Vail’s Sarah Schleper roars into St. Moritz for her seventh world championships
February 2, 2017
VAIL — World class athletes do all sorts of interesting things before they compete. Mikaela Shiffrin sometimes lies down on the snow and takes a nap.
Sarah Schleper roars in the start gate. She sounds like a warrior careening into battle, and she is.
Schleper is on her way to Switzerland to compete in the 2017 Alpine World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, her seventh to go with her four Olympics.
As she rushed around Wednesday to get ready, their house looked like it was hit by Tropical Storm Serita, Sarah in Spanish. It all fits because she married to Mexico City native Federico Gaxiola in 2007, so her entire name is Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola. She has dual citizenship and has competed for Mexico's ski team since coming out of retirement in 2014.
Calm follows storms, and by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday the house was back in order and Sarah was relaxing, as much as a mother of two children can.
Life is for learning
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Her luggage is stuffed with skis and tools. She'll be tuning her own skis this trip. It's something new to learn. Her dad, Buzz Schleper, did it when she was a kid, and she learned the skill from him. Because she grew up taking naps under the tuning tables in Buzz's Boots & Boards in Vail Village, she had lots of practice. A U.S. Ski Team technician did it during her storied career with the Americans.
Then there's this aerospace engineer who loves to tinker and is always coming up with new gadgets for her to try. Her good-natured response is always, "Sure, I'll try that!" The boot straps and ski clips he invented make boots flex and skis behave in a way better understood by ski racers.
"He likes me because I'm willing to try anything," she said. "We're testing all kinds of things. The longer I stay in the sport the more I learn."
Schleper has 12 World Championship starts and eight Olympic starts to her credit. St. Moritz is the first in which she'll compete in all five alpine events. After a career as a slalom and giant slalom specialist, she has come to love the downhill's raw speed.
She competed in this season's Lake Louise downhill, calling it "a good confidence builder." There's something about slicing through the air at speeds that defy all sense of self-preservation, she says.
"The downhill fans have sparked a new love for it. It's been fun," she said.
She passed the speed gene along to her 9-year old son, who skis and drives race cars at speeds only his mother could love. He isn't sure he wants to be an alpine racer. Maybe ski cross, he says.
"We like to go fast," Sarah said grinning.
World Cup, world class
Schleper competed on the World Cup circuit for the U.S. from 1995 to 2011. She competed in four Winter Olympics: 1998 in Nagano, Japan; 2002 in Salt Lake City; 2006 in Torino, Italy; and 2010 in Vancouver. She was the top U.S. women's slalom skier at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. She earned four World Cup podiums, including a victory at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2005.
After a long and successful racing career with the U.S. Ski Team, her naturalized citizenship status with Mexico cleared the way for her to compete with the Mexican National Ski Federation.
"A big part of our community is from Mexico and many of the visitors to the Vail Valley are from Mexico," she said. "It seems like a natural fit."
Ski racers get good at working their way through a crowd. Schleper stops and smiles, hugging dozens of people. Everyone from Mexico stops her for a photo. She's so happy to oblige that you tend to forget she's making her way to the start house to compete in an international ski race.
Her favorite part of all this might be helping develop young racers for the Mexican ski team, coaching them through Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
"I super love it!" she said.
She came out of retirement in 2014 to hit the World Cup circuit, and compete in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in her hometown. She was injured for the 1999s in Vail, and was a child in 1989.
Hardest Working Mom on Snow
By 2008, she and Gaxiola were the proud parents of their son, Lasse. That made her the hardest working mom on snow. All that led to what is arguably one of the most tender moments in World Cup history.
Schleper had announced her retirement shortly before competing in what she thought would be her final World Cup slalom, on Dec. 29, 2011, in Lienz, Austria. The International Skiing Federation has a tradition that a skier in her retirement race can wear anything she wants.
Schleper was resplendent in a light blue helmet festooned with flowers over a thin brown summer dress, bare-armed and bare-legged.
She roared and charged out of the start gate. She stopped halfway down the course to take her son from her husband and finished the rest of the course with the boy in her arms. The crowd went wild.
She says she, Federico and their children are "living happily every after."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.