Ligety’s Legacy: Five-time Birds of Prey champion honored at World Cup event with a section of the course
American is honored before the start of Saturday’s downhill at Beaver Creek
From his first World Cup podium at Beaver Creek in 2006 through his world championship gold in 2015 at the same venue, his skis have always come and gone across the snow like lightning — Ligety-split.
And now Ted Ligety’s persona will remain on the vaunted Birds of Prey course permanently. The multiple Olympic and world champion Alpine skier was recognized before Saturday’s downhill competition with the unveiling of “Ligety’s Legacy,” getting his name on a part of the course to honor the man who was victorious five times at Beaver Creek.
Ligety is second all-time behind Hermann Maier on the all-time Birds of Prey wins list. His likeness is now etched into the course alongside fellow American legends Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller, a worthy reward for the newly retired former Olympic and world champion.
“That’s a true honor to be commemorated on the slope,” Ligety said before Saturday’s event, which included speeches from former coaches and teammates. “It’s been a hill that’s created so many amazing memories for me and given me so much success. So, that’s a true honor for sure.”
“There is a special connection between the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and the Xfinity Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, and Ted’s hard-earned achievement as the winningest American ski racer ever on the legendary course is a feat to be celebrated,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation, which is the local organizing committee for the World Cup races. “For years, having Ted win or podium on our final Sunday competition was a perfect culmination of the exciting World Cup weekend. It has been an honor to watch Ted fiercely compete each year at Beaver Creek, and we wish Ted the very best as he moves on from ski racing and into his next adventure.”
Known as Mr. GS, the technical skier’s love for the Beaver Creek hill is more tied to the giant slalom, the discipline where all five of his Birds of Prey victories came. The super-G course has a special place in his heart, too, however. Ligety likes how it forces skiers to demonstrate a wide range of skills and tactics.
“It’s tricky. There’s a lot of little pieces of terrain where you have to take a lot of risk to keep your speed up, but also, if you make a mistake in one of those places, your race is pretty much done,” he said. “It’s really unique in the sense that it really melds the technical aspect of super-G but also has some gliding pieces, has some jumps, and it has everything you’d really wish for on a super-G track.”
Having retired at the end of last season, Ligety has been in Beaver Creek this week to do some analyst work for NBC. It’s hard to say if being in the booth is more nerve-wracking than the Olympic starting gate according to Ligety, but the energy and excitement, if nothing else, help him feel connected to the sport.
“It is an adjustment,” he said, explaining how the novelty of the job drives much of the enjoyment. “It’s actually fun, I think, because I’m new to it right now. I still get a little bit of those pre-race jitters. Just like feeling some of that race energy and being a part of it is fun. So, who knows if that will wear off as I do it a little bit more,” he said.
“I’m definitely learning a lot and learning on the fly for sure.”
Looking toward the future
The new vantage point has given the longtime staple to the American lineup a positive perspective as he analyzes the state of his former team. He believes the young crop of racers coming up has a unique opportunity.
“The U.S. ski team is definitely in a little bit different spot,” he said noting his own retirement along with others. “On that tech side, it’s a lot of young guys you know, so that can be a cool, fun environment to push each other,” he said, echoing the sentiment of River Radamus from earlier in the week regarding the culture of positive competition and camaraderie within the men’s team.
“You know, there’s not a lot of World Cup experience in the tech side anymore for anybody to be able to feed off of, but at the same time, a little bit of naivety and just firing up and just pushing each other can be a good thing as well.”
So far, he sees evidence of the bright future of American skiing. “River stepping up that first race was really cool to see,” he said before talking about how the long-term progress is still a process requiring patience.
It’s a process he has now stepped away from, devoting time once spent doing squats and cleans to being with family and working on his business, Shred, which makes eyewear and protective wear for skiers and snowboarders.
“I’ve been spending a lot more time on my business,” he said. “It’s been fun to dive more deeply into that on a regular basis and help grow that business.”
His commentary work with NBC, which he anticipates continuing through the Beijing Winter Olympics, and work he does with his sponsors and partners, keep him connected to the sport. The occasional mountain bike ride does, too, albeit minus the Garmin.
“It always was for fun. But, to just kind of do all these activities that I love doing more for fun and without having to have a super regimented workout plan is nice,” he said about the notable absence of target heart rate zones and fancy GPS monitors. “So it’s definitely been vastly different than it was. But it’s been a nice change. Honestly, it’s been nice to go into the gym every day for four-plus hours a day. That’s been a joy.”
All of his endeavors still have him running a pretty busy schedule, which includes some travel. Still, his daily routine is much different than it had been for the better part of the previous two decades.
“My life was very similar month to month for 17 years straight,” he said. “It’s nice being able to spend more time at home. Being away from home for a week is nice, but being away from home for six weeks to six months is not that nice. So it’s nice spending more time at home with the family. That life has been really enjoyable. As of right now, I don’t miss those aspects of what I was doing before.”
While Ligety may not miss certain parts of his ski career, American fans surely miss him ripping around gates, flashing down the hill. At least now they’ll be able to savor the memories — the legacy — each time they see the map and ski the mountain.