Social media rewards happiness and success, making it a challenge to convey despair and failure without losing your audience. Whenever I post about my success, accompanied by a picture of a podium or an action shot or a smiling selfie, the likes and well-wishes come pouring in. This feels good, a vindication that what you are doing has greater meaning beyond just yourself. It is also an addiction and a dishonest portrayal of what actually happened. This season I have succeeded enough to qualify for the next season, which is the bare minimum I expect of myself. In between those successes I also experienced failure, pain, despair and frustration in far greater quantity. When I have these negative experiences for too long, I become depressed, seeking to withdraw inward and not express myself to the outside world. In an effort to fill in some gaps in the story of my ski season, here are the experiences that occurred around all the podiums, the powder days, the smiling teammates, the good food, and the far-off and epic locales of the ski world.
During the summer, long before any racing started, I was in the midst of a conditioning program designed to get me in the best shape possible by the start of the season. I had days where I was in excruciating pain from working out too much, knowing I had a similar workout the next day. There were days where I almost threw up from cardio sessions that never seemed to end. Sometimes I would aggravate old shoulder injuries, forcing me to lower the intensity and occasionally seek medical help to get back in shape. I also had days where I was completely unmotivated, preferring to lie in bed, earnestly formulating excuses in my head not to complete the workout of the day.
In the fall we began on-snow training where my goal was to find a groove reminiscent of the previous season when everything was working well. Once I found that I planned to tweak and change my technique and equipment to seek more improvement. There were a lot of days when this did not go well. My body would either not be used to new movements and therefore resist what I was trying to improve, or equipment changes turned out to be entirely detrimental. This combination would often lead to not being able to complete training runs and often being thrown out of the course and into the air, to land and slide unceremoniously down to a group of disappointed coaches. There were days where I was so exhausted from difficult training that every muscle seemed to self-immolate at once. I would wake up the next day almost unable to move, knowing I had to do another full day of training.
The frustration really started once the races began in December. The first World Cup races were in Austria and Switzerland and I thought I was ready. Everything concerning my equipment and body was dialed-in and I had a lot of confidence. When I got to the third turn in the first race, about to go over the first steep section, I knew everything was wrong. The snow on the race course was completely different than on the warm-up hill. I had everything set up wrong and my body could not compensate for the new conditions. I made it down the run, barely, and I immediately started thinking about changes I could make to get everything back in order. I wanted to race down the mountain, not just survive the run. I spent every race on that first trip doing just that. Every day I was trying something new, getting a bit closer but not quite perfect. I managed to salvage some races but I spent every day racing at far less than my full potential. I did eventually find a good set up and technique for the conditions, but it came very late.
The next set of World Cup races were in Austria and Slovenia. The first downhill of the season was in Innerkrems, Austria and I had decided not to race. I still have a lot of psychological issues stemming from past crashes in downhill races and they effectively prevent me from going fast enough to compete. When I get close to 60 mph, I have very real panic manifest itself in my brain, causing me to stiffen up and have flashbacks of horrendous crashes I was unfortunate enough to take part in. This is exactly the opposite of what you want to be thinking about in a downhill. In lieu of racing I decided to free ski a few days and prepare for the super-G races coming up. Once I actually got to the super-G races, however, I was completely unprepared for the speed and how the track ran. I did very poorly while almost everyone who did the downhill portion went quite a bit faster. My racing took a brief turn for the better in Slovenia. Lessons learned from the first World Cup races finally allowed me to win one race and podium in another.
After Slovenia, I had a few days before World Championships started in Italy. At this point in the season I had already skied far more days than most people ski in several lifetimes. I was mentally and emotionally burned out and completely over the idea of racing. Unfortunately the biggest races of the year were coming up and all my training was leading up to this moment. I could have cared less. I wanted to go home, drink cocoa, and play video games until my eyes were bloodshot. Unwilling to express that desire openly, I carried on with the competitions. I only had expectations of myself in the giant slalom and slalom, but I had to wait days for those to start. When they finally happened, my shoulder straps malfunctioned during the giant slalom, leaving me almost unable to make it down the run. During the slalom I was so tired from everything that my timing for initiating each turn was far from perfect.
The final major trip was to Japan and Korea for the last World Cups of the season. In Japan I had yet another shoulder strap malfunction in the middle of a giant slalom. I finished but only by side-slipping down the entire run. There were super-G races there, too, but the panic I described earlier had more control of me than I expected. The races in Korea were a more positive experience. These took place on the same hill we will use for the Paralympics next year. I took part in the downhill this time and with very conservative and safe skiing, I managed to keep the panic at bay. I didn’t do well, but I made it down. The super-G went a bit better than earlier in the season. I still didn’t podium but I allowed myself to ski faster and end up much closer to the winner. When the giant slalom and slalom came around, however, I realized that my skis for those events were damaged from over-use throughout the season, and would never perform properly no matter how well they were tuned. I did fantastically bad in both of those races.
I experienced a great deal of negative emotion this season. I was almost never able to ski to my full potential, sometimes due to my own actions but not exclusively. Each situation made me feel uniquely frustrated. I saw people I should be able to beat easily routinely ski faster than me. I saw new people start to figure out how to be consistently fast, managing top podium spots at almost every race. I saw old competition be incredibly consistent with very good performances throughout the season. I wanted to be consistently good and show everyone how I can actually ski, but I was unable to do that. I had days when I would finish a race and storm out of the finish area without talking to anyone because I was ashamed of my performance. I wanted to punch people in the face for being so perfect all the time when I was unable to do so. I didn’t act on this, thankfully.
I have a lot of people come to me and congratulate me on a wonderful season, when that was so far from the truth. I should be more honest but I wonder how to do that without being a miserable ball of doom and gloom. My season was barely acceptable. I did get to travel around the world and ski, which is undoubtedly amazing, but it is the nature of my job. The nature of my job is also to attempt to be the best in the world at what I do, and I don’t always succeed.
In an effort to give context, I should note that there was a fair bit of good this past season. I travel with a fascinating group of athletes, coaches, and technicians who strive to be the best in the world. Everyone has vastly different personalities and life experiences that make for lasting friendships and exciting road trips across various continents. My coaches and staff go above and beyond to enable you to ski at your full potential, but every factor is not always controllable. I have amazing sponsors including Dynaccess, Ride Designs, and Enabling Technologies that provide the best equipment currently in existence. The equipment side of the sport is very complex, however, and takes a lot of time and effort to find the best solution. My other main sponsor, Cisco, is the single key factor in my ability to not starve, provide shelter, and enable my transportation from place to place. Without everyone’s help there would be no competitions, no athletes, and no experiences.
One of my greatest motivations in life is to travel as much as possible, meet interesting people, eat weird food, and have unique experiences. While the ski racing lifestyle can be incredibly frustrating at times, it has enabled me to do all of these things on a grand scale. To have this opportunity makes me incredibly grateful and keeps me motivated to keep moving forward.