I closed out a great month of January with another World Cup score at the greatest of slalom races, Schladming, Austria. The crowd gathered was unbelievable, about 50000 in town altogether. Even coming down to the start of second run, I had to ski through a man-made Couloir and give out hi-fives to the cheering fans. So wild and so cool! I was pumped up (and if you can’t get pumped up to race Schladming, no race in the world will get you fired up) and ready to rip second run. I had a great run going and just got kicked out of the course about 10 gates away from the finish. I hung on and fought to the finish line but lost a significant amount of time as the turns are relentless on that steep of a pitch the entire way down the face of Schladming. I still grabbed some more World Cup points though with a 22nd place finish. More importantly, I earned a spot onto the 2011 US World Championship Team!
For the World Champs, only four skiers per event are selected for each country. I will be skiing the World Champs slalom in Garmisch, Germany on February 20th along with Ted Ligety, Nolan Kasper, and Will Brandenburg. I am so excited! This will be my first appearance in a Championship race of this caliber. The World Championships criteria is basically the same as it is for the Olympics, so it is really exciting for me to come back this season and qualify, after coming up just short last year for the Olympic team.
The World Champs are actually under way right now, as they begin with the speed events and Super Combineds. The series closes with the slalom so we still have a bit over a week to prepare for race day. We are racing a few Europa Cups that are in Italy this weekend and then go into a week block of training before heading over to Garmisch. After that, we have two more World Cup races, one in Bansko, Bulgaria and one in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia so after a bit of a break that I had, it will be an exciting few weeks again to close the European tour. Wish me Luck!
The last few weeks of racing have been quite the ride, at venues loaded with fans and non-stop parties from dusk till dawn and back to dusk again. Ear plugs or headphones are a necessity just to go to sleep. It’s so cool to be a part of it and on the main stage.
Wengen was the beginning of the craziness. The weather turned warm for a stint and it felt like spring time with grassy slopes outside the course boundaries. They prepared the slope well though and I came down the first run of the somewhat rugged course into 25th place. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be enough, but I held my ground and qualified for the a second run for the second time in 3 races. I was starting early in run two so I took advantage of the smooth course conditions as best I could and put down the 6th fastest run and won the bottom split. I came down and had the green light, moving into the lead by almost a full second. I thought I would move up a bit further than I did, but former World Champion Mario Matt came down and bumped be out of the leader box. I was just a little too far out time-wise on the first run. Still, it was a great 19th place result and a good confidence booster.
Next stop was Kitzbuhel. We raced a little warm up night slalom before the World Cup held just a few minutes away in Westendorf. Most of the top slalom skiers in the world showed up along with a good sized spectating crowd. It was such a fun race to go head to head with these guys in a really low pressure situation. I ended up 7th in the race so I know I’m skiing right at the top. The trick for me is to be able to relieve the pressure like that on the big stage, which I feel like I’m getting better with looking at my more recent results. It’s just something that comes with experience for me.
The World Cup at Kitzbuhel ended early for me when a gate that hit my helmet stunned me a little and sent me in the back seat over a roll and sent me out of the course. I just need to shake that one off and keep rolling.
After a day of training yesterday, we’re getting ready for the biggest stage on the tour tonight…Schladming! We had a warm up freeski on the race hill last night. People were even lining up there with cameras to get shots of the superstars like Marcel Hirscher and Ivica Kostelic (and of course me). Stadium steps are carved out along the sides from top to bottom to accommodate everyone. The Super Bowl is in Austria a week early! It’s going to be a blast!
Sorry for such a long wait between updates. It’s been a very exciting year and a lot has happened so far. To be brief, I had some great pre-season training with the US Team in Europe in October and at the November prep camp in Colorado. After my 6 point slalom race in New Zealand I was on the hunt for another one at some point this season to solidify my spot on the US Ski Team for next year.
The first races of the season were the perfect place to get it done. I ended up winning the Nor-Am slalom, beating out the near World Cup field and scoring that second 6 I was looking for right off the bat! I followed up the race with a third place the next day and another great result. I was skiing well. That series assured my place back on the US Team and brought my world rank in slalom down to 31, which will give me a great starting position in World Cups and Europa Cups this season. A great way to start off the year!
For the next two weeks of December, we flew over to Europe to jump into the World Cup and Europa Cup circuit. I got my first World Cup start of the season at Val D’Isere, France. It didn’t quite work out as I made few costly mistakes on the steep and tough course. I came down in 34th place, not qualifying for the second run after the top 30 cut. After that, we hit the Europa Cup circuit for a few slalom races. I started with bib 44 at Obereggen, Italy since basically the entire World Cup field showed up. I came down in 5th place with a good run and had a solid run in the second go-around to hold 5th place. It was a great result and gave me a nice confidence boost to let me know that I can ski amongst the best in the world.
To close out the trip, I got a World Cup GS start in Alta Badia, Italy, one of the classic GS courses on the tour. It was fun race, and I was actually doing pretty well on the ice rink of a slope that they prepared before going at the bottom of the course. At one of the mid split times, I clocked the 22nd fastest time. I have been skiing pretty well in GS this year too and this may be a sign of things to come for me in Giant Slalom as well.
I came back home for a short break during Christmas to get a little rest and some home-cooked meals. After a week we were back on a Europe-bound flight and began preparing for the next World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia. After some good training on hard snow I was ready to take on the Zagreb course where I hooked a tip to take me out of the race one year ago.
This year was different. The course was in great shape and I fought through a couple of small mistakes on the way down and skied into a solid 22nd place from bib number 33. I was a little nervous at the start of the second run, considering it was my first time qualifying into the top 30 and having an opportunity to score precious World Cup points. I felt comfortable on my skis though and was focused so I came out of the gate pumped up and confident. I put down a smooth and solid run with minimal errors. I pushed past the final gate and across the dyed finish line with my heart thumping. It felt so good to cross through the finish and into the stadium set up for the some 30,000 fans watching and cheering. The night race atmosphere only intensified the energy. I looked at the huge video screen to see that I was 1.44 seconds off the lead, but I didn’t care. I still had my hands raised and threw in a couple of fist pumps. It turns out that I did have good reason to be happy. I ended up 10th on the second run and moved up to 20th place in the race and scoring those World Cup points that I’ve had my sights on the last few years. It just felt awesome and it was nice to have that weight lifted off my shoulders. Now I have that breathing room that I can just tell myself to charge.
The next day, we hopped on a plane for a short flight from Zagreb to Zurich and drove to the next venue in Adelboden, Switzerland. The weather was warm and the softening snow made it an even tougher race on top of the rugged and steep hill. My ski ended up getting away from me on one turn and I just planted my pole right on the inside of it, causing me to miss the next gate. It was a weird mishap and one of those fluky things that just happens sometimes in ski racing. Oh well.
Now we’re resting and training for a few days before heading up to Wengen to start off the series of “glory” races, as I like to call them. Wengen, Kitzbuhel, and Schladming are the next races in the schedule and are considered some of the classics of the ski racing world. Schaldming is the super-bowl of slaloms, drawing crowds of around 50,000 crazed Austrian fans, and the race I’ve always dreamed about racing. It’s going to be a fun few weeks!
Punching into the top 30 in Zagreb was amazing. That feeling is very addicting and getting those tastes of glory only make you hungry for more. I guess that’s why I’ve been pushing myself in this sport for so long. I am skiing well right now and I’m ready to keep the momentum rolling and pile on some more points to get my world rank into the top 30 and into the big time!
I put together a little video of my New Zealand trip for the debut of my video blog. I hope to keep adding more video blog posts throughout the year as I get more proficient and when I have the time.
I got the inspiration from Jon Olsson, arguably the best free-ride skier in the world. He is currently, and successfully, going back to his roots as a ski racer on his mission to make the 2014 Swedish Olympic squad in Giant Slalom. You can find his blog here: www.jon-olsson.com. It took me a while to grasp all the details of video making and posting, and it is not quite professional grade, but here it is. Enjoy!
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