The DH Team poses with John Wayne and Adolph, our gracious host, at Adolphs Restaurant in Park City last night.
As we stand at the doorstep of another World Cup season the same hype machine is starting to unravel and the same excitement is being felt around all the snowy peaks of the country.
The Copper Mountain Speed Center has been an excellent training venue thus far. We have not been skiing full-length downhill but the minute long rolling version on firm, grippy, Colorado snow is a nice warm up. We have had the hill pretty exclusively up to this point. The “new” World Cup speed team has been getting first dibs on training times and locations. The team this year consists of rookies and vets and a few in between, a small, elite group who are hoping to outrun our setbacks from last season.
Steven Nyman, three times on the World Cup podium, known for his DH win in Val Gardena in 2006 but respected because of his two podiums at home on the Birds of Prey. Returning from a torn achilles last season, he is strong, ready, and as fit as you will ever find a downhiller. He uses his unorthodox style to create speed where many other racers are just cruising.
Andrew Weibrecht, the Olympic bronze medalist in the Super G and all around hard charging skier. Sometimes I will sit on the side of the course and watch, just laughing as he pulls off angles that seem obscene and terrifying to the normal skier. He holds high standards for himself and I expect him to live up to them this season.
Erik Fischer is known as ski racings “strongest man.” He was in medal contention when he crashed near the bottom of the Kvitfjel downhill course last season. His knee ligaments tore but it only fueled his passion to ski faster. We may not see him until part way through the season but he has switched equipment and he is on a mission to prove that he can be one of the best.
Travis Ganong, a product of Squaw Valley, finished last season ranked among the top 30 in the world in downhill. He will benefit from good starting positions something he has rarely had in his young career. In his third World Cup season he should start aiming to get on the steps.
The young guns Ryan Siegle and Tommy Biesemeyer are also training with us during this block. They are both fast skiers and constant hard battling competitors. It is racers like them that make the rest of the group stronger. They will be starting the early World Cups and making their own campaign to become full time racers on the White Circus.
Bode Miller is an anomaly and at this point we are not sure when we will see him back. He has been unarguably the best American downhiller since 2006 and I think that if his knee cooperates he can be a viable contender as the first American to win the overall downhill title, whether that will be this season or next remains to be seen.
And then there is me. I am not going to write a critique of my own skiing but I am feeling strong and healthy and confident in my equipment. I was standing at the bottom of the Copper Speed Center a few nights ago and watching the snow cats push the man-made snow piles around on the hill. I was thinking about the season when I was one of the guys driving the snow cat, instead of being the one who can simply enjoy the smooth hard runs that are so long in preparing. Each of my 13 years as being a part of this team has been memorable and special in its own right. Even the years when I was not able to ski taught me important lessons. I have been living the dream but it is has hardly been an even, steady path. I am at a place now where I can look at the sport as one who has truly experienced it, and that is a pretty special feeling. I have learned that despite the changes in equipment we are still strapping planks on our feet and hauling ass down a mountain. It is some of the most fun you could ever have and though it is our job we should never take ourselves too seriously.
I have grown to loathe physical therapy, the injuries have been memorable but the months of building your body back to strength is what really tests the soul. I have cashed six figure paychecks but I am now an unfunded athlete. The funny part is that it does not change the amount of fun that I have when I am charging down a mountain. Whether on top of the pedestal in our sport, or looking up from the bottom rung of the ladder, each position can be changed in one run. I have gone from thinking that skiing was life to knowing that it is a big part of a happy life.
I am thinking it will be a great season. Whether or not Lindsay races with the boys, or Bill Marolt gets another raise, there will still be racers out there scaring themselves and achieving goals. There will be crashes, bad weather and bad luck but through it all there will be big smiles.
Before the season begins in two weeks I want to thank the sponsors who have stood behind me. POC and Atomic, Leki, and the numerous friends and fans who continue to help me to pay off my expenses for the upcoming season, you know who you are and I am forever grateful.
Here is to another season filled with snow but not on Saturdays because that is Downhill race day. On Downhill race day people want to watch the best in world go at it on the biggest venues. Beautiful skiing, big rivalries, huge crowds, tension in the air, and big smiles; I can’t wait.