With Lindsey Vonn retired and the World Cup women’s alpine tour having already made its token U.S. stop last weekend in Killington, Vermont (where Colorado’s Mikaela Shiffrin continued her domination) all eyes now turn toward the U.S. men’s ski team. The American men enter the spotlight this week in Beaver Creek during the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup ski races, the only stop on American snow for the men’s circuit—and they’re coming in hot.
Former bright lights like Ted Ligety, Steven Nyman, and Travis Ganong are back on the slopes after recovering from injuries, there’s a new speed coach in place, and newcomers like Vail native (and Birds of Prey poster child) River Radamus are earning World Cup points.
“I hope something special is in store,” says Ligety, who, with two Olympic gold medals, seven World Championship medals (including a gold and bronze from 2015 Vail/Beaver Creek) and six World Cup discipline titles, is by far the most decorated of the U.S. men’s alpine squad. He has also landed more podiums at Beaver Creek (12) than any other American in history. However, with season-ending injuries—his knee in 2016 and back in 2017—and chronic back pain, Ligety has only landed one podium since his last at Beaver Creek—the 2015 super G.
But this season has started on a more promising note for the 35-year-old Utah native. After some specialized summer training focused on building his body “to go fast, but to last,” Ligety kicked off with a fifth place finish at the season opener in Soelden, Austria, finishing just behind teammate Tommy Ford, who notched the best result of his World Cup career and narrowly missing the podium, while Ryan Cochran-Siegle took eleventh.
“We have a good group, especially in [giant slalom],” says Ligety, who, besides the upcoming Beaver Creek super G, which he considers the discipline’s standout event all season, will be focused only on giant slalom this World Cup season. “It’s definitely nice, having solid top 15 guys. It hasn’t happened in a while.”
On the speed side, things are also looking up for the American men, especially for Nyman and Ganong, both of whom have landed some of their top career results at Beaver Creek, but have been riddled by injury the last few seasons, missing the 2018 Olympics after tearing ligaments in their knees.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a few years,” says 37-year-old Nyman, who kicked off the season with a 10th place at the opening downhill race last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. “My body feels great. I finally had a summer without rehab.”
Nyman has landed three of his 11 World Cup downhill podiums at Beaver Creek, and also missed out on a World Championship downhill medal there in 2015, finishing hundredths of a second off the podium in fourth, as teammate Ganong threw down a silver medal-winning performance. Ganong, 31, launched his season with two impressive results—a 10th place in downhill and 12th in super G last weekend in Lake Louise, and says he’s starting, finally, at the top of his game, both mentally and physically.
“My last win was back in 2017. And in 2018, I blew out my knee right before the Olympics, so last year was a comeback year,” Ganong says. “I didn’t start the season 100 percent, but I ended the season 100 percent. I set myself up for this year. I have won races, so I know what it takes.”
After working with the U.S. development team for 10 years and coaching the Korean Ski Association’s men’s speed team into its home Olympics in 2018, Randy Pelkey steps into the role of U.S. Men’s Alpine Speed Coach for 2019–20 and aims, with his “fundamental approach,” to advance his team’s upward trajectory. Hailing from Hood River, Oregon, Pelkey’s pre-season prep included sending athletes downriver on stand-up paddleboards to work on their balance.
“We went on a 9-mile paddle that usually takes two and a half hours. It took the guys an hour and a half,” Pelkey said last month at Copper Mountain during on-snow speed training. “You’re balancing on something that’s dynamic, so it applied [to ski racing]. To keep them not only moving forward on this balance theme, but to do it in a place where they can improve it, was really cool. We’ll keep trying to step it, step it, step it, so we’re ready for Beaver Creek.”
If You Go: Catch the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup ski races Dec. 6–8 at Beaver Creek. The super G is scheduled for Friday, December 6; the downhill is on Saturday, December 7; and the giant slalom is on Sunday, December 8. All races are free to watch. The weekend also features live music, a beer festival and more.