Vail’s Ghent clan shares a passion for ski racing |

Vail’s Ghent clan shares a passion for ski racing

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily
From left, Erika, Abby, Karen, Brad and Christa Ghent skiing Vail Mountain, circa 1996.
Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2015 magazine. Vail/Beaver Creek is hosting the Alpine World Ski Championships Feb. 2-15.

VAIL — One of Abby Ghent’s earliest memories is accompanying her father down a steep slope off of Vail’s Chair 2. From the top of the run, she watched her father ski to the bottom and look up at her expectantly.

She was terrified. Now, the 22-year-old spends her life charging down steep slopes as fast as humanly possible.

It’s in her blood.

Her parents, Karen and Brad Ghent, were both ski racers and met while Karen was racing and Brad was coaching the U.S. Ski Team. Growing up in Incline Village, Nevada, Karen began skiing at a young age, and after moving up the ranks in junior competition, she moved to Vail at age 17 to join Ski Club Vail. Brad grew up in Fort Collins and, an avid skier himself, joined the team at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

At CU, he was coached by Bill Marolt, who would go on to become chief executive at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and offer Brad a coaching job. Brad and Karen were often in the same places training and eventually got to know one another.

‘Skiing before they could walk’

“Karen and I met in 1980. I was the junior team coach for a few years and had little or nothing to do with the team she was on. I was her coach for one year. It was one of those nice, long-growth relationships, maybe more of a fairy tale for me than for her,” Brad said, laughing.

A tech specialist, Karen landed a handful of top 15 World Cup results before retiring in 1985. She and Brad didn’t begin dating until then, when she went on to attend CU Boulder while Brad continued to travel the world coaching the U.S. Team’s Europa Cup squad. A couple of years passed and Brad moved back to Fort Collins to work in the family business at Dollar car rentals and Karen transferred to Colorado State University. They married and, as luck would have it, a Dollar location opened at the brand new Eagle County Airport, and the Ghents, with young daughters Erika and Christa, moved their family to Vail, where Abby was born and where an entire new chapter of the family’s ski racing legacy began.

“I always imagined having a family. I didn’t ever imagine I would be a ski coach, certainly not at this level,” said Karen, who shortly after moving to Vail with her family began coaching at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and moved up the ranks over the years to become alpine program director. “When we moved up to the mountains, it was a natural progression to fall back into it.”

It was also natural, of course, for the three Ghent children to become skiers.

“They all started in the backpack when we were allowed to do that … skiing before they could walk,” Karen said. “I can’t say we ever had a conversation where we said, ‘We want these kids to be ski racers.’ But it was such a part of our lives, important to Brad and me in that it’s something we love so much and made us who we were. I put the kids in Ski Club. It kept them busy and healthy … and they got good at it.”


Brad says small, sweet bribes played a significant role in steering his girls into their dedication to skiing.

“We always took a packet of M&Ms with us,” Brad recalled. “It’s not possible to eat M&Ms while skiing, but you can eat them while riding the chairlift. We got a lot more runs out of them that way.”

Erika, now 26, was a proficient all-around racer, landing a top-10 result on the Nor-Am circuit in every discipline — downhill, super-G, super-combined, giant slalom and slalom. She earned a full-ride scholarship to ski for CU, where she focused on GS and slalom and became a five-time All-American. She moved back to Vail after graduating and now coaches Ski Club Vail’s U14 group. As her mother says, “The kids love her. She is a beautiful visual for them and she understands what it takes. She’s a natural teacher.”

The next Ghent to fit into the “fiercely strong-willed” category was Christa, 24, and according to her mother, she was born “with the most natural talent” for racing. A two-time national junior champion, Christa’s young race career was plagued by injury. She endured four blown knees and nine surgeries. By college, she had to stop racing.

“I learned a lot about myself when I had to walk away from the sport,” she said. “It was heartbreaking. To this day, I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. But through all the ups and downs, the amount of support and love (from) my family is why I can still say that I love the sport with all my heart.”

Having graduated from CU last year, she lives and works in Boulder and has re-focused her competitive fire onto professional cycling.

Family support

The youngest of the bunch, Abby, is the only Ghent daughter to land a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. Her career highlights so far include several national junior race wins, a couple of national championship podiums and a number of Nor-Am podiums, including three victories. In spite of a tibial-plateau fracture this spring, Abby is qualified for a World Cup super-G spot this season, and her ultimate goal is to compete at the 2015 World Championships on her home mountain.

“That would be so cool,” Abby said, adding that her family often travels all over the world to cheer for her.

“They’re so familiar with the mental side of it — ski racing is 80 percent mental. I can go talk to them about anything I’m doing and my mom will know exactly what I’m feeling. At the Ski Team, we have sport psychs, nutritionists … all of that. But knowing I can talk to my family about it is such a relief,” Abby said. “Erika and Christa were both my role models. When it comes to skiing, Erika has such a good head on her shoulders and has the best advice. Christa is able to give me advice on injury stuff. My dad is the coach of the family. He’s always coaching and analyzing.”

Ski racing has brought every member of the Ghent family a work ethic, drive and competitive spirit that benefits them in every aspect of their lives. And quite a bit more.

“For the family, it’s provided a means and a source for being outdoors and enjoying it as much as we do,” Brad said. “For me in particular, skiing and ski racing has brought me everything — from my job to the place I live to the wife that I have to the children we have raised.”

What’s it like when all the Ghents get together to ski? Every one of them describes it as “so much fun.” It’s also fast. More like a family-sized blur.

“When we got out there and skied together when the kids were little, that was competitive enough. You should see it now. For me, it’s become terrifying. It forces me to go way faster than I’m comfortable skiing. Even in cruddy snow, it’s like, holy cow! They all go so fast and are so well-balanced,” Brad said. “Abby still always says, ‘Did you bring the M&Ms?’”

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