Norwegian star Kristoffersen talks training with AVSC, future of Aspen World Cups
As long as the Stapleton Training Center at Aspen Highlands has been around, Henrik Kristoffersen and the Norwegian ski team have called it an early-season home. A quiet hill away from the public with all the ups and downs a racer would want in a course, it’s become a great resource for World Cup athletes as well as the U10 kids just learning to master their turns.
“It’s pretty quiet here. You can do a lot of the stuff you want to do,” Kristoffersen told The Aspen Times on Wednesday after his final training run that day. “You can water everything. The hill, you have a bit of variation. You can ski the top, you can ski the bottom here, the flat in the middle. It’s a lot of variation. So, for slalom and GS, I think it’s really nice to ski here.”
The Stapleton Training Center opened in 2014 and is run by the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, primarily as a private venue for its own club skiers. Aspen Skiing Co., which manages Aspen Highlands, lets AVSC have mostly full run of the venue until the mountain opens to the public, which this winter is coming up on Dec. 10.
Before then, however, it’s the perfect training ground for some of the world’s best ski racers. Kristoffersen, for instance, can already be considered one of the best ever despite being only 28 years old. His 28 career World Cup wins has him knocking on the door of top 10 in the sport’s history and just five wins back of tying American great Bode Miller. Only Aksel Lund Svindal’s 36 career wins are ahead of Kristoffersen among Norwegian men all time.
Despite being a big star, Kristoffersen has frequently connected with the young AVSC athletes while training in Aspen over the years.
“I maybe ski two warm-up runs and then I ski six runs on the course. When I was 10 to 15, I had to ski way more runs than what I do now,” Kristoffersen said. “A lot of people might just look at what I’m doing and try to do the same, but you can’t look at what I’m doing now. You have to look at what I did when I was the same age. Then it’s quite easy for me to tell what I did as well. Of course, when you can give the insights on your thoughts and your philosophy of what you have done to come to where you are at today, it’s a pleasure for sure.”
Having someone like Kristoffersen around year after year for the young AVSC athletes to learn from is an incredible opportunity, but also one that’s not too far out the ordinary considering all the other great skiers and snowboarders who have come through Aspen and the club, like Olympic halfpipe skiers Alex Ferreira, Torin Yater-Wallace and Hanna Faulhaber, Olympic Alpine skier Wiley Maple and Olympic Nordic skiers Simi Hamilton and Hailey Swirbul, just to name a few from recent years.
“It’s amazing,” said Cody Oates, the venue manager for the Stapleton Training Center, of having Kristoffersen working with the AVSC skiers. “It’s like you see with Alex Ferreira jumping tramps at the club, and Torin was doing this several years ago. With an Alpine guy of this caliber, it really brings the spirits of everybody up and gets everybody really excited, especially at this time of year.”
Ultimately, it’s the venue that is the main draw for top-notch athletes like Kristoffersen. His team flocks to Aspen largely to train ahead of the annual Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek, which most years has included giant slalom. Even though Birds of Prey, which is going on this weekend, only includes speed races this year and Kristoffersen is not taking part, he still made it back to Highlands to train ahead of the next scheduled technical races, a GS and slalom on Dec. 10-11 in Val d’Isere, France.
“There was minimal snow in Europe,” Kristoffersen explained. “Usually, it’s pretty good here in November, early December, so we actually decided three, four days before we left to go here. And Cody is really nice helping us out. We have a great relationship with Cody and the ski club here.”
The training center, located looker’s left from the base of Aspen Highlands, has just about everything a skier needs to train, especially for GS and slalom. This includes the ability to water the course, which creates a harder, icier surface that mirrors a real World Cup track.
Not only that, but the venue has as an airbag for freestyle athletes and a competition-level moguls course ready for training.
“It’s definitely a challenging slope. It mimics a lot of the stuff they see on the World Cup circuit,” Oates said of the course at Highlands. “This has definitely, from a surface standpoint, been the best year we’ve ever had. We were able to start making snow the third week of October. These have been perfect snowmaking temperatures for both us and the public side of the mountain.”
Kristoffersen said he felt his time was well spent in Aspen and that he got the training in he needed. He opened his season back on Oct. 23 in Soelden, Austria, where he finished third in the GS that day for his 73rd career podium over 191 World Cup starts, according to his FIS stats.
Kristoffersen twice finished as the overall World Cup runner-up behind Austrian icon Marcel Hirscher (2016, 2018), but he is a four-time individual globe winner (3 SL, 1 GS), including last year’s slalom title.
He just missed the Olympic podium last February in Beijing, finishing fourth in slalom and eighth in GS. He does own an Olympic silver medal from Pyeongchang in 2019 (GS) and an Olympic bronze medal from Sochi in 2014 (slalom). He was also the 2019 world champion in GS.
“Just have to really focus on the skiing, try to win as many races as possible and then we see,” Kristoffersen said of his season outlook. “I’m really happy at the moment. We’ve had two-and-a-half great weeks here in Aspen. We figured out a lot of the stuff, especially on the slalom skis, because I hadn’t done that much slalom before I went here. Feeling pretty good at the moment. But, of course, you can be fast in training, but we all know it doesn’t matter if you are fast in training if you are not fast in the race. You don’t become world champion at training, you become it by training.”
While Aspen Mountain is scheduled to host men’s speed races this coming March, the first time the World Cup has been to Aspen since the 2017 finals, don’t expect Kristoffersen to compete as he rarely touches downhill or super-G events. He does plan to return stateside the week prior, at the end of February, for a GS and slalom at Palisades Tahoe.
That said, Kristoffersen is all for having more World Cup stops in Aspen, and North America in general, especially early in the season. He did race in those 2017 finals on Aspen Mountain, finishing 24th in slalom and seventh in GS.
“It would be really great to come back here for the World Cup finals every second year,” Kristoffersen said. “I don’t get why we don’t ski more races here in Aspen and in the U.S. in general in like November, early December, because usually the snow is really good here really early. It gets cold quick because of the climate. Also, I really enjoy going here myself. I hope we can do some more races in Aspen, but also in North America, for sure.”