American Tommy Ford wins Sunday’s Birds of Prey giant slalom at Beaver Creek

Ross Leonhart
Vail Daily

BEAVER CREEK — The question on many people’s minds after the Birds of Prey giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Sunday: Who is Tommy Ford?

The 30-year-old won the first World Cup race of his career on home turf at Beaver Creek on Sunday, the first American to win a Birds of Prey race since Ted Ligety in 2014.

Ford hails from Bend, Oregon, is a nine-time national champion and has been skiing with Team USA since 2009. According to his ski team bio, he went to Dartmouth, is a fan of raspberry rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream and thinks Bruce Lee should play him in a hypothetical biographical film.

Off the hill, he enjoys climbing, drawing, surfing, mountain biking and other outdoor activities — usually with his girlfriend, women’s U.S. Ski Team member Laurenne Ross.

“He just loves it, he totally loves it,” his mom, Mary Ellen, said of his passion for ski racing.

Ford was swarmed by his teammates, coaches and family after the race — as the fans let out a strong “USA” chant.

Phrases like “a new era,” “nerves of steel” and “unbelievable” were thrown around the finish corral.

“That was special, really special,” said fellow U.S. Ski Team member River Radamus. “That was the coolest ski racing or sports memory I’ve ever been a part of. He’s been so close for so long and kept chipping away and finally made it through.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen rounded out the giant slalom podium.

“Obviously it’s hard to beat the Americans on home snow,” Kristoffersen said after the race.

“I’ve been on this snow for quite a few years,” said Nestvold-Haugen, a Denver University graduate. “I always like the snow. It’s what we call the ‘hero snow’ where it gives back more. It feels like being home.”

‘On this path for a long time’

The giant slalom is a two-run format, with the top 30 advancing to the second run and the time totals of both runs added up.

On a snow day at Beaver Creek, some racers had trouble with the course and visibility. Frenchman Alexis Pinturault made a mistake at the top on his first run, opening the door for the rest of the field to make a move. Two racers later, Ford put down the fastest first run of the day, setting himself up to go last in the second run, a competitive advantage knowing what he must do to win.

Fellow American Ted Ligety finished the first run with the fourth-fastest time, however he finished eighth after the second run.

“There are all sorts of thoughts going through the mind,” Ford said about waiting in the start gate before his second run. “Once things get going, it just happens.”

Ford has cracked the top 10 eight times in World Cup races, including fourth in Soelden last week. His runs at Beaver Creek were smooth.

“I was just sticking to what I know and trusting my skiing,” he said.

With Mt. Bachelor plastered across the front of his helmet, Ford reflected on his upbringing that got him to the top spot on the Birds of Prey podium.

“I’ve been skiing as hard as I can and on this path for a long time,” he said. “I feel very grateful for my upbringing at Mt. Bachelor and my family.”

He said he’ll probably celebrate his first World Cup win with a big dinner with his friends and family.

The Americans had a strong showing in the giant slalom Sunday, with Ford taking first, Ligety eighth and Ryan Cochran-Siegle finishing 23rd. In total, six Americans took to the giant slalom course for the first run.

“Those young guys are coming,” Ford said, naming River Radamus, Brian McLaughlin and George Steffey. “Watch out.” He added Cochran-Siegle is “still consistent” and there’s “of course Ted.”

For a man who doesn’t set an alarm in the mornings — including Sunday’s race day that started at 9:45 a.m. — Ford is a ski racer American fans will soon love if they don’t already.