U.S. Ski Team members visit Aspen school | AspenTimes.com

U.S. Ski Team members visit Aspen school

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jon Maletz/The Aspen TimesU.S. Ski Team members Sarah Schleper and Hailey Duke share a laugh Friday during an assembly at the Aspen District Theatre.

ASPEN – Giddy middle schoolers poured into the Aspen District Theatre on Friday afternoon. A group of girls eagerly scurried down the stairs and slumped into chairs in the front row. After scanning the nameplates resting on a table on the stage, one remarked: “Look! We’re right near Lindsey Vonn!”

Vonn, the three-time World Cup overall winner and one of the most decorated skiers in history, was expected to be among seven U.S. Ski Team members taking part in the assembly in advance of next week’s Winternational races on Aspen Mountain. But after the sixth athlete was introduced, team veteran Sarah Schleper delivered the bad news: Vonn, injured earlier in the day during a practice run on Ajax, would not be attending.

“I didn’t see it, but one of the coaches said it looked like she tweaked her back,” Winternational Chief of Course Pat Callahan said Friday. “She did something weird, skied out and didn’t finish.”

The setback likely won’t keep Vonn out of the starting gates on Nov. 26 and 27; U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Chief Press Officer Doug Haney described the injury as “nothing serious” in an email to The Aspen Times. He did not confirm whether Vonn would be on the snow Saturday, however.

Any disappointment surrounding Vonn’s absence at the school dissipated quickly. The athletes – A-teamer Schleper and the B team’s Hailey Duke, Resi Stiegler, Mikaela Shiffrin, Megan McJames and Kiley Staples – regaled students with stories about everything from their first time on skis and their passions off the hill (McJames recently launched a Park City catering company called Sister Sweet Tooth) to their most gruesome injuries and favorite resorts. While Schleper’s answer of Vail drew a smattering of boos, Duke and 16-year-old team newcomer Shiffrin, last season’s NorAm slalom champion and Ski Racing Magazine Junior of the Year, kindled loud ovations after proclaiming Aspen their top choice.

Shiffrin was a forerunner at Winternational last season. This time, she’ll be racing against the clock and the world’s fastest women.

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“This was a dream, and it’s starting to come true. I’m lucky to be here already,” Shiffrin told the crowd. “I’m really young and I have a lot to learn, but I’m just excited to be here learning as much as I can and just taking it all in. It’s really fun.”

Shiffrin will be among those looking to snap the home country’s podium drought on home soil; an American has not finished in the top three here since 2004, a span of 13 races.

Extra time on the race hill should help, McJames said.

“We had a wonderful day of training up there,” she added. “It was really sunny and the snow was perfectly groomed. It’s always a treat when you’re the only one on the hill.”

Added Schleper: “It’s an insane course. It’s so steep and challenging, and we actually have a big advantage because we get to come ski on it for a couple days. … We love this race. We love being here in Colorado.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com