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World Cup in Aspen shows young skiers what they can achieve through right steps

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the Audi FIS Ski World Cup have gone hand in hand for as long as the club’s alpine program director, Johno McBride, can remember.

“We love being a part of it and love helping,” McBride said. “Anything we can do above and beyond to help with the World Cup is really kind of special just to be part of it and see it and feel it.”

The club helps with many aspects of the World Cup, including putting up start tents, setting up gates, and watering the course. The kids, mostly the 16-and-older age group, will be on slip crew while the younger kids help out in other ways.

“The little guys mostly help carry the flags for the flag ceremony and help during the bib draw,” McBride said.

Thursday evening’s bib draw was particularly entertaining as AVSC kids paraded out carrying flags. Other kids followed behind wearing cowboy hats that had a bib number taped underneath, while some walked out wearing the bibs the athletes were waiting to draw. It was easy to see the enthusiasm in each of their eyes as they raised their hands hoping one of the racers would choose their hat.

The role AVSC plays in the World Cup is vital to the success of the event. Although many people volunteer their time for the World Cup, AVSC coaches have a eye out for what needs to get done because they know what they’re doing around gates and steep, icy hills.

“It’s stuff we do all the time. Most of it’s kind of old hat for us,” McBride said.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Alpine Director Johno McBride watches as U.S. ski team athletes sign autographs on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at the AVSC clubhouse. McBride is a former coach for the national team.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The group consists of about 250 kids, and he said just about all of them will be on the mountain for race days, whether they are cheering on the athletes or helping out on the course.

“I think for the kids, probably the most important thing that they gain from this is perspective,” he said. “They get to see what a World Cup course looks like. They get to understand how much work goes into it. They get a chance to see the best skiers in the world in person, up close and personal. They get to hear them go by at 75 miles per hour, which is a different experience than watching it on TV.”

He may be president of the AVSC Board of Directors now, but Ryan Smalls was once one of those kids lining the fences to watch the races.

“To have been one of those little kids when the World Cup came to town and to be able to dream big that one day you could be a champion of the future, it’s really special,” he said. “I have no doubt there will be a bunch of little kids lined up at the fence at the airplane turn during the races.”

Smalls is an Aspen native who grew up alpine racing for AVSC. This is his first winter as board president, though he has been on and off the board since 2002.

AVSC post-graduate athlete Cheyenne Brown talks with friends after she was a forerunner during the men’s downhill at the Aspen World Cup on Friday, March 3, 2023, at Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“We always like to think of ourselves as the best ski town in the world, and we can’t be the best town in the world without having the best skiers in the world here. So (World Cup’s) huge for the club, and it’s huge for our community,” he said.

Cheyenne Brown, a member of AVSC’s post-graduate program who works with McBride and AVSC coach Casey Puckett, was one of four forerunners for Friday’s downhill race.

“(Forerunning) has been one of the most incredible experiences, and I feel so honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I pinch myself every time I step in the gate, every time I’m anywhere near the course …. It feels so special to be here.”

Brown grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, and spent three years racing for Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. She joined AVSC’s post-graduate program this winter and raced as one of the 16 professionals in AVSC’s annual Audi Ajax Cup in December.

U.S. ski team athletes sign autographs on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

She described herself as a sponge when she’s around the World Cup racers because she wants to learn as much as she can in the time she spends with them. She participated in the opening ceremony Thursday night, parading out to the ice rink carrying the American flag alongside the AVSC kids.

“I remember being that age and being so starstruck by these people and in awe of how amazing they are. I remember the feeling of standing in front of Julia Mancuso and Lindsay Vonn and how special that moment was,” she said.

Attending World Cup events, especially ones in the United States, reminds Brown of her love of the sport — both now and when she was growing up. It’s also what motivates her to get better, so she can get closer to them, she said.

“Seeing your heroes ski the same slope you ski on is insane,” she said. “It gets me fired up for ski racing.”

Aspen World Cup skier Wiley Maple, a 2018 Olympian, announces his retirement

One of the most persistent ski racers on the planet, Aspen’s Wiley Maple had defied the odds for nearly a decade on the World Cup. But earlier this season in Bormio, Italy, the 29-year-old had reality hit him pretty hard.

He knew then his career was over.

“I did the first training run in Bormio and that was the most terrified I’d ever been and the most uncomfortable and destroyed after a race course I’d ever been,” Maple told The Aspen Times on Thursday. “Just walking back to the hotel, I was in complete shock at how insane that had just been and how lucky I was to be walking back to the hotel.”

Maple has dealt with a bad back for years, an injury that has been as persistent has he had been over his career, and it finally won out. After a long stint on the World Cup and a start in the 2018 Winter Olympic downhill, Maple officially announced Thursday he was retiring from competitive ski racing.

“I definitely have just procrastinated letting the world know,” Maple said. “I definitely wanted to let it sink in a little bit for myself. I had a flight back to Europe and I gave myself a week and a half of time at home before I made the full conclusion and canceled that flight back to Europe.”

Maple said his back problems began when he was 19 and already knocking on the door of the World Cup. Over the past 10 years he’s had three microdisectomys, a minimally invasive surgery to fix a herniated lumbar disc in the back. This procedure has helped from time to time, but Maple is at the point where he needs a spinal fusion, which is a more permanent solution to his ongoing pain.

He’s hoping to have the operation done later in the spring.

“What I’ve been told is a fusion is the end of a competitive racing career. And that’s pretty much the only option,” Maple said. “I was just trying to be successful and try and find a place in my head and in my body where I was in a comfortable enough place to actually go race and be competitive and Bormio basically opened my eyes that it wasn’t going to be possible.”

Maple, who grew up skiing through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, made his World Cup debut in January 2011. According to his FIS page, he’s recorded 71 official World Cup starts over the past nine years, all in downhill, super-G or combined. His best career World Cup finish was 17th in a 2015 downhill in Saalbach, Austria.

A member of the U.S. Ski Team on and off over his career, Maple often did his best when he flew solo, as difficult as that was. These past few seasons he’s competed as an independent racer, finding his own funding to keep his dream alive. Even in 2018, when he competed in the Olympics, he wasn’t officially part of the U.S. national team that season.

Injuries plagued Maple over the decade, often leaving him starting the season from the bottom of the pecking order.

“At the moment I’m incredibly bummed about my career. I just didn’t think any of my results really reflected what I was capable of,” Maple said. “I just never had momentum. I just wish some of that energy and perseverance and all that would have taken me up the ladder. I could have started midway one season and then fought to the top. Instead I was always starting from the bottom every year.”

Despite the struggles and the current anguish of having to call it quits, Maple can still find some silver lining and believes he’ll see it differently in the future.

“I’m certainly proud of how successful I was and for how much injury I had and how little support from the national team, specifically, I had,” Maple said. “Growing up and having these dreams — I’m not sure when they started — but I guess to a degree I certainly accomplished my dreams and goals. I think with time I’ll be a lot more proud of my racing career and what I’ve done.”

Maple said the spinal fusion will end his competitive ski racing career, but should make it easier — and less painful — to freeski. After returning home from the Bormio race just before the New Year and after canceling his return trip to Europe, Maple joined Baker Boyd for a few days of powder skiing in Japan. Boyd is a noted big mountain skier from Aspen and one of Maple’s close childhood friends.

Maple doesn’t know what his future holds — he plans to finish his philosophy degree over the next year — but certainly won’t stop skiing anytime soon.

“I have tons of plans, I just have no idea what I’m going to do,” Maple said with a laugh. “Obviously a massive thank you to the entire community and my parents and everybody who made the last 10 to 15 years possible. I would have been done long ago if it weren’t for the support of this community and all my friends and family.”


Shiffrin’s father, Jeff, remembered for his love of family, sport after accident

Olympic champion and Eagle County local Mikaela Shiffrin broke the news Monday morning that her father, Jeff Shiffrin, has died.

The Eagle County coroner has confirmed that Shiffrin, 65, died of a head injury, and the cause of death is an accident. The Shiffrins live in Edwards.

Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.

In a string of tweets posted to Twitter, Shiffrin wrote:

“My family is heartbroken beyond comprehension about the unexpected passing of my kindhearted, loving, caring, patient, wonderful father. Our mountains, our ocean, our sunrise, our heart, our soul, our everything. He taught us so many valuable lessons … but above everything else, he taught us the golden rule: be nice, think first. This is something I will carry with me forever. He was the firm foundation of our family and we miss him terribly … Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for respecting my family’s privacy as we grieve during this unimaginable and devastating time.”

Shiffrin sent out a tweet in the early morning hours Monday that read simply: “Go tell everyone you love that you love them and how much you love them, do it right now. Please.”

In a news release, U.S. Ski & Snowboard CEO Tiger Shaw said Jeff Shiffrin was a good friend who will be terribly missed.

“Our — and the entire ski world’s — thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this incredibly difficult time,” Shaw said.

Tom Kelly, who has spent more than 30 years with the U.S. Ski Team as a press liaison, described Jeff Shiffrin as a wonderful person.

“So sad for the loss to the Shiffrin family and our entire skiing community,” Kelly wrote.

Jeff Shiffrin was an anesthesiologist with Vail Health and Anesthesia Partners of Colorado, treating and helping many injured skiers and riders. He was raised in Dover, New Jersey, where he learned to ski as a youth.

A 2014 Sports Illustrated profile of Mikaela said during his childhood, Jeff spent weekends skiing with his family at Stratton or Sugarbush in southern Vermont. 

“At 13 he joined the race team at what was then called Great Gorge Ski Resort (now Mountain Creek) in northwestern New Jersey, and on his first day of training he was greeted by an Austrian coach whose only instruction before pushing off the top of the hill was, ‘Follow me,’” the article states. “It was a teaching tactic that Jeff would remember. He later raced on the ski team at Dartmouth and stayed active in the sport after taking up anesthesiology.”

Jeff Shiffrin is remembered by journalists and the U.S. Ski Team as an avid photographer, often having traveled to Mikaela’s World Cup races photographing her and other U.S. Ski Team athletes. During Mikaela’s rise to the top of the sport, Jeff often shared his photos of Mikaela with the Vail Daily and other media outlets covering her success.

“I always admired how he’d hike the mountain to shoot the race with all the other photogs,” wrote longtime ski sportscaster Steve Porino.

In a post shared Monday, U.S Ski & Snowboard wrote that Jeff was “rarely in a team picture on the podium because he was always behind the camera capturing the moment.”

And while he was often on the sidelines during her races, he was not known as a parent who coaches had to worry about getting in the way.

“Basically, this is a job for her, and I try not to interfere,” Jeff Shiffrin told the Vail Daily from Russia, in 2014, during Mikaela’s first Olympic appearance. “If she were to come visit me at work, I wouldn’t change my routine just because she was there.”

NBC Sports Writer Tim Layden described Jeff as the perfect superstar athlete dad.

“He taught and guided, shared and loved and when the lights got bright, he stepped aside,” Layden wrote.

Mikaela was quick to wish her father happy Father’s Day or happy birthday — he would have turned 66 in March — and she also enjoyed recognizing him when he went out of his way to do something special for her. In 2016, Mikaela used the “lovemydad” hashtag in a tweet about Jeff bringing a memory foam mattress pad to Europe so she could sleep more comfortably. 

“Now I am laying on a cloud,” she wrote.

Mikaela and Eileen returned from Europe on Sunday afternoon, and Jeff was surrounded by family and close friends during his final hours. 

—This story contains material from a U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release

Mikaela Shiffrin locks up another slalom title with 14th World Cup win of season

STOCKHOLM — Mikaela Shiffrin wrapped up the season-long slalom World Cup title Tuesday, three days after winning her record fourth straight world title in the discipline. And she matched yet another record in the process.

Shiffrin won a parallel city event, defeating Christina Geiger of Germany in both runs to win the final by 0.27 seconds.

The victory gave the American two-time overall champion an insurmountable 203-point lead in the season standings with two races remaining. Her closest challenger, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, was beaten by Geiger in the quarterfinals.

“Each run I was pretty good but not always the fastest,” Shiffrin said. “But I was consistent and for tonight, that was enough. It was really fun, actually.”

It was Shiffrin’s 57th career win and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won the men’s event, beating Olympic champion Andre Myhrer of Sweden in the final.

Marcel Hirscher lost in the quarterfinals but the Austrian seven-time overall champion gained enough World Cup points to lock up the slalom season title.

Both Shiffrin and Hirscher have won the crystal globe for best slalom skier six times in the past seven seasons. They both missed the title in 2016, when Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen finished at the top of the rankings.

Beaten by Vlhova in a similar event in Oslo on New Year’s Day, this time Shiffrin took the win, but she had to overcome a tough fight with Anna Swenn Larsson in the semifinal.

Cheered by her Swedish home crowd, Larsson won the first run by 0.09 seconds, but Shiffrin edged her by 0.10 in the second run to progress with the smallest margin possible.

In the final, Shiffrin was faster than Geiger twice as the German settled for her career best result and first World Cup podium in eight years.

Shiffrin triumphed despite still suffering from the cold she also had to deal with at the worlds in Are last week.

“I skied as well as I could. Even if I was healthy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do better. Now I have some time to really recover,” she said.

Shiffrin will sit out races in Crans Montana this weekend and Sochi next week, before returning to the circuit on March 8-9 for technical events in Spindleruv Mlyn in Czech Republic, the resort where she had her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

In the men’s event, Zenhaeusern beat Hirscher in the quarterfinal on his way to his second career victory, after also winning here last year.

Hirscher still ended up winning the season title as his two main rivals, Clement Noel and Kristoffersen, had gone out in the opening round.

“I am very happy. Winning the title today was one of the reasons for my start here,” said Hirscher, who successfully defended his world title in the discipline just two days earlier.

Noel, who won the World Cup slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel last month, looked like he defeated Manfred Moelgg of Italy but the Frenchman was disqualified for straddling the final gate.

And Kristoffersen, beaten by Norwegian teammate Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, has failed to go beyond the opening round of all six city events he has competed in.

The next men’s World Cup races are in Bansko, Bulgaria, from Friday through Sunday.

Lindsey Vonn to finally start her injury-delayed ski season in Cortina

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — It’s going to be an emotional weekend for Lindsey Vonn. Finally ready to open her injury-delayed final full season on the World Cup circuit, Vonn will also be racing in one of her favorite resorts for the last time.

“It’s kind of a lot to process. There’s a lot going on at one time,” Vonn said at a news conference Wednesday. “I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can without getting too stressed out. I love it so much here.”

The resort nicknamed the “queen” of the Dolomites Range was where Vonn earned her first World Cup podium result back in 2004; and where she broke the all-time women’s wins record with victory No. 63 in 2015 — with a surprise visit from then-boyfriend Tiger Woods.

Vonn holds the Cortina record with 12 wins — a solid block of her total 82 World Cup victories — many of them involving close battles against previous Cortina record-holder Renate Goetschl (10 wins), fellow American Julia Mancuso and longtime rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch.

The only place Vonn has won more is in Lake Louise, Alberta, where she has 18 victories.

Vonn was planning on opening her season in Lake Louise in November until she injured her left knee in training a week before her scheduled first race.

“If there’s a place — minus Lake Louise — that I could make a return then I think Cortina would be No. 1 on my list,” Vonn said, speaking with her dog, Lucy, sitting on her lap.

“I was hoping that this last season would have been a lot different starting in Lake Louise but nothing in life seems to happen the way I hoped or planned. So I just take the cards that I’m dealt and I’ll play them with what I have.”

Vonn needs five more wins to break the all-time World Cup record of 86 victories held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark. And for the first time, the American will compete while knowing her retirement date.

“So that calculation of risk is different now, because this is my last season,” she said as she prepares for downhill races Friday and Saturday, followed by a super-G on Sunday. “I’m just going to go out there and ski like I did when I won my first podium here and whatever happens, happens. If I break the record then I will be very excited. If I don’t, then I don’t.”

Having previously announced that she would retire at the end of this season, Vonn altered her plans after her injury and will now hang up her skis following the Lake Louise races at the beginning of next season.

And she says she won’t change those plans — even if she needs only one more win to break the record after Lake Louise.

“Unfortunately my body is telling me it’s enough,” Vonn said. “It’s not for lack of motivation or lack of desire or lack of will, it’s a lack of cartilage, to be honest. My body can’t continue to do what I love.”

Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes, and she wears braces on both legs when skiing. The 34-year-old has had to fight back from injuries many times: torn ACLs, fractures near her left knee, a broken ankle, a sliced right thumb, a concussion and more.

“I hope to be able to freeski when I have kids down the road,” Vonn said. “I need to stop now so that I’m not having a lot of problems when I’m older. Skiing has always been my No. 1 but it’s time to look at the future.”

When Vonn claimed her first podium result in 2004 by finishing third in a downhill, it was a career breakthrough.

“I remember calling my dad and crying on the phone and saying that I finally made it,” Vonn said. “That was one of the first times that I felt like I really belonged on the World Cup.

“It was because I really understood Cortina as a race hill and I finally perfected my mental routine in Cortina and I honestly haven’t changed anything in my preparation since that day.”

When Vonn broke the women’s all-time wins record held by Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell, it was another special Cortina moment.

“My whole family was there and there was obviously a lot of pressure,” Vonn recalled. “My mom, my dad, my step mom, my step dad — everyone came over. … That was a really big milestone in my career.”

The scenery in Cortina is spectacular enough to match the memories. The Olympia delle Tofane course is set amid spectacular jagged peaks and rock outcroppings — usually framed by clear blue skies and drenched in sunshine.

“There’s nothing quite like when you get up to the top of the chairlift and you’re waiting for inspection and the sun is rising and it’s kind of orange and red and you can see the whole valley,” Vonn said. “It’s one of the most beautiful sites in the world.”

On Sunday, Vonn will take in that view for the final time as a World Cup racer.

Olympic downhill champion Goggia plans return from injury

Olympic downhill champion Sofia Goggia is planning to return from injury this month but remains in doubt for the upcoming world championships.

A spokesman for the Italian Winter Sports Federation says Goggia will participate in downhill training in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, beginning Jan. 24 with an eye toward competing in downhill and super-G races at the German resort on Jan. 26 and 27, respectively.

Goggia broke a bone in her right ankle during a fall in giant slalom training in Hintertux, Austria, in October.

Goggia’s performance in Garmisch will determine if she competes at the worlds in Are, Sweden, which open Feb. 5.

Goggia won gold in downhill at the Pyeongchang Games last season, finishing ahead of Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway and Lindsey Vonn.

Goggia also won the season-long World Cup downhill title last season.

World champion Feuz fastest in training for Lauberhorn race

WENGEN, Switzerland — Two-time winner Beat Feuz dominated the first training session Wednesday for Switzerland’s classic World Cup downhill.

Feuz, the world champion and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, was 1.16 seconds faster than Swiss teammate Mauro Caviezel down the 4.27-kilometer (2-2/3 mile) track, the longest on the circuit.

Feuz’s 2012 and ‘18 wins are among five Swiss victories in the past decade for the alpine nation’s signature race, which is scheduled for Saturday.

Matthias Mayer of Austria, the 2014 Olympic champion, was third-fastest, 1.27 behind Feuz. Bryce Bennett of the United States was fourth, and Olympic champion Aksel Lund Svindal was sixth, 1.62 behind. Aspen’s Wiley Maple tied for 47th.

A family man now, Marcel Hirscher again favorite for World Cup crown

SOELDEN, Austria — Marcel Hirscher’s offseason preparations have been seriously hindered for a second straight year.

But few doubt it will affect the Austrian’s chances of winning his eighth overall World Cup title in a row, with the new Alpine skiing season getting underway this weekend.

Last year, Hirscher fractured an ankle bone during his first day on snow in August, forcing him to sit out the entire prep period. Still, he ended up winning 13 World Cup races, more than in any season before, and easily earned his seventh crystal globe, while adding two Olympic gold medals in Pyeongchang.

This year, Hirscher’s usual preseason routines were interrupted again as his wife, Laura Moisl, gave birth to their first child in early October.

“For me sport has always come in first place beyond doubt, my private life was always secondary. That will change now,” Hirscher said.

The men’s season kicks off Sunday with the traditional giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier, a day after the women’s season opens.

Hirscher is not only missing training days on snow, he will also not refrain from dropping races off his schedule if necessary.

“It might happen that I am needed elsewhere, that I won’t travel to a ski race because something more important is happening,” he said. “Many people have told me that this is not unusual in other jobs.”

But Hirscher’s job is not an ordinary one.

Since 2012, the Austrian has been the dominating force on the men’s World Cup. No other ski racer, male or female, has won the sport’s most coveted prize seven times, let alone seven times in a row.

His consistency in slalom and GS has always been the key to his success, and Hirscher won’t change his winning formula. He has tiptoed into speed racing, but is now closing that chapter for good.

“It doesn’t make sense. You need three, four years before you know all the downhill courses, and another year before you get really fast on them,” he said. “So that’s a project of five, six years. I am not willing to invest that much time anymore.”

But even without speed races, and with skipping a technical race here and there, Hirscher is a strong favorite to gather enough points to finish the season on top again.

In the last three seasons, his winning margins in the final standings were huge: 335 points over Henrik Kristoffersen in 2018, 675 over Kjetil Jansrud in 2017 and 497 over Kristoffersen in 2016. Each race win is worth 100 points.

“Marcel won it seven times in a row, he is the favorite for sure,” said Kristoffersen, likely Hirscher’s main challenger again. While the Norwegian trailed by 335 points, the rest of the field, including the likes of Jansrud, Beat Feuz and Alexis Pinturault, was more than 730 points off the lead last season.

“For sure we want to give him a fight as much as possible,” Kristoffersen said.

Like last year after his ankle injury, Hirscher has again been downplaying his chances, this time citing his changed priorities as a family man.

That, however, hasn’t particularly impressed the Norwegian.

“He has been saying that for the last five years,” the Norwegian said. “I think that he is going be the same that he has always been, and that he is going to do whatever he needs to do to compete.”

The Norwegian certainly has a point.

Considering his future, Hirscher took some time off after winning Olympic gold and wrapping up another overall championship and discipline titles in both slalom and GS last spring.

He wanted to find out whether he still had appetite for more titles. The answer was an adamant “yes.”

“I don’t want to come second, that’s a very strong feeling inside me. I try to squeeze everything out of me,” Hirscher said. “It was no different at school and kids races. That won’t change, no matter how much I might achieve. I want to get the maximum out of it.”

It’s not all about winning, though. Hirscher gets as much satisfaction from making details in his skiing even better than they are.

“I still try to improve. That doesn’t mean I will win 15 races next season but maybe I can improve the left turn in my giant slalom skiing and that would be a benefit,” he said. “So no, I have not yet reached the ceiling.”

AJ Ginnis outduels David Chodounsky for World Pro Ski Tour win in Snowmass

Even if they just put up a few gates on the backyard hill, there will need to be a rubber match between A.J. Ginnis and David Chodounsky.

It all came down to the U.S. Ski Team duo on Saturday in the finals of the Rocky Mountain Pro Ski Classic at Snowmass, the second of three stops on the World Pro Ski Tour this winter. The two also met in the finals at Sunday River last year, Chodounsky sneaking away with the win.

The rematch didn’t quite go his way.

“He got me this year. He’s such a fast skier. It was a lot of fun just competing against each other,” Chodounsky said. “The last round I made a mistake on the blue course. It definitely cost me that match. I held it together the second run there but I couldn’t make up what I lost there. But no, I’m happy. Second place is sweet.”

Chodounsky, a Minnesota native who moved to Crested Butte when he was 11, is a veteran member of the U.S. Ski Team and a two-time Olympian. The 33-year-old was the top American in last month’s Olympic slalom in South Korea, placing 18th.

Ginnis, the 23-year-old native of Greece, said he’s long looked up to Chodounsky.

“Dave is one of the guys I idolized growing up and when I made the (U.S. Ski Team) he literally took me under his wing and taught me the ropes,” Ginnis said. “Last year he got me and I got him back this year. It’s a great rivalry I guess.”

The World Pro Ski Tour is built off the roots of World Pro Skiing, which Aspen’s own Bob Beattie helped launch in 1969, and the U.S. Pro Ski Tour, which folded in 1998. Last year, Craig Marshall and a team that included organizers of those past tours launched the World Pro Ski Tour with that single event in Sunday River, Maine, won by Chodounsky.

It returned in 2018 with three events, the first of which was the White Mountain Dual Challenge on Feb. 10 in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, won by now three-time Olympian Nolan Kasper. Saturday’s stop in Snowmass was its first foray into the American West.

“We were a little worried this morning. It was cloudy and grey and the weather was looking a little ominous, but in the end it was a perfect Colorado day,” Marshall said after Saturday’s races. “The snow was definitely a little soft and challenging the guys, but in the end it made it a lot more interesting. I think we had some really good matchups — some really close races. It’s just another great event and Snowmass was an awesome host.”

The dual slalom format of the World Pro Ski Tour had its heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but there is hope of bringing it back to its former glory. Instead of racing the clock, skiers go head-to-head on parallel courses, with the winner being the first one to the bottom. The finals at Snowmass featured a 32-skier bracket, with each head-to-head matchup having two runs down the track, located on the Blue Grouse trail near the Spider Sabich race venue. Skiers were seeded based off Friday’s qualifying.

“We talk a lot of smack with each other, so it’s pretty cool to go head-to-head with each other,” Ginnis jested. “When you are racing against the clock you have a game plan. You got to stick to it because you don’t know what’s going on. But in head-to-head if the guy next to you makes a mistake you kind of adapt and see what’s going on.”

Ginnis, who now calls Waitsfield, Vermont, home, made the most of his two runs in finals to take home the $10,000 check awarded first place. Minnesota’s Michael Ankeny beat Slovakia’s Andreas Zampa in the small final for third place. Zampa knocked out Kasper, one of the pre-race favorites, in the round of eight.

Ankeny entered the day as the top seed after recording the fastest time in qualifying, while Kasper was second, Chodounsky was third and Ginnis was fourth.

The final race of the World Pro Ski Tour season will be March 29-31 at Sunday River. Ginnis said he’ll for sure compete — he’s going to school at nearby Dartmouth — while Chodounsky said he’ll have to wait and see how his schedule plays out. Whether the rubber match happens in Maine or elsewhere remains to be seen.

“I’m going to try and make him come, absolutely,” Ginnis said with a laugh. “We need a rubber match.”

While the organization is based on the East Coast, Marshall said he fully intends to have the World Pro Ski Tour back in Colorado, and possibly Snowmass, in 2019. For the athletes, it’s something they hope will continue to grow as it provides them a different avenue to compete in outside of the more mainstream World Cup and Nor-Am races.

“I’d love to see more races over here in the West,” Chodounsky said. “I think we can get a good crowd. It’s great weather. It would be really cool if it gained some traction and people started getting a little more interested. It’s just starting up. It’s just going to take a little time before it gets going.”


Austria’s Hirscher wins slalom to lock up record seventh overall WC title

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — Marcel Hirscher capped his stellar season by securing an unprecedented seventh overall World Cup title on Sunday.

Dominating the penultimate slalom of the season, the two-time Olympic champion from Austria stretched his lead over his only remaining rival, Henrik Kristoffersen, to 289 points. The Norwegian, a specialist in technical races, cannot overtake Hirscher because he will only compete in two more events this season.

“This is so surreal, I can’t believe it,” said Hirscher, who also locked up the slalom and GS titles this weekend, two weeks before the season-ending races in Sweden.

“Now I am going for one week vacation to Are,” he quipped. “That is always really nice because the stress has gone away.”

Building on a big first-leg lead of 0.82-seconds over Kristoffersen, Hirscher did not hold back in his final run and extended the margin to 1.22 seconds, a country mile in the sport. Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland was 1.61 behind in third, while Olympic champion Andre Myhrer, who was third after the opening run, dropped to 24th.

Shortly after finishing and with his skis still clipped on, Hirscher fell on his back and celebrated the victory.

“Incredible. You can’t believe it’s possible,” he said after becoming the first skier in the 51-year history of the World Cup to win seven overall titles. No other male skier has won more than five, and fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell won six times on the women’s circuit in the 1970s.

Sunday’s victory also gave Hirscher this year’s slalom title with a race to spare, a day after he also locked up the season-long title in the giant slalom.

“With all the problems before the season started, with the broken ankle, it is… I can’t find the right words. It is very surreal,” said Hirscher, who missed all of his pre-season preparation after fracturing his ankle while straddling a gate on his first training day on snow in August.

“The summer really wasn’t easy. It went from a possible end of career to my best season,” Hirscher said after Sunday’s win, his 12th of the World Cup season and 57th overall.

Last month in Pyeongchang, Hirscher crowned his illustrious career by adding the only prize he was missing — Olympic gold. He won the combined event and the giant slalom, but came up short as clear favorite in the slalom, where he went out in the opening run.

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Hirscher said when asked about his next goals. “I am happy to go home now and enjoy this. I have to make up my mind where my journey goes next.”

Hirscher said the ongoing rivalry with Kristoffersen, who beat the Austrian for the slalom title two years ago, has enabled him to further raise his level.

“Hats off, the future belongs to this young man,” Hirscher said about the 23-year-old Norwegian. “He has made it really tough. He performed, performed, performed, and made no mistakes so I had to bring something extra all the time.”

Kristoffersen, who performed a deep bow to Hirscher at the prize giving ceremony after Sunday’s race, called the Austrian “the best ski racer in the world.”

“So it’s OK for me to be second. At the moment he is just better, so it’s OK when he wins the slalom globe, the GS globe, the overall globe,” Kristoffersen said.

The men’s World Cup continues with a downhill and a super-G in Kvitfjell, Norway, next weekend.

Aspen’s Hamilton confident about team sprint going to 3rd Games

Entering his third Winter Olympics, Simi Hamilton can still find joy in the competition. But after talking to one of his American teammates who is headed to his first Games, it became even clearer how special the opportunity is.

“It was fun talking to him to hear how psyched he was because it made me really appreciate that excitement of the Games,” Hamilton said recently from Austria. “I’m just as excited as I was that first time. But I think now at this point in my career, going into my third Games, it’s a little more focused on performing as well as I can and knowing what to expect once I get there.”

Hamilton, the 30-year-old Aspen-raised cross-country skier, said it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when he made his Olympic debut at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Then he reflected on all the World Championships and World Cup seasons in between, and it dawned on him exactly how long it’s been.

“It definitely seems like it was just yesterday that happened,” Hamilton said. “It’s still a fun journey to be on and it’s still exciting every day. I think I’m drawing to a close, getting closer to being done with this career. But it’s a great feeling to know I’m still skiing stronger and better every single day and still getting fitter even though I’m 30.”

Hamilton has long been one of the top American male sprinters. He’s ranked 14th in the World Cup sprint standings entering this month’s Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he feels he could contend for a podium. Four years ago in Sochi he had similarly high expectations, especially for the individual skate race, but the stars simply didn’t align for him in Russia.

“I just didn’t have a great day that day in Sochi,” Hamilton said. “I had some equipment trouble. I broke a pole. It was a really long and hard course, which I’m generally not very good at. I felt like that was a pretty big letdown for me as a skate sprinter.”

With no individual skate event this year in Pyeongchang — they alternate classic and skate events each Olympics — Hamilton has his sights set on the Feb. 21 team skate sprint. He still plans to compete in Tuesday’s individual classic and hopefully the Feb. 18 relay, but he thinks his best results will be in that team event.

“That’s kind of why I’m looking toward the team sprint, because it’s a skate event. But I also know I have the potential to put down a really good classic individual sprint as well,” Hamilton said. “It’s the ultimate goal to be on the podium and win some hardware. But it’s ski racing and a lot of things need to go right. A lot of things can go wrong.”

The men’s cross-country ski races got underway early Sunday morning with the skiathon, which Hamilton was on the fence about competing in. His Aspen teammate, two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman, was set to compete. Having Hoffman, who was on the Olympic bubble, with him in South Korea is a nice boost for Hamilton.

Hamilton and Hoffman are two of the nine former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athletes competing in the 2018 Olympics.

“We are all doing what works for us and it’s a really cool reminder when we all get back together at the Games that our community is capable of producing some amazing talent,” Hamilton said. “It makes us all really proud that we can look around and see so many other AVSC athletes and kids we went to high school with.”


Aspen ski racer Wiley Maple overcomes odds en route to first Winter Olympics

Wiley Maple’s moment of clarity came early this season at Mammoth Mountain. The Aspen ski racer dipped over to the California ski resort prior to the start of training camp with the U.S. Ski Team in Chile, the first time he had been on snow in more than a year.

Freeskiing up in Mammoth’s famed Cornice Bowl, it all made sense again.

“It was a pretty sweet little bump run,” Maple said last week, “and I took two turns and popped over three moguls and landed and right when I did that, I was like, ‘I’m so much better at skiing than I am at anything else in life.’ It was kind of an obligation to keep going.”

Maple, 27, recalled that moment while sitting through a snowstorm in Innsbruck, Austria, after his latest World Cup races. He was killing a few days waiting to head to South Korea where he’ll make his Olympic debut this weekend in Pyeongchang.

The Olympic men’s downhill — tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. mountain time Saturday — is just another race, according to Maple. But it’s also the culmination of one of the best underdog stories at this year’s Winter Olympics.

“The fact he made it to the Olympics is just so amazing,” said Aspen’s Sam Coffey, one of Maple’s closest friends. “He fights so hard to keep going and he’s just kind of the definition of a downhill racer. He skis fast and he’s definitely a wild man and at times doesn’t always listen to anyone beside himself. He kind of follows his own heart and path, which at times can be very different from the rest of the U.S. Ski Team.”

“I know Wiley has speed”

Between injuries and other off-snow issues, Maple has always had an on again, off again relationship with the U.S. Ski Team. More than once since he made his World Cup debut in 2011 has the U.S. decided to go in a different direction. In fact, Maple isn’t officially on the U.S. Ski Team this winter.

And for Maple, who is known for blazing his own trail, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“He loves to ski,” said Mike Maple, Wiley’s father. “Being successful at most anything takes passion. Without passion you can’t get through the bumps in the road. That’s been a key feature for him, and certainly he’s a stubborn kid and willing to do what it takes, but he’s got to do it his way. He’s not playing necessarily off the playbook.”

Wiley Maple wasn’t named to the U.S. Ski Team this year after missing the entire 2016-17 World Cup season. Between his kneecap and bad back, Maple seems to be hurt more often than not. Prior to this winter, his last legitimate competition came when he won the March 13, 2016 downhill at the Nor-Am Cup finals in Aspen.

If it weren’t for men’s U.S. speed team coach Johno McBride, another Aspen native and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach, Maple probably wouldn’t have received an invite to train with the national team in Chile earlier this year.

“I wanted to have the opportunity to work with him,” McBride said ahead of December’s World Cup races in Beaver Creek. “I know Wiley has speed. I know he has speed and I know he thrives in challenging environments.”

“It’s been a long crawl back up”

Maple loves to mountain bike, and he’s quite good at it. And after not being named to the U.S. team, he decided to forgo his usual summer of training in Park City, Utah — the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard — to instead stay home in Aspen and do his own thing, which included a lot of brown pow.

“He loves Aspen, just like all of us. It always kind of bummed him out that he was missing summers in Aspen,” Coffey said. “It was really nice having him back here for the summer. I think it kind of cleared his mind a little bit. He was definitely nervous about coming into this season. He didn’t know if he was still going to have it.”

After his summer in Aspen and reinvigorating interlude in Mammoth, Maple found his way to Chile with McBride and the U.S. Ski Team. To save money, he decided to spend time with the Korean national team — which is hosting this month’s Olympic Games — where he helped run their dryland training and taught them American staples like ultimate Frisbee.

Despite not being on the U.S. Ski Team, Maple earned starts in the first speed events of the season: November’s races in Lake Louise, Canada. It was hardly a dreamy return to the World Cup circuit for Maple, who struggled to remain relevant early in the season.

His breakthrough race came Dec. 28 in Bormio, Italy, where he finished 24th in a downhill for his first World Cup points since taking 24th in a super-G at the Olympic test event Feb. 7, 2016, in South Korea. Then, a few weeks later in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Maple finished in the top 30 in a super-G and downhill on consecutive days.

He was sweating out the Olympic selection process like the rest of the Americans, but finally got the call he was hoping for.

“It feels pretty good. That was definitely a goal for the season and obviously a life goal,” Maple said. “Last year this time I didn’t even know if I would be able to ski again. Couple months later I was crippled with another back injury and kicked off the team. It’s been a long crawl back up and it’s definitely pretty surreal that it’s come together.”

“My anxiety is whether or not he achieves his dreams”

Before they even reached their teens, Maple, Coffey and Baker Boyd founded what in recent years has come to be called “The Freaks,” which according to their Instagram page (@the_freakstagram) is Aspen’s fastest ski gang.

More than anything — other than skiing itself, of course — Maple likes to return home to be with “The Freaks,” a group that has helped turn the 2008 Aspen High School graduate into the ski racer he is today.

“He’s so passionate, not just about ski racing, but skiing in general. We would never miss a powder day,” Coffey said. “We are always pushing each other. Even on fun days, we are always trying to ski as fast as we can.”

Not long ago it seemed Maple was destined to return to full-time status with the local boys. Then, in quick succession, he got healthy, made it back onto the World Cup, became a factor in the minds of the U.S. Ski Team coaches, and now is the latest to add his name to a long list of Aspen Olympians.

“Certainly in his career there have been many times that I thought he was done. If and when it ends, it ends, but his perseverance is phenomenal and we celebrate every day that he’s able to compete realizing every day could be the last,” Mike Maple said. “I don’t really have much fear and anxiety about him getting hurt or anything like that. My anxiety is whether or not he achieves his dreams.”