Travis Ganong lands on World Cup podium in Birds of Prey super-G on Friday

Vail Daily staff report
Travis Ganong, of the United States, leans in during the second day of Super G for the 2021 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup Friday in Beaver Creek. Ganong took third place.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

BEAVER CREEK — Travis Ganong wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Especially with his whole family watching.

A day after one costly error took him out of the running in Thursday’s World Cup super-G on the vaunted Birds of Prey course, Ganong put down a near-flawless run as the second skier out of the start house to finish third in Friday’s super-G.

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway won the race with a finishing time of 1 minute, 10.26 seconds, less than a year removed from tearing a ligament in his right knee. Marco Odermatt — the super-G winner the day before — was behind Kilde by a scant 0.03 seconds, while Ganong was. 0.37 seconds back in front of the home crowd.

It was Ganong’s first World Cup podium result in four years, and his first World Cup super-G podium finish. But it came on a track where he’s had previous success, surprising the world with a second-place finish at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek.

“I didn’t make any mistakes, and I had a tactical plan,” said Ganong, who hails from Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe, and had a huge contingent of family members and friends out to watch him ski. “Today, I gave a little extra and came from behind and took my speed across the flat and just hammered the finishing pitch. I won the long split, and that put me on the podium.”

The mistake Ganong made Thursday came on the Screech Owl section of the course, about midway down. He said Friday’s course set suited him perfectly on a hill that he’s grown to love over the years.

“We all love this hill. It’s super fun and playful and fits into our style of skiing, growing up in Tahoe and freeskiing a lot,” he said. “I’ve been second at the world champs here and fourth in the super-G and fifth in downhill. I’ve never had a super-G podium, though, so I’m stoked on my skiing.”

Daron Rahlves, a Birds of Prey legend also from the Truckee area, was on hand Friday to watch Ganong bag a podium finish. Rahlves, a 12-time winner on the World Cup and a three-time world championships medalist, won downhills on the Birds of Prey course in 2005 and 2003, and was second in 2004.

He said the Birds of Prey track is perfectly suited for guys like him and Ganong who grew up skiing a bunch of different terrain in Tahoe.

“Back at home at Tahoe, Squaw or Palisades, there’s a lot of terrain, we’re going fast, you’re kind of like growing up just trying to be one with the mountain and flowing down the hill, and that’s kind of what you do for downhill skiing,” he said.

On Thursday, conditions led to the first two athletes careening off-course. Friday, conditions were still fast, though perhaps slightly improved, according to Ganong.

“It was a little turnier and a little more controlled, the speed,” he said. “It allowed me to just really find my flow and ski how I wanted to ski. I felt really in control.”

Rahlves said it’s always good to see another American land on a podium in front of the home crowd in what is the only men’s stop in the United States on the World Cup Alpine circuit.

“The super-G is really tough on this hill. Travis is really good — he’s a conservative skier with tactics, and really challenging terrain, which helped him a ton today,” he said. “But then he just laid it down and went really aggressive at the bottom. I’m just so stoked for him right now.”

Not everyone handled the continued unseasonably warm temperatures, though. Fellow American Ryan Cochran-Siegle was unable to finish after placing 19th on Thursday. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud suffered an ugly crash where he appeared to catch an edge and lose his balance before crashing into the netting. The race was delayed as the veteran, racing in what he thinks will likely be his final season, clutched his knee initially but ended up standing up before making his way to the base of the hill.

For the 33-year old 2015 World Championship silver medalist, Friday was more than just a homecoming. It was a full-fledged family reunion. Ganong’s aunts, uncles, parents, sisters and all of their kids were in attendance for the podium finish.

“When I was younger, it kind of added a little stress, but now I just enjoy it. I feed off of their energy,” Ganong said about his entourage. “They’re so stoked just to be here and be skiing. It’s kind of like a family reunion of sorts for them, too. So it’s just a fun celebration of life and skiing.”

Rahlves’ feelings on the home crowd were similar.

“There’s pressure because we only have one chance, but there’s also a lot of energy that I fed off of,” he said about the rare annual opportunity to race on North American soil. “It’s like, you want to perform in front of your hometown crowd — that’s No. 1. That was huge for me. To know that you came down and you owned it feels good.”