U.S. skier Alice McKennis embraces forerunning duties at finals
U.S. Ski Team athlete Alice McKennis is glad to have a role in the World Cup Finals this week in Aspen, even if it’s not the role she had hoped for.
“It’s definitely disappointing to not be racing here,” McKennis said Tuesday. “It was kind of my goal all season to come home and finish the season off in Aspen racing. But it was a tough year and things just didn’t line up how I anticipated or worked for.”
McKennis, 27, is a speed specialist and veteran member of the team. She calls New Castle home, where her father still lives, and learned to ski at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs. She previously trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club under local Olympian Casey Puckett.
In many ways, Aspen Mountain is her home course, and McKennis spent much of the season hoping to race here during World Cup Finals. However, that didn’t go quite as planned.
“It’s ski racing, so sometimes it just doesn’t work how you think it will,” McKennis said. “But I’m really psyched to have the opportunity to forerun here, and it’s been so much fun to do the testing and the training runs.”
Prior to the downhill and super-G races Wednesday and Thursday, McKennis could be seen forerunning the course. Getting that opportunity is an honor in itself, even if she wishes she were skiing in Aspen for a whole different reason.
McKennis entered the season with high hopes. She was a 2010 Olympian and competed in the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. She finished the 2016 season ranked 26th in downhill, only one spot outside of qualifying for finals. Her best finish in the discipline was 10th in 2013, the same year she won her lone World Cup race.
This season was far from picture perfect.
“Early on in the season I started off decent,” McKennis said. “Our first race back was pretty challenging with weather conditions, so it was kind of a strange race. Then the next race in Garmisch (Germany), my ski fell off, so that was another missed opportunity. The last race before world champs I finally got in the finish and scored some points, but broke my hand the next day. So it’s been kind of a struggle, but I’m still fighting for it.”
McKennis didn’t make the world championship team in February, but found a bit of silver lining when she became the U.S. national downhill champion, winning a race Feb. 6 at Copper Mountain. She was able to compete in the Olympic test event in South Korea earlier this month, taking 27th in the downhill and 32nd in super-G.
She finished the season 33rd in the World Cup downhill standings and 46th in super-G. Only the top 25 qualify for the finals.
“To win the national downhill championship was really great. It was a nice thing to have for the rest of your life,” McKennis said. “Next year it will just be a lot of hard work this summer to make sure my equipment is dialed going into the season so I don’t have to stress as much about that in season. Just try to keep building on the positive skiing I’ve had and take it into the races next year.”
McKennis plans to be back, and in contention to make a push for the 2018 Olympics. She missed out on a chance to race in the Aspen finals this week, but takes some solace in being able to forerun.
And she hopes the races this week will lead to more downhill opportunities in Aspen, for both the men and women.
“From what I’ve heard talking to other racers, I think they all really like it and skiing down Aztec is pretty challenging,” McKennis said. “It’s cool to have a course that has some different features we don’t see in Europe. There is nowhere in Europe with a pitch like that. It’s really cool to have.”
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