Jack Reich has been working his whole life to be a world-class alpine ski racer, but at 15 years old, he didn’t expect to find himself racing against the world’s best young skiers on a World Cup slope. Such is the way Colorado champions get their start (just ask Mikaela Shiffrin).

As America’s No. 1 racer under age 16 (U16), Reich competed in last week’s 2018 Longines Future Ski Champions race in Åre, Sweden. In an effort to nurture the next generation of great skiers, Longines (the Swiss watch company that has long served as the official timekeeper of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup) invites the top-ranked U16 skier from every nation that hosts the alpine World Cup—The United States, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany—to compete in the giant slalom race on a World Cup slope.

Reich’s story is a familiar tale of a Colorado kid who practically learned to ski before he learned to walk. He grew up in Denver, and strapped into skies before he was two years old. He sharing his enthusiasm for skiing with his father, Bob Reich, a former racer who grew up skiing for Team Summit at Copper Mountain.

Jack Reich
Jack Reich (center) with his parents, Bob and Denise Reich. Courtesy of Bob Reich

“I always had a lot of fun with it. It’s always been a part of my life growing up,” Jack says. “Then I was in eighth grade, and realized it was hard to do from Denver. That’s when we decided [that I should] move up to Steamboat so I could race to my full potential.”

Jack left his family in Denver to attend the Steamboat Mountain School—a college-preparatory boarding school that combines academics and athletics. Here, he joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, a nonprofit that trains young athletes in various snow sports (and is credited with bringing up 88 young Olympians and counting). This season, Reich really hit his stride, winning the U.S. Ski and Snowboard National Performance Series at Burke Mountain, Vermont, in January (and thus qualifying as the sole U.S. representative in the Longines Future Ski Champions race), and competing in the OPA Cup in Lichtenstein in February.

“The Longines race was such a surprise,” he says. “I got the email and it was like Whoa. Yeah, I want to go.”

The Future Ski Champions Race took place on March 15 during the World Cup Finals, on the same slope slated for next February’s 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Italian Lorenzo Thomas Bini, Reich’s roommate for the week, won the race, while Reich ended up fourth in both the first run and in the final.

“It’s a tough one to be sitting down at the bottom being like, ‘come on…someone please screw up.’ But of course, fourth place in the world is not too bad,” Jack says. “You have to think of the bigger picture and take it for what it’s worth. It’s just a step in the staircase. You have to learn from it. The people that learn are going to be the best in the future.”

Jack Reich
The top 15-year-old ski racers in the world receive their bibs from Colorado’s Mikaela Shiffrin (top left) for the Longines Future Ski Champions race in Sweden. Courtesy of Bob Reich

His sentiment echoes that of Colorado’s own Mikaela Shiffrin, a Longines ambassador who handed out bibs for the Future Ski Champions race. Fresh off her gold and silver medal Olympic performances, her second straight World Cup overall title, and her fifth slalom title, 23-year-old Shiffrin reflected on her own rapidly burgeoning career. While the Future Ski Champions race didn’t exist back then, Shiffrin also found her footing on an international stage as a 15-year-old skier, earning double gold at Trofeo Topolino in Italy and coming in first in giant slalom at the Whistler Cup in Canada in 2010.

“In some ways it feels like a long time ago, but it also feels like yesterday. At the time it felt like the World Cup, the World Championships, and the Olympics combined,” Shiffrin says. “If I didn’t have access to that type of international competition, I don’t think I’d be here today. It kept me inspired, kept me working just a little bit harder than I may have otherwise.”

Naturally, Reich wants to follow in Shiffrin’s footsteps. Next season he will begin accumulating FIS points—the next step toward competing in the World Cup—but, as he wisely points out, he will continue to focus on one race at a time. In the meantime, he’s soaking up the experience.

“Of course I want to be the best in the world. The World Cup is the ultimate goal, but what I’ve always loved about ski racing is the community and the camaraderie,” he says. “This race is kind of the peak of my U16 career. It’s what all these junior years have led up to. But just to be able to come to Europe and make friends and be a part of this community is ridiculously cool.”