Skis on the mountain, eyes on the cup
KEYSTONE – These clouds had plenty of silver in them.Monday, when the U.S. women’s ski team took to Keystone’s Starfire on North Peak under an overcast sky, there were plenty of smiles to go around.More than a week after the opening World Cup race in Solden, Austria was canceled, the team was making the most of an extra week until the return to competition in a post-Olympic year.”I only skied four days (in our summer) camp and then crashed (on Oct. 17), so I took a week off before Solden,” said Lindsey Kildow, who finished fifth overall in the World Cup standings last year. “It was nice to have that race canceled because I hadn’t trained a lot (in October) and that’s usually a hard race anyway, so it worked out pretty well.”Kildow is still recovering from a bruised fibula, but felt good in Monday’s slalom training for Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland.”I’m taking it easy because I don’t want to aggravate it for the season – I want to go in healthy,” Kildow said. “But I’m skiing really well and I’m excited.”Some of Kildow’s teammates who were a bit disappointed by the Solden cancellation realized a quicker return to the U.S. wasn’t that bad after all.
“I was super bummed because it was going to be my first World Cup (race),” said Caitlin Ciccone. “But we have this hill here, and there is nothing (to train on) in Europe. I wasn’t expecting this. We were going to do a slalom camp (in Europe), but we’re doing it here instead. It’s sweet.”While most of the women’s team arrived on Sunday, a large chunk of the men’s team was on the hill for the first time Monday, getting in several freeskiing runs. U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt feels both teams are well-positioned going into the Levi slaloms (the men will be racing Sunday).”We’ve had really good preparation, good camps, good weather and we are feeling good about where we are right now,” Hunt said.Claiming the cupVail’s Kildow returns as the top American finisher from last year’s World Cup, with a second-place finish in downhill, third in combined and fourth in super-G.”I think I’m skiing better than I was last year,” Kildow said. “Downhill and super-G are going really well, and slalom is actually coming along. I’m improving slowly, but surely in giant slalom, so hopefully I’ll stay strong in the overall this year.”
After a fall in the Torino Olympics that took her out of medal contention, Kildow got back into her routine of training for all four disciplines. “It’s hard, especially in the summer, to delegate your time wisely,” Kildow said. “A lot of times I’ll do speed in the morning, and then slalom or giant slalom in the afternoon. Once you get in season, you kind of just train whatever you are doing that weekend – you don’t have time to do much else.”Kildow also found time this summer to play tennis with her boyfriend and brush up on her German.”I’ve been studying German for a while,” Kildow said. “I started to do German interviews last year. I really liked being able to converse with people. I don’t like being the one who can’t speak the language. I’m trying to blend in with the skiing community.”With the departure of Kristina Koznick, who now resides in the Vail Valley, and injuries to Vail’s Sarah Schleper and Steamboat’s Caroline Lalive, the team will look to Kildow, Julia Mancuso, Resi Stiegler and Kirsten Clark, as well as a crop of younger skiers moving up.”We’ve got a strong, deep team,” Hunt said.Vail’s Julia Littman, who had hip surgery last spring, is on Hunt’s radar for a breakout season.
“She’s coming along and doing a good job,” Hunt said. “She’s starting to emerge on the speed side.”Schleper continues to recover from a lingering back injury, and Hunt said he looks forward to her return.”When she’s ready to come back, we’re ready to have her start training,” he said.No Olympics, no problemTaking the place of last year’s February Olympic break will be the 2007 World Championships in Are, Sweden. Most U.S. skiers feel a bit relieved to go into a non-Olympic World Cup season.”It’s a big weight taken off our shoulders because the U.S. focuses so much on the Olympics and not the World Cup or World Championships as much,” Kildow said. “But we are refocusing for the next Olympics. We are kind of a looking back to see what went wrong, then pushing ahead.”
When Kildow kicks off what she hopes can be a title season Saturday, her teammate Sterling Grant looks to get her feet wet.”It will be my first race in the World Cup, so I hope to do my best,” Grant said. “I’d like to continue on the World cup this year and the next few years.”Stiegler, who is already in Europe, will be the other U.S. skier, racing with Grant and Kildow in Finland.Following Saturday’s race, the women will be back at Keystone for training before a large crew heads to Aspen for the Winternational, Nov. 24-26.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado