After battling injuries, Alice McKennis returns for her second Olympics

Ed Stoner | Special to The Aspen Times
Alice McKennis, of New Castle, talks to the media on Friday, Feb. 9, at the Main Press Center in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at a news conference for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. McKennis is likely to compete in both the super-G and downhill.
Ed Stoner | |

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — When Alice McKennis made her Olympic debut eight years ago in Vancouver, she was just 20 years old and a newcomer to top-level ski racing.

The road to her second Olympics has taken eight years, lined with major injuries and years of rehab — but with a determination to keep pushing forward.

“Two knee injuries, elbow injury, six surgeries along the way,” she said. “I missed a lot of time. There’s been a lot of times where I thought it was the end of my career and that I wasn’t going to be able to have this opportunity again to compete at the Olympics.”

She suffered a left tibial plateau fracture in 2011, then shattered her right tibial plateau into 30 pieces in 2013 in a devastating injury during a downhill at Garmisch in Germany. Doctors put 11 screws and a metal plate in her leg, and she has an 11-inch scar that she nicknamed “The Shark.”

The injury no longer affects her physically while racing, but the mental aspect can be hard to overcome — including after teammate Jackie Wiles tore her ACL earlier this month in a crash on the same Garmisch track.

“Sometimes mentally it is hard to overcome that a little bit, even though it’s been five years,” she said.

McKennis, who won a World Cup downhill in 2013, is now seeing the best results of her career in her other discipline, super-G. A 15th-place finish at Val D’Isere in December was her best ever on the World Cup in that discipline.

“She’s skiing fast and strong,” said Chip White, head coach of women’s speed skiers of the U.S. Ski Team. “She’s disappointed with bad results but takes responsibility when things go wrong and knows that she can do better. And she’s just, in my mind, very focused.”

McKennis said she’s very pleased with her super-G skiing, to the point where she feels it’s just as strong as her downhill.

“I’ve progressed really well this year and made a pretty steep trajectory on my results. I’ve never really been a super-G skier, and then this year I’ve been scoring (top 30) in almost every World Cup,” she said.

McKennis is a native of New Castle who grew up skiing at Sunlight, and later trained with Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club under the guidance of Olympian Casey Puckett.

When she’s not traveling for skiing, she lives in the Vail Valley. Her sister lives in Meeker.

She is likely to compete in the super-G Saturday and the downhill Feb. 21.

White sees her as a legitimate medal threat, not only in the downhill, but also the super-G.

“Absolutely, especially because this course is right up her alley,” he said.