I’m on a plane returning form Aspen and Vail as I am writing this and I am still trying to sort everything out. The trip as a whole was rather disappointing. I had more crashes and races that I did not finish than I would have liked. I had a lot of missed opportunities to end up on the podium or even win the races. I had some bad luck with equipment mishaps and continued to struggle in downhill. I am still leaving with a smile on my face though, knowing that I have a long break from the Norams and can get some good training in to sort things out before the spring push.
I think that I left my cold and sinus infection behind in Vail, so that was a good sign moving on to Aspen. My thumb still hurt most of the time, but I got a splint that seemed to help. We went from sunny skies and very hard snow in Vail to seemingly constant flurries and dry grippy snow that broke apart with each racer down the course in Aspen.
I was excited for the two super g races that led off the race series. I had a nice early number and liked racing super g at Aspen. About 15 minutes before the first race I had finished warming up and stopped at the lodge quickly to get ready for my run. As I was taking my skis off one of my poles broke. I have never had a pole break so close to my run. I scrambled for a bit then called my Swix rep that was in Aspen that morning. He was leaving town, but turned around to bring me another pair. Unfortunately, he was not going to make it in time for me to meet him at the bottom then ride to two lifts to get to the start. I borrowed poles from my teammate, who was running after me. If things went on schedule I had 30 minutes to get from the finish of my run and back to the start to get him his poles. It was enough time, but the last thing I wanted to do was affect his run because of my misfortune.
I was without a doubt flustered from the moment I broke my pole. All I was thinking about was that I got my teammate’s poles back to him in time. I was thinking of how bad it would be if the lift had a problem or anything got in the way of me returning his poles. The last thing on my mind was the course and what I had to do to succeed. I skied the course without really thinking, sometimes it can work out and sometimes it doesn’t. In this race it didn’t. On the good side he got his poles back in plenty of time. The racer who went after me crashed hard and the race was stopped for half an hour. I caught my lucky break in more ways than one with the half hour hold. During that time a snow squall rolled in and it snowed heavily for the whole hold. The new snow completely changed the race. Essentially the race for first place was over, then snow slowed the track down so much that it was near impossible for anyone after the hold to be the fastest one down.
I had not skied well and was frustrated with that. The problem was that I let my broken equipment get to me. I did get luck to run before the snow came in. I wound up finishing fourth, a bit relieved that Mother Nature had helped me out, but pissed because I knew I should have won. I left the mountain feeling like I dodged a bullet by skiing poorly and still finishing fourth. The next day I would have a better chance.
In the second race I skied the top section well. The top is flat for about 15 seconds before an abrupt break over onto a steep pitch. I skied that section solidly. It is not where you win the race by taking chances, but you can easily loose it by doing so. I continued the solid skiing all the way down, but as soon I crossed the finish I knew I missed my opportunity on the bottom.
The bottom of the course ran much easier than I thought it would have during inspection. I was a but loopy, traveling more distance than I needed to, and could have made up time by pushing the line and being more aggressive. It was a simple mental mistake that easily cost the three tenths of a second that separated me in sixth place from second place.
At this point for me the difference between where I am finishing now and winning is completely mental. I need to be more confident and trust that I can push things and still make it down. I need to flip the switch because at this point in the season making it down safe and clean does not help.
From super g we moved into downhill. A few years ago I started doing downhill for one reason, to help my super g. I find that doing downhill makes super g much easier; it helps to get a feel for the speed, terrain, and the trail. Downhill has been hit or miss, I have had some great downhill races and some slow ones. I have still not figured it out. Even though we already raced the super g races, I did the downhills because of the overall NorAm standings and I needed the points to stay close.
The forecast of snow forced the cancellation of the second training run and after just one run down the overly turny course we get right into racing. Things went pretty well in the first race as I finished seventh. It was one of my best results in an Aspen downhill, so I was happy. I wish I could say the same for the second Noram downhill. I went out with the same approach and was slower, finishing 17th. Downhill is still a mystery.
The trip ended on what could have been one of my most embarrassing moments on skis. Our final race was the US National Championships Downhill. It was not captured on video and I have still not decided if I am lucky or not. I was in the starting gate and fired up for my last run and looking to turn things around from the previous day’s disappointing finish. The top of Aspen’s downhill is flat for nearly the first 45 seconds. I pushed out of the gate and was skating as hard a possible. When I was about to settle into my tuck I decided I had better throw in an extra push. This hesitation threw off my timing.
As I went for the last push, I planted my left pole mistakenly inside of my left ski. I did not have enough time to lift it before tripping myself up. The next thing I knew I was on my stomach sliding past the first gate. I was filled with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. I was too embarrassed to really do anything, but take my skis off and walk back to the start with my head down avoiding eye contact with whoever might have been around.
I have to give credit to some of my fellow racers, especially the Canadians who managed to put a smile on my face when I showed up at the finish fully clothed. They began to call me Fritz, in reference to Fritz Strobl from the Austrian team. He was one of their many downhill greats. His accomplishments include winning numerous world cups and the gold medal in downhill at the Salt Lake City Olympic games, but he is also remembered for falling while skating out of the start at Wengen. I couldn’t help but smile remembering about Strobl. It happens to the best I guess.