One day, the Birds of Prey |

One day, the Birds of Prey

J.K. Perry
Kira Horvath/Daily file photoThomas Walsh, 11, aspires to be an Olympic Skiing Champion. He belongs to the Ski and Snowboard Club in Vail and has been skiing since he was 2.

BEAVER CREEK – Skier Thomas Walsh wants to become a triathlon champion and president. But first, the 11-year-old hopes to best the World Cup and Olympics.How does he plan to achieve these goals? Hard work, he says.”It’s no easy game,” Walsh said. “It’s no daily TV show sitting on the couch. You just have to work as hard as you can.”The Avon resident and sixth grade Vail Mountain student trains in the off season for triathlons, one of which he won last year, and skis in the winter. In the end, he said, confidence is key.”You have to be on top of the game,” he said. “You have a mental and physical challenge as well. You have to always know you can do it.”

As racers descend upon the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, several local youngsters aspire to one day race the World Cup circuit – a daunting task by some accounts.Mike Brown once competed locally before becoming a U.S. Ski Team coach and racer. The Vail resident likens the odds of competing in World Cup to playing in the National Basketball Association.”It’s such a small contingent of people if you look at all the people that are racing in the country,” he said.Both World Cup and local racing is similar, and reaching the professional level is possible by learning the sport at lower levels, much like Brown did with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, he said.”I think ultimately it starts here in the valley,” Brown said. “You have to be really competitive with everything you do in your training here. The World Cup is such a high level that in order to get there you really have to be pushing yourself on the lower level.”

Erika Ghent competes with the local ski club and wants to become the best skier at the ultimate level. The 18-year-old Edwards racer decided in recent years to scrap soccer and pursue ski racing. She took a few classes at Denver University after high school, then began focusing on racing.She raced at Winter Park this week. She hopes this race and others this year propel her onto the U.S. Ski Team and subsequently into World Cup. Several ingredients go into a World Cup racer, Ghent said.”It takes a lot of dedication and a love of what you do because you’re doing it every day,” she said. “Talent can only take you so far and passion can only take you so far, so in the end it’s how hard you work to get it.”On the slopes, she loves nothing more than going fast.”I don’t think there’s anything like the adrenaline you get going down a downhill course,” Ghent said. “I love the rush.”Ghent plans to watch the Birds of Prey races this week. She doesn’t idolize any one racer, but rather all the racers as a whole. She learns from the racers’ techniques, she said.”It’s pretty amazing and we’re pretty lucky to have the best racers in the world in our town,” she said.Emulating better racers is a key to racing, Brown said.”There might be one element they’re doing that you can add into your repertoire,” Brown said. “That’s what’s so wonderful about having World Cup in your back yard.”They can be right up against the fence watching it happen. They can say ‘Oh, that’s the move I’ve been missing.’ “

Walsh attends the races because he knows one day he’ll race on Birds of Prey. Once, he had the opportunity to see just how fast the professionals go when he took a couple runs with Daron Rahlves.Walsh liked Rahlves, but couldn’t keep up with him.”It was like running against a car – the car always wins,” he said.While Walsh went to Beaver Creek this week, Bobby Poehling raced at Keystone. Poehling decided a decade ago he wanted to race World Cup.”It was a far-fetched goal back then but now the closer I get to it, the harder I work,” he said.The 20-year-old Wisconsin native moved to Vail last season to race. For the six years before, he traveled from La Crosse, Wisc., to Vail each winter to race and attend the Vail Valley Academy.Throughout the years, he missed a lot of school.”It was hard,” he said. “You had to teach yourself most of the subjects. I think ski racers are the smartest people because they have to teach themselves the subjects.”Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or Daily, Vail Colorado CO

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