Former AVSC athlete Alice McKennis skiing well on World Cup after injuries
MINTURN — Alice McKennis has found a new level of symmetry on her skis, and it’s starting to show.
The former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete skied her way to 15th during Sunday’s World Cup super-G race in Val d’Isere, France, and was the top finishing American in the field. The day before, she had a 22nd-place finish, also in the super-G.
For a racer who is usually more focused on downhill in a competitive Olympic year, McKennis says she will take any help she can get to make it to Pyeongchang.
“I’m trying not to think about the Olympics too much,” McKennis said, “since there’s still a long ways to go and a lot of skiing to go ahead.”
Following Sunday’s result, McKennis bumped up to fourth among Americans on the super-G leaderboard.
“But yeah,” she added, “I mean if I could race in super-G there, that would be great.”
McKennis grew up in nearby New Castle, skiing at Sunlight Mountain. She credits her father with much of her love of the sport, and also Sunlight Mountain for the challenging terrain it presents young skiers.
These days, she lives in Minturn, where she says she likes the character of the town. When she’s here, she trains four to five days per week at the Minturn Fitness Center.
“It’s such an awesome gym,” she said. “The staff is so supportive.”
She’s battled injury through much of her ski racing career, but now at 28 years old she hasn’t felt as good physically “since I was like 20,” she told reporters in November.
She fractured both tibial plateaus — one in each knee — in 2011 and 2013. Then in 2016, she shattered her elbow.
The 2013 injury required a plate and 11 screws. Getting back has been difficult.
“The injury definitely affected parts of my leg structurally,” she said. “It takes so long when those tissues have been damaged, you develop all these weird compensations when you’re learning to walk.”
Those compensations have led to an unbalance in her strength and power.
“For me, it’s been about reaching symmetry between my right to left leg strength and power,” she told reporters at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. “This year I’m finally within a couple percent (of strength symmetry), which is really exciting for me. It feels really good to finally reach that.”
To get healthy again for this season, McKennis developed her own program.
“I met with some therapists and figured out what the main issues were,” she said. “I would check in with them a couple times a week to see how it’s progressing. A lot of it was self-therapy.”
She was a little disappointed it didn’t pay off in Lake Louise, but stopped to think about why that was.
“I think a lot of it, honestly, was I was trying too hard,” she said. “Every time I was out on the race course it was like I was pushing myself so hard that I wasn’t even skiing well anymore.”
She moved on with a thoughtful new approach that seemed to work well on Sunday.
“Focusing on the skiing, and skiing myself,” she said. “Not thinking I need to push harder than what I do in training. That’s starting to make me feel a lot more comfortable and confident in what I’m doing out there.”
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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