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Vail skier back on U.S. squad

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
Published: AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle
AP | AP

VAIL, Colorado ” After a two-year break, Sarah Schleper is back on the U.S. Ski Team and is bringing quite a bit with her.

She has tons of experience, a great attitude and a family of her own. Schleper, who sat out the 2006-07 season with an injured knee, took this past year off to become a mother. On Jan. 30, Schleper gave birth to her son, Lasse Gaxiola. Less than four months later, the former Ski Club Vail athlete was back on the snow and ready to return to World Cup competition.

“I’m getting really excited,” Schleper said recently before heading out to Mammoth, Calif., to join the U.S. team at a camp. “I’m excited for Lasse to meet everyone.”

With Schleper’s return to the team, the women get a three-time Olympian who has been on the World Cup tour for more than a decade.

“It’s good to have Sarah back on the hill,” said U.S. Ski Team alpine director Jesse Hunt. “She brings a lot of experience. It’s good to have a veteran on the team who knows what it takes ” that’s one of those key things.”

Schleper had previously been on the A team, although, because she was out of competition for two years, she did not fit the criteria for the A team, so the ski team gave her a discretionary bid for the B team.

“We have objective and subjective criteria,” Hunt said. “She fit into the subjective category.”

Aside from freeskiing this winter before giving birth, Schleper hasn’t skied competitively since a race in Kvitfjell, Norway, in March 2006.

“I’ve been thinking about where I expect to be,” said Schleper, who skis mostly technical events. “I don’t expect to be winning my first race. It’ll be a gradual thing. That’s the whole plan. As long as I’m back in shape by the 2010 season and back on top. I’m not going to get down on myself if I’m not right where I left off.”

Physically, Schleper said she feels great.

“Last year I got sponsored by Skiers Edge (a skiing-simulation machine), and I have been doing that,” she said. “I feel it’s really great training to get your fitness back and use ski muscles without skiing.”

After giving birth, Schleper started training with Steve Greve in Eagle.

“I’ve worked with him my whole career, and I’ve had my best years with him,” she said. “Right now I’m strictly focused on getting my fitness back. I’m running, biking and hiking. As we get closer, I’ll be working for power and quickness.”

During her rehab two seasons ago, Schleper spent time in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

“I met a guy, the cousin of my best friend, and we fell in love,” Schleper said of her husband, Federico Gaxiola, who works in real estate in Cabo San Lucas.

Schleper, Gaxiola and their son live in Cabo, but all three will be living on the road this upcoming season.

“The thing I’m struggling most with (in her return to the team) is the financial aspect,” Schleper said. “My husband is quitting his job to watch Lasse. We figured this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

While Hunt said that as an athlete on the U.S. team, Schleper will have all her training and travel expenses paid for, Schleper lost some of her sponsors.

“Rossignol ended their contract with me, so for this year, they’ll just supply me with equipment,” said Schleper, who is still looking for a headgear sponsor.

Still, Schleper feels like having her family with her will be an advantage.

“My husband has been looking for ideas to keep me in the right mindset and keep me fast,” she said. “He doesn’t know that much about ski racing, which is fun for me. I get to show him my background.”

Along with her physical training, Schleper has done some mental preparation for her return to the snow.

“I’ve been watching a lot of World Cup winning runs,” said Schleper, who has 35 career top-10 World Cup finishes. “The technique hasn’t changed that much.

“The girls I was equal with or beating are now winning, so I feel like I should be there.”

Later this summer, Schleper will head out to Mount Hood, Ore., with her younger brother, Hunter, to instruct at Erich Sailer’s camp and get some skiing in, too. Hunter was given a bid to the U.S. Men’s Development team but will remain with his team ” Iced Out Racing ” next season.

Schleper, who turns 30 this winter, said she hopes to ski until at least then 2010 Games, hopefully alongside her brother, and then she’ll reassess her career. For now though, mom needs to get ready for this season.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 970-748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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