Chatting with American skiing legend Ted Ligety during the Aspen World Cup
Ted Ligety is an American ski god. His name dominated alpine ski racing for a decade and still raises eyebrows with interest — on and off the slopes.
Where is one of the country’s favorite alpine racing sons? He’s here in Aspen for the World Cup and to enjoy Aspen Mountain for the first time — ever — cruising the runs and checking out the diverse terrain.
Ligety’s first World Cup podium finish was in slalom 2006 at Beaver Creek. Next, a huge upset for the alpine ski world, he won gold in the men’s combined event at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. This began a trajectory of success, both on and off the slopes.
Then, at age 21, he became the youngest American male to win an Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing, and the first American male to win gold in alpine skiing at the Olympics in over a dozen years.
While training in 2005, Ligety met his now-business partner Carlo Salmini.
“It was my first or second year on the U.S. ski team, and we were training in Italy. I saw he had these carbon-fiber shin guards that he had made in his garage.”
Salmini was a materials engineer who raced for fun, using his professional talent to develop his own ski equipment.
At the time, Ligety and the U.S. Ski Team were only privy to uncomfortable plastic guards. Salmini ended up making his version for Ligety and his teammates to enhance performance and safety.
A close friendship ensued, and within a year of collaboration, Ligety was standing on top of the Olympic podium with the product. Now, worn by many top international skiers, the duo founded Slytech Protection.
By fall 2006, SHRED was born in hopes of developing a larger breath of products for alpine racers, park riders, backcountry enjoyment, and more. The debut product was a single goggle frame in neon. People began recognizing the brand by the color.
This same year, Slytech launched its second product, a soft back protector, then worn by the top free skiers, snowboarders, and racers in the world and that is now commonplace for resort skiers in Europe.
Ligety conquered alpine ski sport, imprinting his name on future generations.
He became a four-time Olympian (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018) and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
In the World Championships, he won gold in the giant slalom in 2015; gold in 2011 for giant slalom and in 2013 for giant slalom, super-G, and super combined; bronze in 2009 for giant slalom. Ligety raced in six World Championships: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015.
In 2013, he became the first skier to earn three gold medals at a single World Championship since Jean Claude Killy in 1968.
Never for fun
Throughout Ligety’s global ski career, the man had never skied Ajax for fun.
“I’ve only trained in Aspen, and I raced there once, but as a kid in NASTAR nationals,” he said. “I was then injured last time we had an event here. I’ve trained in the fall there, but I haven’t been on the slopes in the winter to cruise. It’s a tough hill. I’ve watched the women’s races, and it was always undulating; there’s so much terrain.
“I have the best Ajax memories when I was a race spectator. It’s nice when you get to enjoy a town, the social aspect, the cool atmosphere. Aspen does an amazing job with the races.”
Can he still ski?
Yeah, Ligety can still ski — and really well. That’s because his off-the-slopes hustle, which he continuously focused on throughout his professional ski career, made his alpine ability last longer and stronger. “We wanted to create protection that could keep me on the mountain,” he said.
Salmini sequestered a corner of his father’s office in Venice, Italy, and began the Shred Optics company’s global headquarters. All the while, Ligety was training and racing and set up U.S. operations in the attic of his Park City home.
“We took the business perspective to ski gear design and intertwined risk assessment,” he said.
It started as goggles that were developed with a flair for fashion but, more importantly, designed to enhance all-mountain safety. Then it snowballed into helmets and other forms of protective gear.
“I saw that there was a hole in the market for racing googles. They all had such a small field of view, and a racer needs a bigger view,” Ligety said. “This is a big design feature that we have always worked on. We want to create product that is going to help me have a competitive advantage and keep me safe.”
He added: “These products we developed, they didn’t just help our athletes. It could help my wife, an advanced/intermediate skier who hates skiing in flat light. That’s why I love the product marketing side of the business.”
Cracking Nuts, or Knuckles
“When I was racing, I was involved with everything,” he said. “I got to get my hands dirty. I could see all the struggles of the ski and retail industry and its nuances. I was trying to crack those nuts.”
Ligety’s personal injuries inspired even more products: “I drag my knuckles, I would go through 20 pair of gloves throughout the winter, and then I injured my hand in the most common ski injury — the ‘ski thumb’ (the lesion of the ulnar ligament of the metacarpal-phalangeal joint) — and knew we needed something better than what was on the market.”
Salmini made a glove with a protective back side, and Ligety’s streak of a broken hand six years in a row ended.
Shred Optics has also branched out into sunglasses and cross-sport items for alpine skiing and mountain biking.
Currently, he’s working with scientists from MIT and about to release a new goggle that has been in the works for a few years.
Ligety has got a lot invested in the next generation. He and his wife have a 5-year-old son and twin 2-year-old boys raring to race the mountain.
“I don’t remember skiing at his age,” said Ligety of his eldest son. “He only wants to spend time in trees right now, and I can’t keep up. I have these long skies, and he’s just weaving around so easily.”
Ligety is enthusiastic about his home mountain’s programming: “My son loves ski school at Deer Valley. It’s such a huge benefit. Now he wants to show off what’s he’s learned, and he’s not in a rut. Plus, I get some non-tree runs in with him.”
It’s not just his own children he is raising, but also a company of sustainable responsibility — one that might help maintain precious resources, such as snow, for the future generations.
“Snowsports are getting more and more challenging. We have seen that with race-course conditions and cancellations,” said Ligety. “I knew we could make a better product for the environment, with no sacrifice. We did that and eliminated all plastic from our packaging. Our straps are made with 87% recycled plastic bottles,” he said.
Shred Optics has gone a bit further, too. They are members of 1% for the Planet, a coalition created by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Blue Ribbon Flies founder Craig Mathews in 2002 to leverage the collective action and aspirations of businesses committed to protecting the environment. As they say, protect the playground.
Après with Ligety
As Ligety took his skis off and relaxed into his first Aspen après ski as a guest Friday afternoon, he had a lot of praise for the local mountain and town.
“You’ve got hero snow out there. It was such a great morning on the slopes, what an awesome experience,” he said at Performance Ski, where an event with his name can still draw a crowd.
He followed the event with another World Cup charity extravaganza, Aspen-style, at Bonnie’s.