Vail’s Sarah Schleper is competing in another ski world championships
February 6, 2019
It seems like the day before yesterday that Vail native Sarah Schleper was carrying her son, Lasse, down her final slalom run as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. She retired, but doesn't have a real aptitude for leisure, so she unretired.
She's in Europe at yet another FIS World Alpine Ski Championship. That makes… well, so many that she cannot count them all. It's her second time representing Mexico.
Schleper is a five-time Olympian and seven-time U.S. national champion racer.
She's married to Federico Gaxiola and earned her Mexican citizenship a few years back. His grandfather, Victor de la Lama, was an early visitor to the area. She has known his family since she was in the fourth grade.
"He likes my racer legs," Schleper said. "He says I'm built like a Porsche, built for speed, and he loves his Porsches.
"Federico always talks about how tough ski racing girls are."
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Still loving it
She competes on the world cup circuit with Mexico's national ski team. She keeps traveling and competing with the Snow Circus, because, "I still love it," she said.
"Dealing with frostbite and other issues is always hard, but I love ski racing," she added.
She and husband Federico have two children, a boy, 11, and a girl, 5.
The goal is to compete in two more Olympics. That second one — wherever it is — will likely be her last. Her son Lasse would be 18 and competing in his firsts. She'd like to become the first mother to compete with her son.
"As long as I'm the fastest Mexican woman, I can keep racing," Schleper said.
If he's 18, that would make her…
"I would be infinity years old," she said laughing.
She also has her own dreams.
"I have this secret wish that I could still get a medal. You never know," Schleper said. "The girls never get older and sometimes I think I don't either. I'm still 19."
Part of her goal with the Mexican national team is to bring along the next generation of ski racers.
"There's a lot of kids dreaming of being ski racers. Mikaela (Shiffrin) and Lindsey (Vonn) have had a lot to do with that. I've had so many young people come up to me and say that they want to do it," Schleper said.
She's working with John McMurtry and Crawford Pierce, who launched Rocky Mountain Ski Racing in Summit County.
"They took the plunge and decided Summit and Eagle counties and Colorado needed high quality and more affordable options," Schleper said.
McMurtry was the U.S. alpine women's Olympic coach in Yugoslavia, arguably the most successful Olympics by the American women. He was also inducted into the National and Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Pierce is a former U.S. Ski Team coach.
"I'm really happy to be part of that group," Schleper said. "Crawford Pierce is helping keep me hungry to go faster."
They're happy she is, too.
"She's a phenomenal coach and role model for young skiers. We're fortunate to have her as part of our program," McMurtry said.
Schleper was a student with Erich Sailer, and is now a coach. Sailer pioneered summer ski training in North America, is an International Coach with the United States Ski Coaches Association, is a 2005 Inductee into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and is program director with the Buck Hill Ski Racing Team that started Lindsey Vonn along the path.
"They make ski racing fun," Schleper said. "It's about winning and going fast, but at that level you have to have fun. I feel like my skiing is still getting better. I'm figuring out things I did not understand before. I'm using everyday race training to get a step better."
She's busy, like most working moms are. She gets the kids to school, heads to Summit County to coach and she's training and competing around the world.
When we caught up with her she had skied all day with Sonnenalp guests, telling them, "You are helping me train for the world championships."
Vail to her very marrow
Schleper was born and raised in Vail. Her dad, Buzz Schleper, one of Vail's original Flying Ravinos, taught her to ski.
She used to fall asleep in her dad's shop, Buzz's Boots and Boards, either on the tuning table or in a pile of coats in the corner.
Buzz used to softly walk around the shop, occasionally stopping to gaze at his sleeping daughter.
She says she came full circle when the Snow Circus brought the 1999 World Championships back to Vail. She was injured, but was still caught up in the excitement. To stay close, she slept in the shop again.
"We're fortunate to grow up in Vail. We had the freedom to be kids and explore our world," she said. "Even after skiing Vail for 30-some years there are places I haven't seen. I love our mountain. It really is like the slogan. It's like no place on Earth."
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