Vail’s Hunter Schleper makes U.S. Ski Team
VAIL ” Make that two Schlepers on the U.S. Ski Team.
Vail’s Hunter Schleper, 18, accepted an e-mail invitation Thursday to join the team’s developmental squad, giving the red, whlte and blue another set of siblings.
Sarah Schleper, 30, Hunter’s older sister, will be starting her 13th year on the team, dating back to 1995, including a two-year layoff from 2006-08, in Soelden, Austria, in October. And now Hunter will be joining the crew on the FIS (International Skiing Federation) and Nor-Am circuits.
“It’s cool actually that we’re both on the same team,” Hunter said. “It probably will be for only one year. I never think of it as my sister’s a god, four Olympics. I think of her as a role model and mostly a sister.”
However, Hunter thinks of Sarah, this winter will be special for the family. Sarah appeared to be regaining her form as the 2008-09 season ended after missing two years on the World Cup due to a back injury and her marriage to Federico Gaxiola de la Lama and the birth of her son, Lasse.
She capped her comeback season with FIS and Nor-Am wins in St. Anton, Austria (giant slalom) and Lake Placid, N.Y., (GS), respectively,followed by a sliver at nationals in slalom up in Alyeska, Alaska.
She hopes to cape what will likely be her final season with her fourth Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, come February, having gone to the Games in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Hunter appears to be on mend from left-knee and shoulder injuries which sidelined him for most of last season. And all of this makes Buzz Schleper one proud dad.
“We’re pretty psyched,” Buzz said. “That’s one of the main reasons Sarah wanted to continue racing, to have the opportunity to be on the team with her brother.”
The spot on the U.S. Ski Team was not a surprise to the Schlepers. Hunter received an invite last year, but declined. At the time, he was competing with Iced Out Racing. His coach, Bruce Knoepfel, had just been named Alpine Domestic Coach of the Year by the United States Skiing and Snowboarding Association (USSA), and Hunter felt comfortable where he was.
Rankings don’t lie either. If a prospective ski team member is top five in one discipline or top 10 in two in an age group designated by birth year, he or she gets the bid. Before last season, Hunter was first in GS and second in slalom.
Despite not skiing much in 2008-09, Hunter only dropped to second in GS ” he held a sizable lead there ” and fell from No. 2 to No. 8 among his 1991 competition.
In some ways, having an older sister who was on the ski team helped Hunter’s path. He started skiing when he was 2 and the family has pictures of the two going down Riva when Sarah was in her teens and Hunter in single digits.
“She would tell me to keep up and that’s what I would try to do,” Hunter said. “When I was around 14, I could keep up with her in freeskiing. I was able to hold my own.”
Nevertheless, Hunter dabbled with free-riding and got into hockey in a serious way when he was 10-14. As Pee Wee and a Bantam, Hunter wanted to be on the U.S. Hockey Team and go to the Olympics through that route.
While Buzz recalls taking Hunter from ski races to hockey and back, he encouraged his son that skiing might be more realistic.
“I’ve brought them (Sarah and Hunter) to the door. They had to walk through it,” Buzz said. “At one time, Hunter wanted to pursue hockey. His goal was to make the NHL and make an Olympic hockey team. I told him that growing up in Vail that probably wasn’t going to happen. If he was going to be on a national team, it was probably going to be skiing. But I left it up to him. If he wanted to go to college to play hockey, we’d support him.”
Skiing won out, and Hunter started to blossom with the J3 Junior Olympics in Vail in 2006.
By the 2007-08 as a J2, Hunter was tearing it up, winning the Junior Olympics super-G and GS in Aspen. He then went up to the Canadian Junior National Championships and picked up gold in the super-G, GS and the combined.
But Hunter went into last season with a left-knee injury and wasn’t quite right. Despite a GS win in Mount Orford, Quebec, on Jan. 14, Schleper shut it down nearly a week later. Hunter went under the knife for both his left knee and left shoulder (from wakeboarding).
Physical therapy begins in July for Hunter, replacing his preferred regimen for the offseason, the aforementioned wakeboarding and mountain-biking. The injuries were a setback for Hunter. The 2010 Games in Vancouver are out of the question and he’s probably a year or two away from the World Cup, and the possibility of racing on the home snow of Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek.
“Realistically, coming off an injury, we don’t know what to expect,” Buzz said. “Of course, it’s a setback not skiing for a year. But Hunter’s very determined. Once he gets into physical-strength training, the key will be to get stronger than ever.”
Hunter is planning on a return to the snow and racing in November.
With Hunter only 18, there is definitely the possibility that he could keep the Schleper family streak of Olympics going. Sochi, Russia, is in 2014.
“I just want to be the best,” Hunter said.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.