U.S. Ski Team feeling strong
VAIL, Colo. – The U.S. Ski Team is feeling strong after the first few days of U.S. training in Vail for the 2011-12 winter season.
Vail ski fans were standing near the Riva Bahn chair lift Saturday morning trying to catch glimpses of some of the stars before Saturday evening’s U.S. Ski Team announcement in Vail Village. Bode Miller was in and out Saturday morning, and many fans also got to see Ted Ligety, Marco Sullivan, Steven Nyman and Andrew Weibrecht as they raced down the hill during training. Lindsey Vonn made her appearance later in the day at the Vail Village announcement event.
Being in the United States is special for these racers. They’ve spent the summer training in Portillo, Chile, and Coronet Peak, New Zealand, where it just happened to be unbelievable in terms of training conditions, Nyman said.
“It’s always kind of hit and miss with training in the summer,” he said. “Last year was just so bad, it was tough. This summer we had perfect training – epic training – all summer long.”
The perfect conditions and the way the team has been working together have just been a great confidence builder for everybody, Nyman said.
“The whole team is skiing pretty well,” Nyman said.
Vonn had her first giant slalom win in Soelden, Austria, last month. She said the win was unexpected, but she couldn’t be more excited about it.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into the next World Cup in Aspen,” Vonn said. Women’s racing takes place Thanksgiving weekend on Aspen Mountain.
It’s a bright spot in the world of skiing that the International Ski Federation has made gloomy in recent months for some of these racers. The Federation announced in July that it would be changing rules regarding the minimum size and radius of skis. Nearly 80 percent of World Cup ski racers have signed a petition to protest.
In giant slalom, the minimum radius for men’s skis is now 35 meters under the new regulations. World Cup men’s giant slalom skis currently range from 27 meters to 35 meters.
Ligety and Miller have been vocal about their opposition to the rule changes, which are set to take effect next year.
“I’m living my life as if (the rule changes are) not on the horizon,” Ligety said Saturday morning at Golden Peak. “It’s such a ridiculous rule change that makes no sense safety-wise or evolution of the sport-wise that it can’t go through. It’s just not an option.”
Ligety pointed to all of the younger skiers who were training at Golden Peak on Saturday morning. None of those kids wants to ski on 35-meter skis, he said.
“If it goes through, it will kill the sport. Mark my words, it will kill the sport – at least GS (giant slalom),” Ligety said. “But GS is the basis for all of our events. It’s an event that’s trained by everybody. … It’s the basis for skiing.”
Miller said he’s been fighting these types of fights his entire career without much success. He doesn’t hold out a ton of hope that the athletes can get the rule change overturned. He said if everyone sticks together it’s possible, but there isn’t a union in ski racing like athletes in the NBA or NFL have.
“Because there’s no union, the power isn’t consolidated as well as it should be,” Miller said.
Miller thinks the rule changes could affect ski racing because certain athletes, Miller included, won’t want to continue skiing if it’s not fun anymore. He thinks the effect on the ski industry as a whole, though, will be the most severe.
“Without the athletes driving all the innovations forward – people will stick with the same skis for 10 years in a row – that sort of flatlines the whole industry,” Miller said. “Without the influx of cash from the industry, then everything kind of starts to stagnate and it can be a really bad cycle.”
With the rule changes aside, Ligety is feeling strong and confident right now after winning the first World Cup race of the season in Soelden, Austria, last month. The win puts Ligety on top of the overall standings going into the next race, which will be in Lake Louise, Canada, since the Levi, Finland race was canceled due to lack of snow.
“Obviously winning the first race of the year shows things are going really well,” Ligety said. “The tough part about that race is it’s a month ahead of anything else, so there’s not a ton of momentum built from that, but yeah, it’s definitely a nice confidence booster.”
With Levi canceled, though, many of the athletes now have some extra time to train. Ligety said it’s nice because the travel time to get to Levi is brutal, although it’s always nice to be able to race.
Vonn will get to spend nearly all the time between now and the Aspen Winternational, Nov. 26-27, training at Vail and spending time with her family.
“I definitely hope to keep the momentum going and I guess just see where it leads, but so far so good,” Vonn said.
The cancellation will make the World Cup schedule more compact around Christmas time, when the race will be rescheduled, which is the downside to the cancellation, Ligety said.
Miller, who is still fresh in terms of training because he skipped Chile and had just five days in New Zealand, said training is great but it’s never the same as a race. He said the biggest challenge with the men’s U.S. Ski Team right now is that some guys are training really well, but race day is another ball game.
Miller said he and Ligety typically race at the same or higher level as they train, but many of the other guys tend to drop off.
“That’s always a little bit tough,” Miller said. “We wish there was something we could pass on to them.”
Two strong teammates are back from injury this year, though: Marco Sullivan and Andrew Weibrecht. Their teammates are happy to see them back, Nyman said.
“We’re just hammering,” Nyman said.
Weibrecht had shoulder surgery and said he just started feeling really good again while training in Chile.
“I’ve been relatively lucky,” Weibrecht said. “Things are feeling good. I’m really excited. … I’m really happy with my fitness, I feel like maybe it’s better than it’s ever been, so I’m really excited about that.”
The entire team is skiing better, Weibrecht said. And to be home in the United States training is really a great bonus.
“When you get the long haul in Europe or New Zealand, it’s just not the same,” Weibrecht said. “I could come out here (in the U.S.) for months and train and not get sick of it.”
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