Young guns: Up-and-comers look to make their mark on U.S. ski racing
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2015 magazine. The Alpine World Ski Championships come to Vail and Beaver Creek Feb. 2-15.
VAIL — Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller have become household names in recent years, along with other successful members that include Ted Ligety and Marco Sullivan. And while the success of the U.S. team’s veterans has put ski racing in the mainstream consciousness, they’re also approaching the twilight years of their careers.
With such a storied squad of veterans at the helm, and the recent success of 19-year-old phenom Mikaela Shiffrin, ski fans and U.S. Ski Team coaches may well be asking, “Who else is next?” Thing is, there are a number of young guns waiting in the wings to put their stamp on the sport, and you might be surprised to find that some of them are not that far away from doing so.
CARRYING THE TORCH
At the Birds of Prey World Cup at Beaver Creek in December, downhill skier Travis Ganong, 26, was a mere two-tenths of a second behind a podium finish. He finished in front of some of the sport’s biggest names and most seasoned veterans, and he says he has his eye on a World Championship medal.
“I feel like I’m at a point I can fight for the podium,” Ganong said. “A medal isn’t out of the question at all. I want to be competitive and give it my all. Ski racing is a really finicky sport, and there are hundredths of seconds that separate first to fourth to fifth, so I just hope to ski well on that day.”
Ganong had a breakthrough season in 2013-14, getting a fifth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics in downhill and netting his first World Cup podium (third place at Kvitfjell, Norway). In December of this season, he scored his first World Cup win, in the downhill at Santa Caterina, Italy. The success was a payoff for years of hard work, he said — and a reassurance that he was on the right track.
“Everyone wants to make it to the World Cup, but to have success on the World Cup is another thing,” said Ganong, who added that it took a few years for him to dial in his World Cup skiing. “It was a big relief to step on that podium, and it solidified in my head that I belong here and that I can compete for the podium any weekend.”
He said he hopes that eyes will soon be on him to be the next great American downhiller.
“I really want to be that next person to be dominant on the World Cup. I cherish that pressure that’s put on me to be the next one to carry the torch,” he said. “Especially with the legacy in downhilling — Daron Rahlves and Bode have been the ones at the forefront for a while, and people like Marco have been winning for a long time. Hopefully now I can build on that success and continue the legacy of great American downhillers.”
Also on the men’s side, keep an eye out for Jared Goldberg. Goldberg, 23, has been hailed by coaches as the next four-event skier. He made his Olympic debut last year in Sochi and raced in many of last year’s World Cups for the first time. He’s still looking for success on the World Cup circuit, but he says he’s just improving with experience. While you’ll see him in giant slalom, super-G and combined events, his real love is in downhill racing.
“Downhill is what keeps me going in the sport. It’s one of those events that doesn’t feel like a job. It’s fun, trying to go fast, hitting jumps,” he said, adding that he hopes this season will show what he is capable of. “I know I deserve to be on the team and that I can really do something there,” he said.
On the women’s side, a number of Colorado skiers hope to climb the ranks.
Anna Marno, 22, of Steamboat Springs, is returning from a knee injury last year. The super-G specialist raced in her first World Cup last season and hopes to secure a permanent spot on the circuit this season. “I’m excited to be back and healthy and have a whole ski season ahead of me,” she said. Paula Moltzan, 20, hails from Minnesota but trained with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail before being invited to join the U.S. Ski Team. She’s taking some notes from a very good role model — Mikaela Shiffrin.
“I’m working with Mikaela now, and it’s so incredible because I get to watch and be part of such an amazing team,” she said. “I’m learning so much. It’s definitely easier to watch someone do something and then do it yourself.” The youngster has plenty of time to climb the ranks, but she has high expectations, hoping to start at the top half of the list in World Cup races this season. For now, she’s enjoying the rookie experience.
“It’s cool to be the rookie, but it’s intimidating because everybody else has so much experience. You just have to take it one step at a time and enjoy the ride,” she said.
She hopes to be chasing Shiffrin in a few years but says she doesn’t feel pressured to be the next great ski racing athlete.
“They did what they did, but I want to come in and do what I’m going to do. I don’t want to follow in anybody’s footsteps. I want to follow my own path and not held up to everyone else’s standards. I want to make my own standards,” she said.
Don’t forget Vail native Abby Ghent and Aspen’s Katie Ryan, both newer additions to the B Team. Ghent is excited to see the World Championships in her hometown, and Ryan, recovering from an injury last year, says she’s looking forward to maturing as a skier on the team.
“I see myself as still being very young in the scheme of things, but then again, these top level girls are getting older and some will be leaving the team in the next five years,” Ryan said. “I’m looking forward to being more a leader on the team in the coming years. On the European Cup, I took the mom role, so now on the national team, it’s nice to be a rookie again.”