Alpine skier Wiley Maple looks to make World Cup return with fundraiser
In the inspiring words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback – although in all fairness, it is technically just that. But what a triumphant comeback it is!
Aspen’s very own Wiley Maple – former World Cup alpine ski racer known best for speed, downhill, and super-G racing – is on a road to glory as he tries to bounce back from retirement in time for the next World Cup.
He recently held a silent auction on Saturday at Aspen’s Mi Chola that featured local shops, ski gear, and art by valley artists, as well as Maple’s own work. The fundraiser was to help raise the necessary funds to get him back in the game because as he will tell you, ski racing is anything but cheap.
“I’ve been funding it by trying to work all summer this last year; I didn’t want to bring the town into it before I knew if my body could work or not,” he said. “But now, I’m kind of full-throttle pursuing it. We’re just trying to raise as much money as we can, and that dictates how much I can do.”
He said his target goal is $100,000, which when all things are added up, is actually pretty reasonable. Between airfare, hotels, and training, each race can cost roughly $3,000, and when you’re racing every weekend, that starts to add up faster than he can finish “America’s Downhill” in Aspen.
His 2018-2019 season came with challenges and injuries followed by a 2019-2020 season that never quite came to fruition due to a fusion back surgery that he did his best to postpone. But now at 33-years-old and with the hardware officially removed from his back, he’s feeling better than ever – and even has the numbers to prove it. After recently winning four out of five races in Corralco, Chile, he successfully dropped his ranking back to the top 75% in the world, right where he was at the age of 25.
“A month after that, the Olympic downhill was on, and Johan Clarey, a 41-year-old, won his first Olympic medal, and he had his best five years of his career from 35 to 42. So, I thought, ‘Man, maybe I can do that even though they said it was impossible after an infusion.’ I kind of started dabbling in racing, and then with Aspen and Snowmass having the World Cup back to town was the real nail in the coffin or icing on the cake, depending on how you want to look at it.”
Maple currently has his sights set on the upcoming Beaver Creek Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup, which kicks off Dec. 1-3 at the Beaver Creek Resort in Avon and features Men’s Alpine super G and downhill competitions. This race course is a downhill ski course that made its World Cup debut 26 years ago in December 1997.
But Maple isn’t alone on his journey. His longtime friend and technician Will Gregorak is along for the ride, as well, and in that sense, it’s not just a comeback for Maple’s career, but a comeback of the two’s collaborative partnership. From friends at 11-years-old to former US Ski teammates to now roommates, perhaps few can say they know Maple as well as Gregorak. So when Gregorak says he’s seeing his friend currently ski as well as he ever has, there’s good reason to believe him.
“Part of the reason for the comeback is Wiley’s body’s feeling great, but skiing is an extremely technical sport, and you have to get a lot of variables coming together to work out the formula of speed,” Gregorak said. “Wiley’s a mad man. For him to be making a comeback at his age, people tend to want to question whether his body can do it based on some injuries. But to me, the craziest part is the mental aspect of just staying in life on the edge … Wiley’s still that guy that loves life on the edge, and that’s why it’s still right for him to be doing it.”
With anything comes steps, and after successful training in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Mammoth Mountain in California, as well as in Chile, Maple’s next step is to win the 2023 NorAm Cup this December, which will guarantee him a World Cup spot for every start next year.
“I’ve had to start entirely from scratch, start training and lifting again,” he said. “All summer, I was lifting in the morning and riding or running in the afternoon or playing some hockey. Trying to eke out training and find the steps back to that level of performance. Hopefully, I’ll get to start a World Cup before NorAm, and I’ll be skiing fast enough that they’ll put me in. If I score some World Cup points, then I can race the World Cup the rest of the winter.”
If you missed out on attending Maple’s Mi Chola fundraiser, no need to fret because there are still plenty of ways to help him reach his goal. You can find him on Venmo @wiley-maple, or you can visit worldcupdreams.com – mention his name in a memo, and you’ll receive tax deductible donations.
“I’m just trying to collect as much as I can and buy one month at a time on the road,” he said. “Thank you.”
To reach Jonson Kuhn, email him at email@example.com.