All eyes on U.S. skiers at Aspen school stop |

All eyes on U.S. skiers at Aspen school stop

Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Kaylin Richardson urged an auditorium full of Aspen Middle School students on Tuesday afternoon to spend some time over the holiday break taking stock of their surroundings.

“Think of how lucky you are that you get to live in such a beautiful place and get to go skiing so much,” she said.

Richardson, for her part, is certainly thankful to be back in Aspen nearly a year after she walked away from World Cup racing to do charity work, spend time with her family and, as she put it, “refocus.”

Her last World Cup start came Dec. 16 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, just eight days after she finished 28th in the slalom at last year’s Winternational races on Aspen Mountain. Considering the timing, Richardson provided an apt metaphor for her young audience about what pushed her to take the extended break.

“You know how you get right before the holidays when you’re just ready to be done with school?” she asked. “That’s kind of how I was. I needed a break.”

Before returning to U.S. Ski Team workouts in May, Richardson devoted a lot of her time to working with World Vision helping raise funds to build a school in the southern province of Zambia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

She said her hiatus from ski racing left her “refreshed and re-energized.”

“You just realize your journey might be different than others, but you’ve got to trust that it’s the trail that’s right for you,” she said.

Now, after months of training in New Zealand, Chile, Austria and Colorado, the 24-year-old native of the Minneapolis suburb of Edina is ready to resume her promising World Cup racing career. Richardson won’t race in Saturday’s giant slalom, but her parents and one of her brothers will be on hand to cheer her on when she pushes out of the Ruthie’s Run start house in Sunday’s slalom.

“I’d really like to ski well and make top 30. That’d be the big goal,” she said. “My slalom’s been kind of up and down this prep period, but what it comes down to is that I’ve done so much volume throughout my career that I need to tap into all that fast skiing. I know what to do. Even the coaches are like, ‘You’re a fast slalom skier.’ Get out of your head and let your body do it.”

Richardson grew up racing against defending World Cup overall champ Lindsey Vonn when both were promising juniors who trained at separate small ski hills in the Twin Cities.

Vonn moved to Vail as a teenager and moved up the ranks to the U.S. Ski Team at age 17, while Richardson remained in Minnesota and took a little longer to become a World Cup regular. Her fifth World Cup start came in Aspen in 2004, when World Cup racing returned to town after a two-year hiatus.

She’s since been a regular starter here every year since, but her 28th in slalom last year was the first time she actually placed. (She failed to finish last year’s downhill and also missed qualifying for a second run in five previous technical races.)

Like the rest of her U.S. teammates, Richardson said she definitely would love to ski well in front of her family and home fans, but added that she’s gained some perspective during her time on the U.S. team.

More important than one strong result is the day-to-day goal of skiing fast.

“You can just see, for any racers, just how confidence works off confidence,” she said. “If you can get that going, it just feeds off itself.”

She also added that her family ” who supported her decision to take a break from competition ” is always there to pick her up whenever she needs it.

“Honestly, my mom, if I [have to hike back up for a gate], she’ll be like, ‘I’m just glad you’re safe.'” Richardson joked. “I’ll be like, ‘Mom, it was so bad.’ She’ll be like, ‘I think it was great.’ Your family is your ultimate high-five group. They give you a high-five if you do terrible, and if you do great.”

Boise, Idaho slalom specialist Hailey Duke has yet to earn a second run in five previous World Cup starts, but made a promise to the assembled middle school students Tuesday that she would if they showed up to cheer for her Sunday.

Duke was close to qualifying for a second slalom run last year in Aspen, but just missed the cut for the top 30 by three spots.

“I have fast sections, I just need to put it all together,” said Duke, who earned four slalom podiums ” including back-to-back wins ” last winter while racing on the Europa Cup, just a level down from the World Cup. “It’s like any other wall. As soon as you climb it, you realize it’s not as big as you thought it was. I need to get that second run, and then after that, I can let it go.”

Duke also has her parents in town this week, as well as her grandmother.

“I think we’re going to go out for Thanksgiving,” she said. “My mom’s totally psyched that she doesn’t have to cook.”

Because the U.S. Ski team spends so much time in Europe, both Cook and Richardson were asked Tuesday what they miss most when they’re abroad.

Richardson admitted that she always enjoys a trip to Target.

“You miss the convenience of finding any amenity that you want,” she said. “You know you can find that stuff in Europe, but it’s just a different culture. We have Wal-Marts, we have Targets. When you’re in Europe for a long time, sometimes you’re like, ‘I just want a Target.'”

Duke’s list included cheeseburgers and free refills on soft drinks in restaurants.

“Yeah, Hailey is addicted to Coke,” Richardson interjected, before quickly appending her statement.

“Wait, let me put that in context,” Richardson added. “Hailey is addicted to Coca-Cola.”

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