Aspen skier Katie Ryan named to U.S. Development Team
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Katie Ryan expected the call to come Monday, but the day came and went with no news.
The phone finally rang Tuesday, when Ryan and her Aspen High classmates were on a bus bound for Moab for their senior trip.
“I definitely was confident … but there’s always that one last ‘what if’ in your brain that keeps holding you back,” the 18-year-old Aspen alpine skiing standout said Thursday afternoon. “I thought it would happen. I needed it to happen.”
Ryan anxiously picked up the phone. Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Alpine Director Jeff Kai was the first to deliver the life-changing news: Ryan had been named to the U.S. Ski Team’s Development squad.
Ski team coach Seth McAdam called to confirm the appointment soon after, as word was spreading up and down the bus aisle. The emotions began flowing freely.
“I started crying. There was a lot of crying,” Ryan jokingly recalled. “I was just so happy and was hugging people. It was very cool. … I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
“Emotionally, you can’t help but get wrapped up in things like this.”
Ryan had been through this process before. She played this waiting game just last year, when she ultimately was denied a spot on the ski team.
She knew better than to get ahead of herself this time around. As such, after graduating from Aspen High this Saturday, Ryan was preparing to enroll at Middlebury (Vt.) College in the fall.
Those plans now will be put on hold, as Ryan chases a dream nearly a decade in the making.
“When you’re a J5, you write down goals for what you want to do. I wrote down win an Olympic gold medal. … I think I was 10,” Ryan said.
“At that time, it doesn’t seem absolutely realistic, but when it’s right in front of you and once you decide that’s what you truly want, it’s not that hard to get there.”
Ryan helped secure her spot on the U.S. Ski Team during a successful but trying 2010-’11 season. She picked up wins in a Colorado Ski Cup super G at Winter Park and the Wild West Classic giant slalom at Snow King Ski Area (Wyo.) in late January. All told, she logged five FIS race victories.
It appeared as though the season would come crashing down, however, after a Valentine’s Day mishap in a NorAm downhill on Aspen Mountain.
Ryan “got loaded up in a compression,” fell and went barreling through a gate. The force of the impact broke the ulna in her right forearm.
“From the get-go, the doctors said I wouldn’t ski again for the rest of the [season],” said Ryan, who had a screw and a cable inserted in the arm to stabilize the bones. “I said, ‘Well, that’s not ideal.’ I was going into it thinking this is just an arm. I still have my legs.”
She was back on snow in four weeks and back in the starting gates in six. She made up for lost time in a hurry, speeding to victory in her first race back – the junior division (19 and under) super G at early April’s U.S. Alpine National Championships in Winter Park.
Overall, Ryan finished ninth in the one-run race in a field that included some of the U.S. Ski Team’s top competitors.
“Having fresh legs at this point in the season probably helped, but she’s strong in speed regardless – even with a brace on her arm,” AVSC alpine coach Kent Towlerton remarked after the race.
Added Ryan: “I was definitely surprised. Looking back, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Coming back six weeks after surgery, who does that? No one. I think a lot of girls were angry at me.”
Ryan parlayed that momentum into a strong showing at an early-May camp for U.S. Ski Team hopefuls at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California.
“I was the moguls champ, which was cool, and I had good feedback coming back to me from different coaches,” Ryan said. “That is your once chance to tell them how badly you want it. … From the whole camp experience, I realized I was the one who wanted it the most.”
Coaches apparently agreed.
Ryan joins an exclusive club of Roaring Fork Valley residents and AVSC alums on the ski team, including nordic skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman and alpine athletes Wiley Maple and Alice McKennis.
Now, instead of gearing up for a fall semester in the Northeast, Ryan has a much different itinerary. She will be heading to Mount Hood (Ore.) for six weeks in June and July, working out in Aspen and Park City, Utah, and preparing for a team trip to Switzerland in October.
“It’s still crazy when you think about it. I’m not going to be in school, I’m going to be traveling the world, living on my own or with the ski team girls, traveling to Europe multiple times. Kind of sweet,” Ryan said.
“This is a big foot in the door, and it’s a big step to get that foot in the door,” Ryan said. “Now that I’m there, I’ve got to kick the door down. People are expecting a lot of me, but I can definitely deal with the pressure. You can thrive off that pressure. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. The real work starts here.”
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