Wiley Maple continues comeback, and Johno McBride has a lot to do with it
BEAVER CREEK — After the U.S. Ski Team told Wiley Maple no, Johno McBride said yes.
Just one Aspenite looking out for another.
“He’s my homeboy,” McBride said from Beaver Creek on Thursday. “I wanted to have the opportunity to work with him, for sure. And I know Wiley has speed. I know he has speed and I know he thrives in challenging environments.”
Neither needs an introduction in Aspen. McBride, 52, is back with the U.S. national team as its head men’s speed coach. He’s worked with the U.S. before, most notably serving as Bode Miller’s coach when he won both of his overall World Cup titles.
He’s also worked with the Canadian national team and has worked for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club as recently as last year, when he ran the alpine program.
Maple, who like McBride is an AVSC product, has been on and off the U.S. Ski Team multiple times since competing in his first World Cup race in 2011. He has more than 40 World Cup starts to his name and has won a pair of U.S. national downhill championships, but injuries have long kept him from anything resembling consistency.
Maple missed the entire 2016-17 World Cup season because of injury, and wasn’t renamed to the U.S. national team this winter.
Regardless, a rejuvenated Maple was among the Americans to compete this weekend at the Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek.
So, how much influence did McBride have on Maple’s return to World Cup ski racing this year? A lot, it seems.
“I’d say all of it,” Maple said after Thursday’s downhill training at Beaver Creek. “Being not named, I want to do my own thing a lot more than follow the team’s ways, but Johno has made it a lot easier to be a part of the team. The atmosphere under him is a lot more in line with how I roll.”
McBride, a self-proclaimed free spirit, said he sees a lot of himself in Maple. The 27-year-old Aspen High School graduate is as Aspen as it comes and is known for being fearless on skis. Maple’s independent nature has often rubbed off the wrong way with U.S. Ski Team executives.
But if anyone understands Maple and where he comes from, it’s McBride.
“I’ve done everything I can to make him feel comfortable with the group and not isolate him in any way. In a perfect world, I want to see him fully integrated into the team,” McBride said. “He may thrive on having a little bit more freedom than the next guy, but ultimately that freedom has gotten him into trouble sometimes also, so he needs to be held accountable. I think we have a good environment within this team and this coaching staff so we can do that without him feeling overwhelmed.”
Since McBride’s return to the U.S. Ski Team this summer, a lot has changed for the men’s speed team. Gone are the European coaches who, culturally, never jived with the U.S. skiers like McBride can. One of the first things he did with the team was invite them to Aspen for a summer camp, which included climbing nearby Capitol Peak, one of the state’s more notorious fourteeners. Only veterans like Steven Nyman actually have any experience working with McBride, so for the rest this has been their first rodeo with the beloved coach.
“Johno sort of has that American cowboy in him,” U.S. Ski Team member Tommy Biesemeyer said Thursday. “The most important thing about Johno is he’s just a nice guy. He treats everybody as an individual on our team. He can connect to everyone at a level that is fun, but also productive.”
Nyman, a new father, likes McBride because he is a “family man.” McBride’s wife, Sunni, and three children — Ruby, 14, Lucy 12, and Jasper, 10 — recently moved to Madrid, Spain, part of a living abroad experience the family had planned before McBride rejoined the national team. Conveniently, with much of the World Cup circuit being in Europe, this will allow McBride to see his family more often than if they remained in the United States.
Between visits to Spain, McBride will be with the U.S. national team and, at least through this month, Maple. While not officially on the roster, Maple has been as much a part of the national team as anyone so far this season. After Beaver Creek, McBride said Maple might go to a Nor-Am event in Lake Louise, Canada, next week before joining the team in Val Gardena, Italy, in two weeks for the next World Cup speed races.
“Wiley is doing great. Obviously he’s had limited time on his skis in the last five years. But he’s a racehorse. He’s not afraid to go,” McBride said. “I feel like we don’t have a lot of guys knocking on the door displacing him at the moment. There are young guys that are coming, but Wiley has proven he can score and ski fast on the World Cup, and I want to see him get back to that place. On top of that, he’s a great team member. He’s good glue for our team.”
Maple competed at Lake Louise Nov. 25 and 26, the season-opening men’s speed races. It was his first real competition in nearly a year and a half. He finished third among American men and 39th overall in the downhill before skiing out in the super-G. Maple also skied out in Friday’s super-G at Beaver Creek before taking 50th in the downhill Saturday, concluding what was overall a disappointing weekend for the men’s speed team athletes.
“I was a little bit disappointed in Lake Louise,” Maple said prior to the Beaver Creek races. “I had high expectations for myself, but I think I skied well up there and surprised a lot of people with how quickly I was able to get back to form.”
While Maple’s race results haven’t been great so far this season, neither have any of his U.S. counterparts. Although, he’s been consistently strong in training and knows McBride has his back. Maple could be with the team at least through the Bormio, Italy, downhill on Dec. 28 before he, along with the rest of the team, will be re-evaluated.
Regarding who makes the Olympic teams ahead of the February Olympic Games in Korea, McBride said Maple is certainly in that picture.
“He needs to fine-tune a few things, but I’m confident he can get back into the top 30,” McBride said. “With a little bit of luck and some good skiing and good execution, he’ll do that.”