Lindsey Vonn takes training to Aspen, looks to regain early-season confidence

For the most part, Lindsey Vonn’s holiday break was much like anyone else’s. She went home to Vail and was inundated by family, children and dogs — she alone has three — and after Sunday’s training session at Aspen Highlands seemed happy to be back on snow.

Vonn, who has more World Cup wins than any woman in ski racing’s history, returned to work this weekend by making the short drive to Aspen to train on the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s Stapleton Training Center at Highlands. She’s here training with Brandon Dyksterhouse, a Vail-based coach who has worked with the U.S. Ski Team in the past.

“I’ve never actually trained over here at Highlands, so it was a good opportunity,” Vonn told The Aspen Times on Sunday. “This is an awesome venue here in Aspen. I’m happy they invited me to come and set things up for me and I really appreciate that.”

Outside of a few World Cup races and March’s World Cup Finals, Vonn doesn’t get to spend much time in Aspen. Along with getting to use the AVSC’s first-class training venue, Vonn partnered with the club to offer up an auction item — in this case, a chance to ski with Vonn — as part of the AVSC’s Audi Ajax Cup on Saturday, the organization’s largest annual fundraiser. The money raised was split between the AVSC and the Lindsey Vonn Foundation.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to be a part of the fundraiser. Obviously it’s good for the club, but also really good for my foundation,” Vonn said. “We want to help as many girls as possible, so the more attention we can bring to the foundation and the more support we can get, the better. It really turned out to be a great opportunity for us.”

Regaining her confidence

More than anything, Vonn is using this rare in-season training session to regain her confidence. Her World Cup season got off to a rocky start when she crashed in the season-opening women’s downhill at Lake Louise — she’s won 18 World Cup races at the Canadian resort, which is often called “Lake Lindsey”.

Vonn only has one podium this season, but it came in her last race. She won the women’s super-G in Val d’Isere, France, her 78th career World Cup victory. While the World Cup season is somewhat of an afterthought for Vonn with this being an Olympic season, the four-time overall World Cup champion currently sits 24th in the overall standings with 129 points.

“It’s hard in the season to actually get the training you need, so this is an important break for me but also a good training opportunity,” Vonn said.

“It was a difficult way to start the season with the crash in Lake Louise, but at the same time I most likely would have won that race and I have to keep things in perspective. I don’t doubt my ability, it’s just a matter of putting things together on race day and really making sure I have that confidence that I had coming into the season. I finally feel I’ve built myself back up. I’m more confident than I was after Lake Louise and getting that win in Val d’Isere was really important for me.”

The Olympic dream

Like so many athletes this season, Vonn’s focus is entirely on the fast approaching Winter Olympics in South Korea. She is a three-time Olympian, having won a gold medal in the downhill in 2010.

However, she missed the 2014 Games in Sochi because of injury and is determined to make up for it in February.

“A lot of times the accomplishments we achieve on the World Cup and the World Championships go widely unnoticed in the United States, so the Olympics are really the only time we have to showcase our skills and show how hard we’ve been working,” Vonn said. “I’m lucky I already have a gold medal, so I don’t have a lot of pressure. But at the same time I would love to finish off my career with another gold, or more.”

Vonn competed in the Olympic test events in Jeongseon back in March, taking second in both the downhill and super-G races. She likes the course, and considering her Minnesota roots isn’t worried about the area’s notoriously cold weather.

“It looks really good,” Vonn said of the Olympic venue. “They brought in a lot of people from Canada and New Zealand to prepare the course, to prepare the hill, so it was in great shape when we raced there in (March). Just kind of depends on weather. It’s not necessarily a stable place for weather, but we’ll see.”

Vonn’s farewell tour?

At 33, Vonn is willing to admit her days as a competitive ski racer are numbered. While it’s highly unlikely this will be her final World Cup season, envisioning a scenario where Vonn competes in the 2022 Winter Olympics is murky.

“I don’t know if I can make it another four. I don’t want to say that it’s not possible, because people are competing much longer in their careers,” Vonn said. “Anything is possible, but I feel this most likely would be my last Olympics and I’m approaching it as that and trying to make sure I’m as prepared as possible and leaving no stone unturned.”

Most already consider Vonn to be the greatest female ski racer of all time. About the only thing for her to still accomplish, outside of possibly adding a few more Olympic medals, would be to chase down Ingemar Stenmark. The Swedish legend holds the all-time record with 86 career World Cup victories, all coming in either slalom or giant slalom.

Vonn, already second all-time on the list, believes she can get to Stenmark’s record — she needs eight more wins to tie him — but doesn’t want to make it a primary focus as her career comes to a close.

“Obviously that’s a huge goal and it’s something I’ve been striving for. It’s been a challenge to stay healthy, so that’s made it more difficult to be able to get to that record,” Vonn said. “I know I can still continue to win races; I just have to go out there and get it. I feel like when I broke the women’s record for World Cup wins, the less I focused on it the easier it was. So I’m not going to focus on it. Focus on the Olympics, focus on just trying to win and everything will take care of itself.”

The next women’s World Cup speed events are scheduled for Jan. 13-14 in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria. The 2018 Winter Olympics start Feb. 9.