Gros reflects on competing at ’99 Worlds
VAIL — Swept up in the atmosphere of the World Championships, Vail local Sacha Gros got back on his racing skis this week.
It had only been 12 years.
You may recognize Gros from Vista Bahn Ski Rentals at the base of Gondola One, where he spends his days tending to his family’s shop, which has been there since the ’70s.
The last time the FIS 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships were in the U.S., in 1999, Gros used the shop as a base of operations — a dugout, of sorts — while he prepared to compete in some of the biggest races of his life. A member of the U.S. Ski Team at the time, Gros competed in the World Championships combined and slalom, skiing out in the slalom portion of the combined but putting on a great show for the local fans in the slalom, which was held in Vail on Lindsey’s run, then called International. He finished 19th.
“I’ll never forget that feeling, coming over International and seeing the whole crowd in Vail in the bleachers,” Gros said this week. “My family was in the stands with flags and stuff; it was awesome.”
Gros’ sister Dominique was 14 at the time.
“It was a very special moment for our family,” she said.
RACING THROUGH THE FINISH
The winner of that race was Kalle Palander, of Finland, who also remembers it well.
“Vail is much bigger now than it was at that time,” Palander said. “But, I went to check the bar, The Underground, and it’s still there. It was the same bar where I had a party for my win. We had dinner first with Pepi at the Gramshammer then we went to that bar.”
Palander says he remembers Gros skiing off the slopes and right into his parents’ shop in the finish area.
“Having my parents ski shop right there was awesome,” said Gros. “It was our home, right there. It was 20 feet away from the finish line. I went in, changed, unbuckled my boots, then came back out to take everything in and appreciate what it was.”
It was a well-deserved moment of appreciation for Gros, as getting there wasn’t easy.
“The U.S. Ski Team in the late ’90s was in a very transitional period,” Gros recalls. “We had a small, really young crew of racers and not that much experience. It was a trying period for the U.S. Ski Team. … Some of the funding was changing, and we really had to fight hard for everything. I did pretty well in some early races in Europe and America, so they gave me the chance to do that slalom.”
It was a dream come true for Gros, who was in his mid-20s and had been thinking about the opportunity for a decade, going back to his days as a teenager in Ski Club Vail.
“In ’89 I foreran at the World Championships and that was just a fantastic experience,” Gros said. “We had never been to Europe or seen any of those racers, and you see these guys, Ingemar Stenmark and Marc Girardelli, those guys were gods.”
‘EVERY EVENT PERFECT’
On Wednesday, for the first time in more than a decade, Gros put his racing boots back on for the Korbel Charity Cup. His team ended up finishing runner-up to the USSA team.
“Not bad for a guy racing in jeans,” Gros’ teammate ski movie star Chris Anthony said of his performance afterward.
In addition to being reunited with the race course, Gros saw Palander for the first time in years, along with many other friends at the Charity Cup, which raised money for the Vail Valley Foundation and Right To Play, a nonprofit organization that uses playtime activities to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities.
While he laments the absence of major races in Vail during this World Championships, Gros said he was really impressed with the job the Vail Valley Foundation has done in bringing the biggest event in alpine ski racing back to the U.S.
“They’re doing a great job. Every event has been perfect,” he said.
More than a decade and a half ago, Kobe Bryant came to the Vail Valley quietly. Fourteen months later, he left the same way. In the middle was … well … a media circus.