U.S. Ski Team member Wiley Maple returns to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

U.S. Ski Team member Wiley Maple returns to Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jordan Curet The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Not long ago, Wiley Maple was a pint-sized, ski-boot clad youngster roaming the halls at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Tuesday, inside that very same clubhouse, one surrounded by the mountains where his promising ski racing career took shape, Maple experienced a role reversal. The newly-minted U.S. Ski Team member addressed a group of about 30 wide-eyed 9- to 12-year-olds participating in AVSC’s Christmas Speed Camp.

“It’s a pretty crazy flip,” the 18-year-old said. “I definitely have never done something like this, talked about myself. It was pretty cool, but I was a little nervous up there.”

Maple, his cheeks wind-worn and his long hair spilling out from under an black Aspen hat, fielded questions for nearly 45 minutes as he lounged on a table. He touched on everything from nutrition to training regimens, the importance of pairing natural ability with hard work and finding balance in everyday life.

He talked about going to a Utah Jazz game with Ted Ligety, winning a necklace in an arcade crane game at Walmart, struggling to compete against “huge kids with mustaches” as a young skier and triumphing in 2007’s J2 Junior Nationals despite suffering from mono.

His responses routinely drew a smattering of laughs. He was composed and witty, so much in fact that it was hard to tell this was his first public speaking engagement of any kind.

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If all goes according to plan, there’s more to come.

A promising start to the 2008-2009 season has Maple dreaming big.

“I always try to have a lot of confidence going into the beginning of the season,” Maple said. “I keep climbing the ladder. Things are going good so far.”

In May, Maple became the first AVSC alpine athlete in nearly a decade to make the U.S. Ski Team. During subsequent months, he participated in training trips to Chile, Mount Hood in Oregon and Mammoth Mountain in California. He spent time at team headquarters in Park City, Utah, where he was introduced to team members like Erik Schlopy and Steve Nyman, among others. He even played some pickup basketball with fellow skiers.

“I got to hang out with all the guys I look up to,” Maple said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

While Maple did admit skiing feels a lot more like a job these days ” “It’s night and day” compared to past years, he said ” the commitment is paying off. Maple recently returned home after success in multiple NorAm events in Canada.

He took 10th and 11th in downhills on Dec. 10 and 11 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then finished ninth in super G at Panoroma Mountain Resort in British Columbia on Dec. 16. Among juniors, Maple has finished first in three of five NorAm speed events.

The highlight of the young winter? He served as a forerunner in early December for the men’s World Cup downhill on Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course.

“I skied half the course when I was 15 ” I was scared out of mind and had never hit jumps like that,” Maple said. “I was still scared in the start [this time]. You go over one steep to an area called ‘The Brink.’ It looks likes it’s past vertical and solid ice. Some of the course inspectors, the best in the world, were slipping down and looking like 12-year-olds. I was thinking ‘I hope I don’t have to make a turn on that.'”

Maple successfully negotiated the vaunted course, then skidded to a stop as the large crowd roared.

“I was just happy to be on the mountain with those guys,” Maple said. “To be able to ski the same run with the big guys is a sick feeling.”

Maple isn’t thinking about sharing the starting gate with the giants of the sport just yet. This season, the development team member has his sights set on securing a spot on the U.S.’s C Team. A win at the World Junior Alpine Championships in Garmisch, Germany, in early March would all but guarantee the promotion.

Maple’s schedule picks up speed after the New Year. On Jan. 2, he’s slated to fly to Maine for NorAm events at Sunday River. One week later, it’s off to Europe.

Still, Maple said nothing compares to spending time here in the valley.

“It’s the best thing ever,” he added. “Sleeping in your own bed, being in my own town, skiing the mountains you know like the back of your hand. It makes you appreciate everything a lot more.”

Even the opportunity to address a bunch of aspiring skiers, those not much different than him at that age, Maple said.

To those kids, he offered up some advice.

“Love the sport more than anything else,” he said. “If you love it more than anybody, you’ll be the best.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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