Vonn’s victory lap runs through Vail
VAIL – After all the training, the expectations, the prognostications and the questions about her shin – not to mention a historic, emotional Olympic gold medal win – doesn’t Lindsey Vonn deserve a powder day?
She got one Thursday, her first day of free-skiing in at least a decade.
“This the first time I’ve ever had on non-racing ski boots – in my life,” Vonn said after skiing a foot or so of powder of Vail Mountain. “So I was pretty psyched about that. They’re like slippers.”
She and six young Ski and Snowboard Club Vail skiers hit Chairs 10 and 14 and skied down Riva Ridge. Vonn really couldn’t remember the last time she took an afternoon to ski powder – it was probably when she was about the age of the 9- and 10-year-olds she was skiing with, she said.
Vonn is back in Vail after a winter in which she established herself as the most dominant American female ski racer in history. At the Vancouver games in February, she became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic downhill, and also took home a bronze in the super-G. She won the World Cup overall for the third straight year, and her 33rd World Cup win earlier this year made her the winningest American ski racer ever.
Now that she’s reached the pinnacle of her sport, the 25-year-old is enjoying a bit of down time – even amid a daily whirlwind of appearances, interviews and autographs. The crew from Warren Miller filmed her powder day Thursday, and a couple of interviewers were waiting for her after she was done.
Vonn is used to being regarded as a rock star in Europe, but now she’s getting recognized on the streets of New York and Denver. She has appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” the “Today” show and “Ellen,” and she presented the soccer ball at the opening of the Red Bull Arena soccer stadium in New Jersey. Most exciting for her, she’ll appear in the season finale of “Law and Order” – a show she’s “freakishly obsessed” with – as an office assistant named Alicia, who, according to NBC, “will provide a clue in a case involving a terrorist.”
Despite all of her newfound celebrity, she’s still down-to-earth and unpretentious, true to her Minnesota roots. And, clearly, working with kids is a passion that might even measure up to her passion for skiing.
In Vail, where she trained as a girl and burgeoned as a ski racer, she’s regarded as a hometown hero, especially after she signed a big sponsorship deal with Vail Resorts last year. Some 3,000 people turned out Wednesday at a homecoming celebration for her at the Arrabelle at Vail Square, who was mobbed by autograph seekers.
“It was pretty chaotic actually, trying to sign everyone’s posters and hats and everything,” Vonn said. “We actually had security and we were trying to get everything signed, but people were getting crushed and we had to cancel halfway though.”
Vonn was 12 when her family moved here from Minnesota so she could train. They hopped between condos from year to year, mostly in the Red Sandstone area of Vail, and they also lived in a townhome in Avon. Her favorite restaurant was the old Kaltenberg Castle, a German restaurant in the now-demolished gondola building in Lionshead. As part of Vonn’s deal with Vail Resorts, she now lives in the Arrabelle at Vail Square, an ultra-luxe condo and hotel complex that sits at the site of the old gondola building.
“It’s definitely a lot different than the townhouse in Avon,” Vonn said. “Lionshead has just had a complete makeover, and it’s a perfect location. It couldn’t be any more convenient for me so I’m really happy to be in the Arrabelle. I think it looks amazing – definitely not the way it used to when I lived here.”
And the Starbucks on the ground floor is a plus, she said.
Leading up to the Olympics, Vonn dominated the speed events in the World Cup, winning five of six downhills and four of seven super-Gs. At Whistler, she was a favorite in three races: the downhill, the super-G and the combined.
There was some talk in the media about Vonn winning five gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics, but she says she never expected herself to do that.
Shortly before the races were to begin, Vonn disclosed that she was suffering from a painful shin injury that she’s sustained during practice in Europe. Media attention speculating about her status was intense, but she simply sequestered herself in Whistler and didn’t expose herself to media at all. Instead, she baked banana bread.
“I think I made at least seven loafs,” she said. “I think that helped a lot, to stay in my own little world, my own little bubble, and not get caught up in what everyone was saying. There were definitely some things I could have gotten caught up in. I think that definitely helped to keep things more normal. But it was still pretty tough.”
Skiing through pain, she ended up with a gold and a bronze in the downhill and super-G, respectively, and did not finish in the other three races.
“My goal was always to try to get one medal of any color, because I’d never won an Olympic medal before, and I definitely exceeded my expectations, and especially considering my injury and just the pressure that I was under. I am really, really happy with the Games. Completely satisfied. It could have gone better, yeah, but considering everything, I’m extremely happy.”
The gold medal remains in one of her husband’s socks, never far from her. Except when she’s skiing – it’s a little too heavy for that.
Winning an Olympic gold medal has not quite sunk in yet, she said. Vonn, known for her intense work ethic, says her accomplishments of this year will not lower her drive as she moves forward with her career. She says there’s a lot more to do.
“There are a lot of people that have had more success than I’ve had,” she said, but then corrected herself. “Maybe not a lot, but there are a few.”
She cited the technical events – slalom and giant slalom, her weakest – as areas where she can improve. She’ll visit the Red Bull training facility in Austria this summer, where trainers devise masochistic regimens for her.
The 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are on the horizon, and she says she expects to be more at ease there now that’s she’s won medals.
“I hope that maybe I won’t crash as much in Sochi, but even if I just come away with the same thing I came away with in Vancouver, I’ll be happy,” she said.
Vonn will be in and out of Vail this summer as she travels to appearances and takes a much-needed vacation. Her body is healing after shin, knee and pinky-finger injuries this year.
You can expect to see her riding her bike up Vail Pass this summer, she said, and she’ll resume on-snow training in the fall at Golden Peak in Vail, where last year Vail Resorts built her a slalom course.
But her husband and coach, Thomas Vonn, says he’s trying to prevent Lindsey from even thinking about next year right now. He sees this as a time when she needs to recharge her batteries and refresh her mind. Perhaps not the easiest thing for a woman who lives and breathes ski racing.
“She’s been pretty good about it,” Vonn said. “We’ve had so many other kinds of events going on, it’s been easy for her to focus on what we’re doing. But when we’re on car rides or on the plane, she’ll start talking to me about something about this equipment or these boots and I’m like, ‘Stop, don’t even go there.'”
Her husband squelched any speculation that she might enter the World Pond Skimming Championship later this month at Golden Peak.
“That’s where I come in and nix it,” Thomas Vonn said.
Lindsey took a month off from skiing to allow her injuries to heal. The notorious shin was feeling a lot better during her powder runs Thursday.
“Definitely in these cushy boots,” she said.
She has some friends coming into town this weekend, and they’re going to sample Vail’s Blue Sky Basin. It’ll be Vonn’s first time skiing there.
“I’ll let you know how it is,” she said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or email@example.com.