.S. Ski Team.
    Vail Daily Archives

    While kids lining up for a 100-meter dash all step onto the same track, in ski racing, fleet size, grind selection, and expensive fluorinated waxes (not to mention the expertise and tools required to make sense of the equipment triumvirate) are often deciding factors in outcome, particularly in cross-country skiing. Time on snow and expert private coaching at a young age also attract families wanting to jumpstart what is perhaps a more critical head start: skill acquisition. When parents — convinced their children have Olympic medals in their future — are willing to fork over whatever cost is required to give their kids the best chance to succeed, it raises the cost for everyone else, too.

    To be fair, in his 2016 study on European Alpine development, Dan Leever interviewed prominent coaches and thought-leaders in the sport. One “longtime European coach familiar with the U.S. system” stated “Behind every great racer is a parent that is a little crazy.”

    As part of a four-part series in Ski Racing Media on development, Radamus wrote than an accelerated professionalization in youth sports, “clearly evident in ski racing,” has contributed to declining participation because “expectations have been raised for participants to commit the time and resources required to pursue the sport at an elite level.”

    “Our top clubs and academies tend to try to provide the same level of programming and support as the national team. Many of these services are non-critical for a developing athlete to fulfill his or her potential,” Radamus said.

    Aldo’s 24-year-old son, River, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team who races on the World Cup circuit and finished just off the podium in fourth in giant slalom at last winter’s Beijing Olympics.

    Conversing with fellow SSCV alumna Jimmy Krupka on the In Arc City podcast last month, River Radamus outlined the nature of skiing and the financial affluent crowd — willing to pay for better equipment, better coaching, and more expensive training camps — it attracts.

    “I’ve seen programs like that (SSCV), the cost continues to rise year after year after year into this era where it’s unrecognizable to what I felt like I saw as a kid. There’s a lot of reasons for that,” River Radamus said. “Things like that have value, absolutely, but you see in Europe that you don’t need those things as a youth to succeed. But what that does, it slowly raised the price. It becomes an arms race.”

    “The fact that some want and can pay for these services doesn’t mean they should be provided as a core part of the program, raising fees for all participants,” said Aldo Radamus.

    McMurtry recalled a time where one parent paid to have Golden Peak at Vail reserved for a private session for their children and Mikaela Shiffrin. Another time, a parent paid the national team to bring their kid to a training camp in New Zealand.

    “Can you imagine a parent paying the Denver Broncos so their son could go to training camp?” he joked. “That kind of thing discourages kids and families who think they can’t compete with that. But that’s what’s happened with this sport. It’s like many things in this country — it’s money, money, money-driven.”

    While Aldo Radamus knows its impossible to legislate against parents hiring private coaches, purchasing equipment or paying for camps, he does believe “there can be sensible legislation outlining the structure of the pipeline so that guardrails are being provided to help families and athletes and their coaches essentially make the right decisions about how that athlete and when that athlete is ready to advance to another level and needs an additional opportunity.”

    Aldo Radamus outlined several suggestions in the second part of his series, including a shift towards localizing competitions, limiting excessive prep period and competition period travel and grouping athletes intentionally.

    “Racing in competitions with similarly skilled athletes promotes both enjoyment and development. Being an outlier off the back or off the front can both be detrimental.”

    His son, River, expounded on the latter point with Krupka, where he mentioned a difference in how races are set up in Europe compared to the U.S.

    “Races in Europe are usually much cheaper than FIS race entries in the U.S. So, the motivation for the race host is hosting a race for the right athletes. It’s not a profit-driven gambit,” he said. “The reason they host the race is for athlete development. Making sure they have opportunities for their athletes to score but also for them to grow and learn. In the U.S., the races are hosted to fund the programs that are hosting them.”

    Thus, he argues, American race directors are motivated to fill all of their slots, no matter the ability range of the competitors.

    River Radamus was raised in the Vail Valley and attended Ski and Snowboard Club Vail en route to winning two World Junior titles, three Youth Olympic Games gold medals, and a fourth-place in the giant slalom at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
    Marco Trovati/AP

    “Whereas if you sit on the side of a race in Europe, if there’s a skier that clearly shouldn’t be there, the people are on the side of the hill like ‘uggh what’s he doing here,’ because it’s not the appropriate race for him,” River Radamus said to Krupka. “It’s not the appropriate place for them to develop.”

    The result, according to the 2022 Olympian, are “more skill-based races.”

    “Everybody whose in a race feels like, ‘OK, I’m here to push, I’ve got a chance to win or move up,’ whereas in the U.S. there’s a lot of races that kids go to because their parents think that they should for reaching a certain benchmark or their program is taking all the athletes, too, so I should tag along as well,” he told Krupka. “And kids go to out-of-region races that they don’t necessarily need to go to, pay tons of money, enter this race, and just get absolutely smoked. And then, you’re at the bottom like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.’”

    It is one explanation, perhaps, of the sport’s disturbing burnout trend.

    “Increases in female participation have been offset by a shrinking male population and modestly growing participation at the U14-and-younger age groups is offset by alarming attrition among U16-and-older ages,” wrote Aldo Radamus in part one of his series.

    Like Galanes, McMurty, and the leaders of Olympiatoppen, Aldo Radamus has championed participation as the cornerstone to national success. He wrote in Ski Racing Media, “In the interest of creating healthy sport, we have to have an exciting, accessible and inherently rewarding activity and a system to develop the most talented and committed to be the best in the world.”

    “Historically, the U.S. team has done a poor job handling the development of young athletes moving up to the U.S. team,” added John Dowling, SSCV’s mogul director, who has supplied Team USA with the lion’s share of its mogul team members over the last decade and change.

    Tess Johnson was the youngest to be named to the U.S. Ski Team when she was nominated at 14-year-old in 2016. She competed at the 2018 Olympics and was fifth on the overall World Cup standings in 2022.
    Rick Bowmer/AP

    One of Dowling’s athletes, 2018 Olympian Tess Johnson, has said that in talking to friends in Alpine circles, she noticed a key difference while reflecting on their younger years.

    “On a powder day or any given day, they were always training, always on Golden Peak,” she said.

    “Like it was just so much training and so monotonous, especially at that age. They would rarely go freeskiing and we would go freeskiing twice a week,” she said, noting it as one reason she’s never felt burnout “on-snow.” “We’re 12 years old. I always loved and appreciated that Dowling and (Riley) Campbell made a point of making us go and freeski and ski the whole mountain and ski a few laps through the park.”

    “We have a penchant in this county in many sports to try and identify talent at 14-16 years of age — too early — and I believe the track record of athletes getting washed out of the sport at these ages is pretty bad,” Galanes summarized.

    River Radamus said that in Europe, “There’s more engaged athletes, athletes that last,” compared to the U.S.

    John Dowling was the 2018 U.S. Ski and Snowboard moguls coach of the year after providing four of the country’s eight mogul athletes for the Pyeongchang Olympics. He is the mogul program director at SSCV.
    Vail Daily Archives

    “The pipeline narrows, but athletes last into FIS longer in Europe than they do in the U.S. because there’s always something to push for, there’s something to reach for and you’re engaged and you’re having fun and you’re competing against people that you feel like, ‘I put in a little extra work, I can beat this guy.’ And in the U.S., I feel like that drops off much quicker,” he told Krupka.

    The Aspen Institute’s “architects” seem to address this component in the Norwegian system’s second pillar, writing, “To be the best in the world, you must train the best in the world. At the same time, the training philosophy in Norwegian sports involves taking responsibility for both the social, mental and physical development into being a top athlete. It’s about developing people!”

    Judy Rabinowitz, one of the early members of the U.S. women’s cross-country team and a 1984 Olympian who now lives in Leadville, wrote to the Vail Daily in regards to the Aspen Institute’s article on the Norwegian model.

    “I was also impressed by what the article described as a mission to develop athletes who are multidimensional (and joyful) citizens equipped with skills beyond sport, and by the prestige attached to coaching as evidenced by the fact that most Norwegian coaches come from “academia” and are versed in pedagogy,” she stated.

    To understand why America has lagged in creating synergy between science and sporting bodies and cultivating a competent coaching culture, a trip back to college might be necessary — stay tuned for Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline.

    But first — is the cost issue really something unique to the United States?

    US Ski Team, Spyder end 33-year partnership

    U.S. ski racer A.J. Kitt skis the men's World Cup Downhill course in Beaver Creek on Friday, Dec. 1, 1995. Spyder race suits, identifiable by the webbed logo on Kitt’s right arm, sponsored Kitt before he made the U.S. Team, and Kitt continued to wear the suits once on the team as Spyder provided suits for U.S. skiers for more than 30 years.
    Stefano Rellandini/AP

    The U.S. Ski Team and Spyder outerwear have ended a 33-year partnership, the team announced on Tuesday.

    U.S. Ski and Snowboard will now use Italian sportswear company Kappa to outfit its teams, a deal which will run through the 2030 season, the team announced on Tuesday.

    The Kappa deal also includes all snowboarding athletes, something not included in Spyder’s contract with the team.

    “Kappa is now the Official Technical Apparel Partner of the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboard Team and U.S. Freeski Team,” according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s announcement. “Kappa will also provide uniforms for all U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Italy as well as the 2030 Olympic Games.”

    Spyder, a Boulder-based company that was started in a garage in 1978, was once described by U.S. Ski and Snowboard as the “perfect partner” for the Alpine ski team, which has been racing in Spyder suits since 1989. Spyder-branded uniforms were worn annually by snow sports athletes during the more than 35 domestic events and 100 worldwide events on the World Cup circuit.

    Jeff Temple, of Steamboat, co-founded Spyder with Canadian downhill champion Dave Jacobs in 1978. Temple ran the company until 1993, helping to secure the deal with the U.S. Ski Team in 1989.

    Temple said the partnership ran through Vail, with one of their Yugoslavian athletes’ performance at the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships helping to seal the deal.

    After being denied by the U.S. Ski Team in 1988, Spyder sought out other partnerships with World Cup teams on the advice of Bill Marolt, who recommended Yugoslavia. A year later, Yugoslavian slalom skier Mateja Svet won the slalom in Beaver Creek at the 1989 World Championships.

    “We carried her out on our shoulders, Dave and I, in the finish area,” Temple said. “After that, we returned and said we really want to sponsor the U.S. Ski Team … and we signed a deal. It was so important to our brand.”

    This photo from the Feb. 8, 1989 Vail Daily shows Yugoslavian ski racer Mateja Svet being hoisted into the air following her World Championships slalom win at Beaver Creek. Svet’s win while wearing a Spyder-designed race suit helped convince the U.S. Ski Team to agree to a deal with the Boulder-based company, said co-founder Jeff Temple.
    Vail Daily archive

    Conceived in Vail

    The name Spyder was conceived on the slopes of Vail Mountain, Temple said.

    “I was skiing down Gold Peak, I had black ski pants on — our first pair of Spyder pants — and we had injection molded pads that wrapped around the thigh, to the knee,” Temple said. “Billy, Dave’s son, looked at me and said ‘it looks like Jeff has spiders on his legs.'”

    Before going full steam ahead with the name, they called the brother of deceased American ski legend Spider Sabich for permission.

    “He understood and said that’s fine,” Temple said.

    Over the years, it became a thriving partnership, with Beaver Creek providing a convenient meeting place for Spyder designers and their top athletes.

    “Almost all our fitting sessions would be in Vail at Beaver Creek in November,” Temple said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, you gotta make sure things fit, make sure your fabric is on the cutting edge. We always loved working on that stuff, it was a very serious endeavor, making the suits as fast as possible with a fantastic fit.”

    Temple said the company and the team made long-lasting relationships through the partnership.

    “We started working with A.J. Kitt when he was 15,” Temple said. “I’ll never forget the talk with him, he said ‘I’m going to be on the U.S. Ski Team, I’m going to be really fast, I just want a suit.’ From that day, we’re still in touch.”

    The Colorado Snowsports Museum has the competition uniforms for Alpine, Aerials, Freestyle and Freeski on display.
    Tricia Swenson/Vail Daily

    Olympic provider

    In 2019, Spyder and the U.S. Ski Team celebrated 30 years together.

    “Everyone at U.S. Ski & Snowboard is delighted that we have renewed and grown our partnership with Spyder,” said Dan Barnett, U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Chief Marketing Officer. “For over 30 years, Spyder has been the perfect partner for our Alpine Team and now we are very pleased to be able to announce that Spyder is adding our Freestyle and Freeski Teams to their roster. Spyder is now the exclusive apparel partner for our Alpine, Freestyle and Freeski teams, a partnership that takes us through 2023, which means Spyder will be worn exclusively by more than 50 world-class athletes competing in Beijing during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.”

    The Spyder uniforms for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games were worn by athletes in competition. To create the design, Spyder collaborated with Eric Haze, an American artist who helped popularize graffiti-style designs in mainstream culture.

    The Spyder/Eric Haze uniforms were on display in Vail at the Colorado Snowsports Museum in advance of the 2022 Olympics and are still being exhibited today.

    PHOTOS: Flights of brews at Beers of Prey in Beaver Creek

    Beers of Prey was in full effect at the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS SKI World Cup in Beaver Creek Village on Saturday.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    A server pours a beer Saturday at the Beers of Prey in Beaver Creek Village.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    On a hot day of fast skiing, cold beers are the perfect way to celebrate in Beaver Creek.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    Some of the beer selections on hand Saturday at Beers of Prey in Beaver Creek Village.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    Smiles abound at Beers of Prey in Beaver Creek Village.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    Beers of Prey at the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS SKI World Cup in Beaver Creek Village.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily
    Lindsay Hardy shares some beers with two pals at Saturday’s Beers of Prey festivities in Beaver Creek Village.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

    Birds of Prey World Cup downhill: Aleksander Aamodt Kilde victorious again

    Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde celebrates as he sprays snow flying into the finish area following his World Cup downhill run Saturday in Beaver Creek. Kilde won the race following his win Friday in the super-G.
    Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

    Different discipline, same course, same result.

    A day after winning in super-G on the challenging Birds of prey course at Beaver Creek, Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde skied an aggressive line to capture Saturday’s downhill for his second straight World Cup win.

    Kilde had surgery to repair a torn ACL less than a year ago, but you wouldn’t know it watching the 2020 World Cup champion tear down the course Friday and Saturday

    The 19th skier out of the gate Saturday, Kilde grabbed the early lead with a time of 1 minute, 39.63 seconds, and his mark was never matched. Austria’s Matthias Mayer was second, 0.66 seconds back followed by Switzerland’s Beat Feuz a full 1.01 seconds back. The top American was Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who held the early lead after skiing second, but finished in sixth.

    For the two-time Olympian Kilde, it is his eighth World Cup victory and 22nd podium. The 10-year veteran of the World Cup won the overall season title back in 2020, but is still in search of his first world championship and Olympic medal with the Beijing Winter Games just two months away. His resume also includes a super-G season crown from 2016.

    A bald eagle takes in the view Saturday at the finish area of the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek.
    Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

    Feuz and Mayer are familiar names on World Cup downhill podiums. The 34-year old Feuz, who made ESPN headlines two weeks ago for lamenting about a second consecutive Olympics being held in a country lacking in traditional enthusiasm for skiing, is the four-time defending season downhill globe winner. Mayer won the 2014 Olympic gold medal in the downhill and another gold medal in the super-G in 2018. He snagged a podium earlier in Beaver Creek with his second-place super-G finish on Thursday but narrowly missed out Friday with a fourth-place result.

    American Travis Ganong, who flew to a third-place finish in Friday’s World Cup super-G, ended his day in 24th. Veteran Steve Nyman continued to bely his age with an 18th place showing, tying another veteran in search of World Cup win No. 1, 40-year old Johan Clarey. Clarey was second in the downhill at Birds of Prey in 2020. The three-time French Olympian has not discussed any retirement plans, and will continue striving for that elusive top step of the podium in tomorrow’s bonus downhill event. Bryce Bennett, Jared Goldberg, Erik Arvidsson, were 22nd 36th and 38th, respectively to round out the American contingent.

    Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, center, celebrates a first place finish while posing with second-place finisher Austria's Matthias Mayer, left, and third-place finisher Switzerland's Beat Feuz after Saturday’s men's World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek.
    Gregory Bull/AP

    Fifty-eight skiers took the course, revered on the World Cup circuit for its challenging technical sections under a Colorado bluebird sky. Designed by Swiss Olympic downhill champion Bernhard Russi, the challenging course begins at 11,427 feet and forces racers to navigate 1.7 miles of track descending some 2,500 feet in elevation. Racers hit speeds above 80 miles an hour and soar through the air on six jumps on course — including traveling some 140 feet through the air on the Golden Eagle jump. Earlier in the day, a ceremony for Birds of Prey legend and Olympic champion Ted Ligety took place to dedicate a section of track named in his honor — “Ligety’s Legacy.”

    Saturday Men’s Downhill Podium

    Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Norway – 1:39.63

    Matthias Mayer, Austria – 1:40.29

    Beat Feuz, Switzerland – 1:40.64

    American Finishers

    6. Ryan Cochran-Siegle, 1:40.87

    18. Steve Nyman, 1:41.50

    22. Bryce Bennett, 1:41.61

    24. Travis Ganong, 1:41.67

    36. Jared Goldberg, 1:42.38

    38. Erik Arvidsson, 1:42.56

    Ligety’s Legacy: Five-time Birds of Prey champion honored at World Cup event with a section of the course

    Mike Imhof, right, the president of the Vail Valley Foundation, honors Ted Ligety by announing Ligety’s name will adorn a section of the famed Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek before the start of Saturday’s World Cup downhill at Beaver Creek. Ligety won five times on the course.
    Jon Resnick/Vail Valley Foundation

    From his first World Cup podium at Beaver Creek in 2006 through his world championship gold in 2015 at the same venue, his skis have always come and gone across the snow like lightning — Ligety-split.

    And now Ted Ligety’s persona will remain on the vaunted Birds of Prey course permanently. The multiple Olympic and world champion Alpine skier was recognized before Saturday’s downhill competition with the unveiling of “Ligety’s Legacy,” getting his name on a part of the course to honor the man who was victorious five times at Beaver Creek.

    Ligety is second all-time behind Hermann Maier on the all-time Birds of Prey wins list. His likeness is now etched into the course alongside fellow American legends Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller, a worthy reward for the newly retired former Olympic and world champion.

    Ted Ligety flies down the Birds of Prey course during the men's giant slalom at the Alpine Skiing World Championships on Feb. 13, 2015, in Beaver Creek.
    Alessandro Trovati/AP

    “That’s a true honor to be commemorated on the slope,” Ligety said before Saturday’s event, which included speeches from former coaches and teammates. “It’s been a hill that’s created so many amazing memories for me and given me so much success. So, that’s a true honor for sure.”

    “There is a special connection between the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and the Xfinity Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, and Ted’s hard-earned achievement as the winningest American ski racer ever on the legendary course is a feat to be celebrated,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation, which is the local organizing committee for the World Cup races. “For years, having Ted win or podium on our final Sunday competition was a perfect culmination of the exciting World Cup weekend. It has been an honor to watch Ted fiercely compete each year at Beaver Creek, and we wish Ted the very best as he moves on from ski racing and into his next adventure.”

    “There was always a moment on the giant slalom course where you would differentiate yourself. This moment, which is always kind of right after the steep section after the Screech Owl jump, where you would elevate yourself above the other greatest ski racers in the world. And that is why, today, and hereafter, that part of the course where you have already made your mark, is forever going to be named ”Ligety’s Legacy.“ — Mike Imhof, President, Vail Valley Foundation, in presenting the section of the Birds of Prey course named in Ted Ligety’s honor.

    U.S. Ski Team racing legend Ted Ligety enjoys Friday’s silent disco event at the Xfinity Birds of Prey World Cup in Beaver Creek.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

    Known as Mr. GS, the technical skier’s love for the Beaver Creek hill is more tied to the giant slalom, the discipline where all five of his Birds of Prey victories came. The super-G course has a special place in his heart, too, however. Ligety likes how it forces skiers to demonstrate a wide range of skills and tactics.

    “It’s tricky. There’s a lot of little pieces of terrain where you have to take a lot of risk to keep your speed up, but also, if you make a mistake in one of those places, your race is pretty much done,” he said. “It’s really unique in the sense that it really melds the technical aspect of super-G but also has some gliding pieces, has some jumps, and it has everything you’d really wish for on a super-G track.”

    Having retired at the end of last season, Ligety has been in Beaver Creek this week to do some analyst work for NBC. It’s hard to say if being in the booth is more nerve-wracking than the Olympic starting gate according to Ligety, but the energy and excitement, if nothing else, help him feel connected to the sport.

    “It is an adjustment,” he said, explaining how the novelty of the job drives much of the enjoyment. “It’s actually fun, I think, because I’m new to it right now. I still get a little bit of those pre-race jitters. Just like feeling some of that race energy and being a part of it is fun. So, who knows if that will wear off as I do it a little bit more,” he said.

    “I’m definitely learning a lot and learning on the fly for sure.”

    Looking toward the future

    The new vantage point has given the longtime staple to the American lineup a positive perspective as he analyzes the state of his former team. He believes the young crop of racers coming up has a unique opportunity.

    “The U.S. ski team is definitely in a little bit different spot,” he said noting his own retirement along with others. “On that tech side, it’s a lot of young guys you know, so that can be a cool, fun environment to push each other,” he said, echoing the sentiment of River Radamus from earlier in the week regarding the culture of positive competition and camaraderie within the men’s team.

    “You know, there’s not a lot of World Cup experience in the tech side anymore for anybody to be able to feed off of, but at the same time, a little bit of naivety and just firing up and just pushing each other can be a good thing as well.”

    So far, he sees evidence of the bright future of American skiing. “River stepping up that first race was really cool to see,” he said before talking about how the long-term progress is still a process requiring patience.

    It’s a process he has now stepped away from, devoting time once spent doing squats and cleans to being with family and working on his business, Shred, which makes eyewear and protective wear for skiers and snowboarders.

    “I’ve been spending a lot more time on my business,” he said. “It’s been fun to dive more deeply into that on a regular basis and help grow that business.”

    His commentary work with NBC, which he anticipates continuing through the Beijing Winter Olympics, and work he does with his sponsors and partners, keep him connected to the sport. The occasional mountain bike ride does, too, albeit minus the Garmin.

    “It always was for fun. But, to just kind of do all these activities that I love doing more for fun and without having to have a super regimented workout plan is nice,” he said about the notable absence of target heart rate zones and fancy GPS monitors. “So it’s definitely been vastly different than it was. But it’s been a nice change. Honestly, it’s been nice to go into the gym every day for four-plus hours a day. That’s been a joy.”

    Ted Ligety signs autographs in Beaver Creek Village Friday afternoon.
    Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

    All of his endeavors still have him running a pretty busy schedule, which includes some travel. Still, his daily routine is much different than it had been for the better part of the previous two decades.

    “My life was very similar month to month for 17 years straight,” he said. “It’s nice being able to spend more time at home. Being away from home for a week is nice, but being away from home for six weeks to six months is not that nice. So it’s nice spending more time at home with the family. That life has been really enjoyable. As of right now, I don’t miss those aspects of what I was doing before.”

    While Ligety may not miss certain parts of his ski career, American fans surely miss him ripping around gates, flashing down the hill. At least now they’ll be able to savor the memories — the legacy — each time they see the map and ski the mountain.

    American Travis Ganong lands on World Cup podium in Birds of Prey super-G

    Travis Ganong, of the United States, leans in during the second day of Super G for the 2021 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup Friday in Beaver Creek. Ganong took third place.
    Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

    BEAVER CREEK — Travis Ganong wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Especially with his whole family watching.

    A day after one costly error took him out of the running in Thursday’s World Cup super-G on the vaunted Birds of Prey course, Ganong put down a near-flawless run as the second skier out of the start house to finish third in Friday’s super-G.

    Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway won the race with a finishing time of 1 minute, 10.26 seconds, less than a year removed from tearing a ligament in his right knee. Marco Odermatt — the super-G winner the day before — was behind Kilde by a scant 0.03 seconds, while Ganong was. 0.37 seconds back in front of the home crowd.

    It was Ganong’s first World Cup podium result in four years, and his first World Cup super-G podium finish. But it came on a track where he’s had previous success, surprising the world with a second-place finish at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek.

    “I didn’t make any mistakes, and I had a tactical plan,” said Ganong, who hails from Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe, and a had a huge contingent of family members and friends out to watch him ski. “Today, I gave a little extra and came from behind and took my speed across the flat and then just hammered the finishing pitch. I won the long split, and that put me on the podium.”

    The mistake Ganong made Thursday came on the Screech Owl section of the course, about midway down. He said Friday’s course set suited him perfectly on a hill that he’s grown to love over the years.

    “We all love this hill. It’s super fun and playful and fits into our style of skiing, growing up in Tahoe and freeskiing a lot,” he said. “I’ve been second at the world champs here and fourth in the super-G and fifth in downhill. I’ve never had a super-G podium, though, so I’m stoked on my skiing.”

    Daron Rahlves, a Birds of Prey legend also from the Truckee area, was on hand Friday to watch Ganong bag a podium finish. Rahlves, a 12-time winner on the World Cup and a three-time world championships medalist, won downhills on the Birds of Prey course in 2005 and 2003, and was second in 2004.

    He said the Birds of Prey track is perfectly suited for guys like him and Ganong who grew up skiing a bunch of different terrain in Tahoe.

    “Back at home at Tahoe, Squaw or Palisades, there’s a lot of terrain, we’re going fast, you’re kind of like growing up just trying to be one with the mountain and flowing down the hill, and that’s kind of what you do for downhill skiing,” he said.

    On Thursday, conditions led to the first two athletes careening off-course. Friday, conditions were still fast, though perhaps slightly improved, according to Ganong.

    “It was a little turnier and a little more controlled, the speed,” he said. “It allowed me to just really find my flow and ski how I wanted to ski. I felt really in control.”

    Rahlves said it’s always good to see another American land on a podium in front of the home crowd in what is the only men’s stop in the United States on the World Cup Alpine circuit.

    “The Super-G is really tough on this hill. Travis is really good — he’s a conservative skier with tactics, and really challenging terrain, which helped him a ton today,” he said. “But then he just laid it down and went really aggressive at the bottom. I’m just so stoked for him right now.”

    Not everyone handled the continued unseasonably warm temperatures, though. Fellow American Ryan Cochran-Siegle was unable to finish after placing 19th on Thursday. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud suffered an ugly crash where he appeared to catch an edge and lose his balance before crashing into the netting. The race was delayed as the veteran, racing in what he thinks will likely be his final season, clutched his knee initially but ended up standing up before making his way to the base of the hill.

    For the 33-year old 2015 World Championship silver medalist, Friday was more than just a homecoming. It was a full-fledged family reunion. Ganong’s aunts, uncles, parents, sisters and all of their kids were in attendance for the podium finish.

    “When I was younger, it kind of added a little stress, but now I just enjoy it. I feed off of their energy,” Ganong said about his entourage. “They’re so stoked just to be here and be skiing. It’s kind of like a family reunion of sorts for them, too. So it’s just a fun celebration of life and skiing.”

    Rahlves’ feelings on the home crowd were similar.

    “There’s pressure because we only have one chance, but there’s also a lot of energy that I fed off of,” he said about the rare annual opportunity to race on North American soil. “It’s like, you want to perform in front of your hometown crowd — that’s No. 1. That was huge for me. To know that you came down and you owned it feels good.”

    Friday Super Giant Slalom Podium

    Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Norway – 1:10.26

    Marco Odermatt, Switzerland – +0.03

    Travis Ganong, United States – +0.37

    American Finishers

    Ryan Cochran-Siegle – DNF

    Steven Nyman – 33rd, +3.16

    River Radamus

    Erik Arvidsson

     

     

    Birds of Prey for the kids

    Kyle Negomir is a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alumnus and U.S. Alpine Ski Team athlete. Current SSCV athletes are looking forward to attending the Xfinity Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek this year.
    Agence Zoom/Courtesy photo

    During the 2020-2021 winter season, the Birds of Prey World Cup Races – along with many other ski races around the world – were canceled in response to the global pandemic. The tumultuous year brought challenges both on and beyond the mountain. But with those challenges came new opportunities for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail to accelerate and develop not only physical strength on the hill but mental strength as a community.

    Amid COVID-19, SSCV athletes and alumni raised the caliber of local competition, as races were conducted in a restructured manner resulting in a very successful season at all levels of competition. The community of athletes, coaches and parents banded together in order to uphold the club’s mission of placing all athletes on their individual pathways to excellence, and more importantly helping these youngsters maintain a positive mental outlook in an otherwise isolating time.

    “Despite the challenges faced throughout this arduous year, SSCV remained united against the common enemy of COVID-19,” said John Hale, executive director of SSCV. “It was all thanks to the diligence of our staff, the vigilance of our parents, the adaptability of our athletes and the support of Vail Resorts and our local health professionals. This year has forged lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, on and off the snow.”

    Fast forward to the 2021-2022 season, an excitement fills the air at SSCV as young athletes buzz that the World Cup event is being held in Beaver Creek once again. They see the possibility of achieving World Cup racing prestige through the accomplishments of SSCV alumni who, not that long ago, trained at Golden Peak or attended their school (or both), bolstering their determination and dedication to their sports.

    Unparalleled Resources

    The world-class coaching staff and the unparalleled resources that SSCV provide to their athletes establishes SSCV as one of the premiere snow sport clubs in the nation and the world. The recently expanded terrain on the Golden Peak Expansion yields 30 additional acres of training space, two new trails, a new surface lift and upgraded snowmaking fan guns. All of these additions add 600 vertical feet of training ground and 1,700 vertical feet of total terrain. The incredible on-hill training venues are complemented by a new state of the art Clubhouse at the base of Golden Peak.

    On the scholastic side, SSCV’s academic partners at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, Vail Mountain School and Red Sandstone Elementary School work in conjunction with the coaches to promote the scholastic achievement of the racers as well.

    Young athletes from SSCV attend the Birds of Prey World Cup. They see the possibility of achieving World Cup racing prestige through the accomplishments of SSCV alumni who, not that long ago, trained at Golden Peak.
    Vail Valley Foundation/Courtesy photo

    This year alone 10 current and former SSCV athletes were nominated to the U.S. National Team for Alpine, including Paula Moltzan (A Team); Mikaela Shiffrin (A Team); Bridger Gile (B Team); Kyle Negomir (B Team); River Radamus (B Team); Nicola Rountree-Williams (C Team); Ava Sunshine Jemison (D Team); Trent Pennington (D Team); Allie Resnick (D Team) and Emma Resnick (D Team).

    “The combination of support, motivation and opportunity that SSCV provides their athletes enables incredible success and a special community,” said SSCV and VSSA alumnus and U.S. Alpine Ski Team athlete Kyle Negomir. “The access to training facilities such as the Minturn Fitness Center and the nearby ski mountain, coupled with the public school academics support which included snow sport specific scheduling at VSSA, gives us the ability to take advantage of these opportunities, and really go after our dreams.”

    Other SSCV alumni train and compete at the NCAA Division 1 collegiate level in tandem with pursuing their college degree. It is an extremely competitive avenue for Alpine ski racers and proving to be an increasingly viable path to the U.S. Ski Team. This past year alone, SSCV had 28 former athletes across 13 colleges named to NCAA Division 1 alpine ski teams (many of whom returned to train with SSCV last season with much of the collegiate competition season canceled due to COVID-19).

    An unusual year brought further strength to SSCV values: character, courage and commitment, as their athletes flourished both on and off-snow in unprecedented circumstances, bringing new meaning to SSCV’s motto “FOR THE KIDS.”

    Learn more about Ski & Snowboard Club Vail at SkiCubVail.org.

     

    Team USA looks to regain glory at its home course

    Team USA trains, competes and celebrates as a team. In 2019, the Americans celebrated Tommy Ford’s win at the Birds of Prey giant slalom on home soil.
    Rick Lohre/Courtesy photo

    On one of the most challenging courses of the FIS Alpine World Cup circuit, American men have had more success at Beaver Creek than at any other stop in their annual monthslong chase for the perfect combination of fitness, tactics, snow conditions and equipment preparation — and perhaps a little luck. Twelve of their 128 victories since the inception of the World Cup in the winter of 1966-1967 have occurred at the Birds of Prey. For a handful of those wins, another U.S. racer also stepped up onto the podium; Americans have finished second or third 15 times. Most memorable was a snowy Saturday in 2005, when the U.S. finished first, second and fourth in the giant slalom. Quipped Finland’s Kalle Pallander, who was third, said, “I felt I was at the American championships.”

    For a group of men and women who spend the bulk of their competitive ski days on the other side of the planet, it’s both comforting and nerve-wracking to race “at home.”

    “It’s our one chance of the year to show our U.S. fans what we can do,” said Travis Ganong prior to the 2019 Birds of Prey weekend. Ganong, a resident of Tahoe City, California, was a silver medalist at the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships on the same course, and has two World Cup wins in his career. “I hope it inspires a lot of kids.”

    The most successful American racer on the Birds of Prey course is Ted Ligety, winner of five consecutive giant slalom races on this hill between 2011 and 2015 — four World Cups plus the gold at the 2015 World Championships. Throw in another World Cup GS win, three GS podiums and a podium each in super-G and slalom, and Ligety’s legacy is impressive. Only Hermann Maier (AUT) and Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) have more World Cup wins at Beaver Creek, with six each.

    “I think the pressure is good in a way,” said Ligety prior to the 2019 events; he retired earlier this year to focus on his growing family and business pursuits from his home in Park City, Utah.

    The most successful American racer on the Birds of Prey racecourse is Ted Ligety, winner of five races in his career. “I think the pressure is good in a way,” Ligety said prior to the 2019 races. Ligety retired earlier this year to focus on his growing family and business pursuits from his home in Park City, Utah.
    Rick Lohre/Courtesy photo

    Just before Ligety, Americans Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller lit up the Birds of Prey racecourse, with Rahlves the first one on the podium in 2002, in downhill, and on the top step for the same event a year later. Compact, superbly fit and focused, Rahlves was always ready to uncoil a fast run on a demanding course; he won twice and was on the podium three times (twice in downhill, once in giant slalom). Miller is one of America’s most decorated Alpine athletes; his four wins and three podiums at Birds of Prey are part of a stellar collection of 33 World Cup wins — most of any American male — plus six Olympic and five World Championship medals. Miller and Rahlves pushed each other, which often brought out the best in both. Three times they were first and second at Birds of Prey — once in 2004 (downhill), and twice in 2005 (downhill and giant slalom).

    “My intensity and ability to push the limit is my advantage,” said Miller prior to the 2013 races. “If I’m not the top, then I’m one of the top (racers).”

    Ligety and Miller were first and second in the 2013 giant slalom, and Ligety (second) shared the super G podium in 2015 with Andrew Weibrecht (third), a fan favorite with his wild rides and spectacular recoveries at Birds of Prey.

    From Rahlves, Miller and Ligety to the current crew of racers — a mix of veterans and up-and-comers — all point to the course preparation as a major factor in their success.

    “The Talon Crew does amazing prep from top to bottom,” said Steven Nyman in 2019.

    Nyman is working his way back from a string of injuries in hopes of having the run of his life at the Beijing Olympics.

    “The three best (downhill) turns on the World Cup are those going into the finish,” he said.

    Nyman has been on the downhill podium three times at Birds of Prey.

    “It’s by far the best Super G course on the World Cup,” Ligety said,

    In 2019, Tommy Ford put together two impressive runs for his first World Cup win — by 0.80 seconds — in the Birds of Prey giant slalom. He would go on to finish fifth in the GS standings that season, which was shortened by the pandemic, leaving a number of races uncontested, including two giant slaloms. A nasty crash at Adelboden, Switzerland, earlier this year left him initially unconscious and with a knee injury that he is still working to overcome.

    Ford’s first Top 10 World Cup result came in 2017 at Birds of Prey, starting a string of strong World Cup results. He was sitting in fourth in the GS standings for the 2020-2021 season at the time of his injury.

    “It’s a really fun course,” said Ford in 2019. “It’s challenging to keep your head in it.”

    Also making his way back from injury is Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who scored his first World Cup win last December at Bormio, Italy, in super G just 10 days after his first podium at Val Gardena, Italy, in downhill.

    It’s also possible that River Radamus — fresh off a sixth-place finish in the opening giant slalom of the season at Sölden, Austria, that included a remarkable first-run save to avoid crashing — will race super G at Birds of Prey. He grew up in the Vail Valley and no doubt has spent hours of time on the course, racing or otherwise. He’s never finished in the points in previous World Cup attempts at Beaver Creek, but momentum is in his favor.

    Bryce Bennett is also psyched to race on a course he calls “one of my favorite places on the tour,” he said, adding that the Talon Crew is by far the best at preparing a race hill. His best result is a ninth in the downhill in 2018, and after a couple of seasons on “the struggle bus,” as he calls it, he’s ready to make his mark in 2021-2022.

    There is no GS at Beaver Creek in 2021, but with a downhill and two super G races and history on its side, it’s a reasonable bet that Americans will be stepping up onto the podium in Beaver Creek in December.