Athlete Spotlight: Alice McKennis |

Athlete Spotlight: Alice McKennis

Alice McKennis

Name: Alice McKennis

Sport: Alpine

Recent competitions and results: McKennis, 23, won her first World Cup downhill skiing event Saturday in St. Anton, Austria. The New Castle native was the first former member of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club to take a top podium spot in the 76-year history of the club.

Upcoming competitions: Another World Cup race in Cortina, Italy, on Saturday.

Wow. What a weekend I just had in St. Anton, Austria. In our first race after our Christmas break, I earned my first World Cup victory. Even writing these words, it is hard for me to believe that it has actually happened. After all the years of hard work, dedication, sweat, tears, frustrations, injuries, wins, losses and all different levels of ups and downs, I finally made it to the top. It was worth every second of work I put in to get there. I wouldn’t change a thing.

St. Anton is not a regular tour stop on the World Cup. Every four years or so, a race is held there, so like many of the younger racers, I had never been down the track before. It is known as one of the most difficult courses on the women’s tour. It was designed for the men’s world championship downhill in 2001. As one of my coaches put it later, “Alice, you pretty much just won Kitzbuhel.”

Well, not quite. Let’s be real here. For the women’s tour, though, it is the closest thing we get to running Kitzbuhel. I guess somewhere along the line I learned how to turn. I have been known as a glider to only do well on the flatter courses, but I think I can safely say that I can put that reputation behind me.

Our first training run was quite eye-opening for everyone. The course was in your face every second of the way and never let up, with the most challenging section being the bottom six turns below the “eisfall” – a narrow chute cut through the trees that is too steep for even a winch cat to make it up.

You throw yourself over the edge, pick up another 20 mph and then head for the final six turns while your legs are screaming for you to stop, and you are hanging on for dear life. Your legs feel like tree stumps at the bottom – pretty much totally useless. With the course being so bumpy, it felt like you were rolling down the backside of Little Annie’s Road on a Vespa with no brakes. What a relief to finally cross the finish line!

The second training run was canceled due to a foot of new snow. Powder skiing! I went and took a few runs with my dad instead of staying cooped up all day. Pretty sweet skiing and the best way to take my mind off the race ahead.

Finally, race day was here, and it was bluebird. I had an early start number, and my main focus that day was to start skiing like a dude. No more ladylike, passive, pretty skiing. Brute force and commitment. When I finally kicked out of the gate, it was like I was possessed by a crazed devil woman, sending it as hard as I could and skiing my heart out. I had the best run of my life, no doubt. It was awesome! Such a great feeling.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I actually did think to myself, “I just murdered that course.” I spent the next hour watching the rest of the top women race. It was the most agonizing hour of my life. Sweating, shaking, crying, cottonmouth, desperately trying and failing to play it cool. Generally, it was very uncomfortable, and I was barely able to watch any of the other ladies race. Finally it was over, and the win was mine. Unbelievable.

Standing on the top step of the podium hearing the national anthem had to be one of the best moments of my life, something I have dreamed about since I was little. Having my dad there for my first win was so special. As with 99 percent of all athletes, I never would have made it this far without him and my sister Kendra. Ski racing may be an individual sport, but it takes a team of people to get to the top.

We now head to Cortina, Italy, for races this weekend, and then I return home for a short break before the world championships in Schladming, Austria. Thank you for all the support, everyone! All the kind words I have been hearing really mean a lot. It is almost still too much for me to believe. So thank you all.

On to the next one.

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