Last call for Leever: Vail ski racer announces retirement from sport
VAIL — After a five-year NCAA career, 15 World Cup starts — including a dramatic 24th-place slalom finish in the globe’s premier slalom event in Schladming, Austria — and a national team nomination and 2021 world championship start, Vail’s Alex Leever is finally putting the storage wax on his skis for good.
“I’ve decided that tomorrow will be my last race as a professional skier,” he wrote on Instagram in advance of the U.S. national championship slalom in Carrabasset Valley, Maine, where he finished seventh.
“It’s hard to put into words what ski racing has meant to me. It’s been the driving force in my life since I was six years old, and it’s crazy to think I won’t be on that path anymore.”
A “combination of factors” went into the calculus and timing of the 26-year-old’s decision.
“The path forward was going to be tough. Since I didn’t score this year, I didn’t have a spot on the World Cup next year,” he said. His only option was to earn more World Cup starts (for the 2023-24 season) independently via the NorAm and Europa Cup circuits, a grind he is all too familiar with.
“So I just wasn’t ready to sign up for a multi-year commitment, hoping to get a title in NorAms with a lot of good racers,” he said.
As the new generation of skiers emerge, Leever’s discernment predicated itself on tangible experience of what is required to excel at the top.
“It takes full commitment to ski the World Cup. Just putting in all that time for an uncertain future — for the first time the pros didn’t outweigh the cons,” he said.
“Just watching some of these young guys come in and have great success, I don’t want to say that I lost confidence, but I was like, ‘Oh man, do I have that top-end all-out speed that they do?’ The answer at least right now was ‘no.’”
With a career characterized by outworking others to make the cut, Leever’s tone expressed both the introspective self-belief that fueled his flourishings outside the U.S. ski team pipeline while still acknowledging — with a careful analysis betraying his master’s degree in quantitative analytical finance — the lay of the land.
“Not saying that I couldn’t get there, but again, I was like, ‘Do I grind this out three, four, five more years and hope of getting there when I don’t know if that was ever going to happen?’” he rhetorically asked.
“For all those reasons, it felt like the right time.”
The decision is bittersweet to a degree.
“Obviously, it’s sad to end this chapter because I’ve skied my whole life, but I’m also really excited for the future,” he said, noting his excitement for finally putting his two business degrees to work.
Overall, Leever is walking away satisfied.
“Yeah, I didn’t get to accomplish every goal I had as a kid. I wasn’t Olympic champion, but I also made it a lot farther than I could have reasonably expected,” he pondered.
“Of course there’s happy and sad feelings — everything all at once, but, far and away, I’m happy with how everything ended up.”
Leever considers scoring World Cup points while not being a member of the U.S. ski team to be his greatest athletic accomplishment.
“The fact that I showed that there is a path forward for guys and girls who don’t fit the traditional mold of being world-class as a teenager and being put into this developmental pipeline. I showed that there is another path forward,” he said. “That you can go to school, be an independent athlete, and you can do all these things and make it to the top.”
Leever has good reason to be proud of his trailblazing legacy.
“Five years ago, there was no one else really doing the independent pathway. There was a couple guys here and there, but looking now, there are multiple groups of established independent teams, guys and girls who are skiing post-collegiately all the way to the World Cup,” he said from the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, where he had just finished watching many close friends compete in giant slalom.
“I was a little bit of a trendsetter that way. I can live vicariously through my friends who have followed the same pathway I started and are having more success than I did. So, I’m really happy to see that.”
Leever intends on remaining in Denver and gleaning advice for next steps from other former pro skiers turned business professional.
“I’ve lined up a few calls with them to pick their brains,” he noted.
“My resume is a little lacking. Right now it just says: “Ski racer; please hire me!”” he joked.
He’s already transitioning to being a weekend warrior, with plans to race the World Pro Ski Tour championships in Taos in two weeks, as well as all of next season’s slate of races.
“That’s my plan for scratching that competitive itch,” he said, laughing at the idea of filling the two-a-day training void by working on his “dad bod.”
He’ll also be busy following nephew Jackson Leever, an up-and-coming Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Alpine athlete.
“He’s beginning his ski racing journey. I think I’m going to follow his career pretty closely, give him tips and advice because he’s the next one coming up,” Leever mentioned. “It’s pretty fun to see him follow in kind of the same footsteps that I went.”
The late-blooming Leever is a picture of patience, one who wasn’t winning at 11 and 12 but “grinded and hustled, slowly improving each year until the end result was something fairly impressive.” Encapsulating his career into a single message or theme produces straightforward — but difficult — counsel to follow.
“You don’t have to be the best at something at the start. If you work hard, you’ll get there,” was his advice to the next generation. “You’ll be pretty surprised at how far hard work will take you in this sport.”
Leever credited his coach of 12 years, Peter Lange, whom he describes as “a father figure,” with forming his opinions on how the world works and how to treat people.
“He’s a master at putting things in perspective and telling you that ski racing isn’t that big of a deal, that life is about relationships and people and not about trophies and rankings,” Leever praised.
“It’s hard to think like that sometimes, cause obviously everybody gets wrapped up in your results, but he reminded me that the people you meet are the ones you are going to remember.”