Despite slow start, McKennis sitting solid with World Cup Finals in view

Alice McKennis competes in the seventh annual Audi Ajax Cup at Aspen Mountain.
August Teague/AVSC |

The monster looming over the right shoulder of Alice McKennis wasn’t the kind found in nightmares, but one of promise and hope. As she sat near the base of Aspen Mountain last week while in town for the Audi Ajax Cup, the largest annual fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, McKennis took a second to talk about the elephant in the room.

That elephant being the fast approaching World Cup Finals, which Aspen will host in March.

“I’m excited about it. I look over there. I went and skied Ruthie’s a little bit today and went down Strawpile,” McKennis said last week. “As I was skiing, I was just thinking about how fun it’s going to be. I’m trying to picture how they are going to set it coming on to Strawpile. I’m excited. I think it will be cool.”

McKennis, 27, is a member of the U.S. ski team. She calls New Castle home, when she finds time to make it home, and once trained under local Olympian Casey Puckett with the AVSC. Should she qualify for the finals — held March 15 to 19 on Aspen Mountain — McKennis would likely be the closest thing to an Aspen “local” competing, especially considering Aspen’s Wiley Maple, a member of the U.S. “B” team, had to scrap his season because of injury.

Although, there still is a lot standing between McKennis and the Aspen finale.

“The first part of the year — sort of mixed feelings on it. Parts of it were good and parts of it sort of left me wanting more,” McKennis said. “I feel really confident with where I’m at. Even though the first part of the season has been a bit of a struggle, I know that my skiing is there.”

McKennis, who focuses on the downhill and super-G, has five races under her belt this winter. Her season started Dec. 2 in Lake Louise, Canada, where she failed to finish a downhill race. She returned the next day to take 26th in another downhill before taking 20th in a super-G on the third day.

Dec. 17 in Val d’Isere, France, McKennis had her best finish of the season, taking 14th in a downhill race. She did not finish the super-G the next day. McKennis is currently on the bubble for the finals in both events — she is No. 24 in the downhill standings and No. 32 in super-G. McKennis is No. 66 overall with 34 World Cup points, a list led by slalom queen Mikaela Shiffrin and her 798 points.

“I’m skiing really well technically, but I’ve been struggling on the flats a little bit, which is definitely frustrating because the flats always feel like they should be easy,” McKennis said. “My technical ability is there. At some point I’m going to break though and things will start going a lot better and I’ll start seeing the results I’ve been working toward a little bit more.”

McKennis is no stranger to success, having competed in both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships as well as the 2010 Winter Olympics, her rookie season on the World Cup. Her best season came in 2013 when she finished 10th overall in the downhill.

The women’s downhill skiers will get 2017 going next week with downhill and Alpine combined races in Austria Jan. 14 and 15. It’s the start of three consecutive weekends of speed events, leading to February’s World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“I wasn’t totally satisfied with how the start of the season has gone, but I’m skiing really well technically,” McKennis said. “It’s just sort of putting the pieces together on the flats and linking it all together to start getting in the top 10 a little more.”