Home Turf Spotlight: McKennis got her downhill start at Sunlight Mountain Resort

2015-16 U.S. Alpine Ski Team Photo: U.S. Ski Team
2015-16 U.S. Alpine Ski TeamPhoto: U.S. Ski Team

Alice McKennis, 27, learned to ski at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, located just down the road from her hometown of New Castle, where her father still lives.

She spent two years training with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club under the guidance of local Olympian Casey Puckett. She knows what Aspen Mountain is about, its significance in ski racing history, and can’t undersell how big of a deal it would be to compete in March’s Audi FIS World Cup Finals on Ajax.

“I’m really looking forward to finishing off the season with the World Cup Finals in Aspen,” McKennis said. “That’s going to be a really cool way to end the year and to race down Aztec and everything will be really fun, because we never have that opportunity, especially on the speed side. We never get to race in the U.S. and to race at home is going to be really fun.”

McKennis is one of a strong contingent of downhill skiers on the U.S. Ski Team. She finished 26th in the World Cup downhill rankings last season, only one spot outside of qualifying for the World Cup Finals in St. Mortiz, Switzerland. She was fourth among American women in the downhill in 2016, behind Stacey Cook (15th), Laurenne Ross (10th) and reigning downhill champion Lindsey Vonn.

McKennis had her best overall finish in 2013, when she ended the year ranked No. 10 in the downhill, a season in which four American women made the top 10. She’s hoping 2017 produces similar results.

“Last year I struggled a little bit and just missed the top-25 cutoff. I think I can improve on that quite a bit. I don’t have any doubts. I’m sure I’ll be there,” McKennis said of making the World Cup Finals in Aspen. “Coming into this season, I’m really excited about it. I’ve made an equipment change this year to Head, which was a really good change for me.”

McKennis already has a nice resume. She competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics — her rookie season on the World Cup — and competed in the past two World Championships. In 2015, she won the national championship in super-G at Sugarloaf in Maine.

Her lone World Cup victory came at St. Anton, Austria, in 2013.

“That injury I sustained in 2013 was pretty severe and took me quite a long time to recover from. But I’m feeling really good now and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been,” McKennis said. “I’m hoping that will show a little bit more in the results and make the break through into the top 10, which is what I’m aiming for this year.”

McKennis suffered quite the setback in 2013. Only two months after her World Cup win in St. Anton, her season ended in Germany when she crashed in a downhill race and shattered her right shinbone into about 30 pieces. She also missed most of the 2014 season recovering from the injury.

But with two strong winters between her and that injury — she finished 23rd overall in the downhill in 2015 — McKennis is hoping 2017 proves to be a breakthrough season. And she hopes to end it by coming home and skiing in the World Cup Finals on Aspen Mountain.

“It will showcase the sport really well and for a lot of the World Cup racers, especially the speed women, they’ve never even competed in the U.S.,” McKennis said. “It’s going to mean a lot to be able to compete essentially at home for me. I learned to ski at Sunlight, and that’s just right down the road. To have all my friends and family there, to have the hometown fans there and cheering us on, is going to be really special.”