Aspen skier, Olympian Wiley Maple racing to get back in the World Cup start gate |

Aspen skier, Olympian Wiley Maple racing to get back in the World Cup start gate

Madison Osberger-Low
Special to The Aspen Times
Former World Cup skier and Aspen native Wiley Maple reacts after losing to Bridger Gile in the Audi Ajax Cup final on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, from the base of Aspen Mountain. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Last season, after Wiley Maple had surgery on his back, he felt he was skiing his best ever. After watching a man 10 years older than him win a silver medal in the Olympic downhill in Beijing, the 32-year-old Aspenite realized he had to switch gears and head back to the starting gate.

During the Audi FIS World Cup in Aspen on Thursday morning, Maple got the opportunity to ski the downhill training run. He placed 17th out of 64 racers who started, finishing 0.79 seconds behind Andreas Sanders of Germany.

Despite having such a smoking run, Maple was not given a race bib to start Friday’s downhill race. 

Patrick Riml, U.S. Ski Team alpine director, explained Sunday: “We have a qualification criteria on certain races, including World Cup. So it starts with podium performance at NorAms, podium performance at Europa Cup that gives you an opportunity to race World Cup. 

“All those other guys have been scoring World Cup this year. And obviously, our plan was to when there were two training runs scheduled, then consider the second training round for a time trial. Unfortunately, the first one got canceled. So that’s the reason why Wiley didn’t get an opportunity to race,” Riml said.

Maple is not ready to give up his World Cup dreams just yet.

“I’ll finish off the year snagging some races in Canada hoping to clinch a NorAm title, I will snag some spring series here and perhaps Mammoth,” Maple said. “Then hope to give it a proper go over the next couple years.”

Quiet comeback

After his back surgery, Maple started thinking about making a return to ski racing, but wanted to keep his effort quiet because the comeback seemed “so unlikely.”

He had some setbacks, including blowing a knee during a pro event last season, which slowed his summer training. His first race back this year was a fourth in a NorAm downhill, which was also the U.S. Nationals. “So it seemed I still had some speed,” he said. 

Aspen’s Wiley Maple competes in men’s downhill training at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.
Luca Bruno/AP | AP

In January, he skied on the Europa Cup, “which was an eye-opener to what it actually takes to return to this sport but (I) was still relatively competitive, especially against the Americans.

“In short, I do believe I can be competitive again. I just need to find that next gear and relinquish the fear. It’s a long road back, but my goal is to return to the World Cup and Olympic level, and to do it right this time.”

There is hope 

Sam Morse knows the road Wiley needs to take to get back on the national team. Morse skied his way onto the U.S. team this year, having started as an independent. His 14th place finish in Saturday’s downhill should further help him make a case for remaining a full team member. Morse was optimistic about Maple’s chances.

“We have a lot of downhill spots going into next year,” said Morse. He called Wiley “a big mentor for me” when he was coming up the pipeline. 

“So there’s definitely an opportunity for him if he can get his ranking below top 80 in the world,” he said.

Morse agreed it was unfortunate that only one training run could be held last week, as Riml said,  because a second one would have counted as the time trial and given Maple a decent shot.

“You know, obviously, he had a really good training run there. It was a bummer,” Morse said,. “I believe in him.”

Pro skier Baker Boyd does, too. The Aspenite said, “If you ski as fast as Wiley did in training, then you should have a spot on race day.” 

U.S. Ski Team member Bryce Bennett, who had the top finish by an American in the 2023 Aspen World Cup series — 10th in the downhill — has faith that Maple can stage a comeback. Bennett, who is newly married, noted that Maple officiated his wedding last summer and that they were good friends.

“I think this year for him, was like, come back, see if he could do it. And he can and you can see his commitment and it’s like, his focus is different. So yeah, if he wants it, he’ll make it happen,” said Bennett.