February 26, 2014
2014 Overall IPC Alpine World Cup Champion
2014 Overall IPC World Cup Slalom Champion
2014 Overall IPC World Cup Overall Speed Champion- Downhill and Super-G
February 25, 2014
World Cup Finals
It is extremely difficult to write while Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner is playing at ear drum rupturing volume in the background. That is an inconvenience I am willing to live with, however, because this song is what my teammates and I play when we have had a particularly good day. Today we just finished the downhill portion of the world cup finals with my teammate Chris Devlin-Young finishing with a second and third place in two races, securing for himself the world cup downhill title for this year. I did not podium, but two top ten finishes today made me second in the downhill rankings. It also means that, with only two races left in the world cup season this year, I have enough points in the overall world cup rankings to completely secure the overall world cup title for all races combined. Chris, who has been racing much longer than myself, tells me that no American male has ever won the world cup overall title. Excuse me while I go see if the music can get any louder.
The world cup races this season have taken a back seat in importance in regards to the Paralympics coming up next week. Regardless, you can’t help but take them seriously once you are in the starting gate. Winning the overall world cup title is much like a lifetime achievement award and it literally takes a lifetime of training and racing to be consistent enough to even come close. Many things have to come together at the right time including equipment, technique, training and coaching. I have an amazing coaching staff and lots of supporters and sponsors who have all made this possible.
I now have one more race and a few days off before I travel to Sochi. I am really enjoying Italy including its culinary delights, although I really need to find a source of vegetables soon. They love their pasta and meat here, especially when they can enjoy it over three hours and twelve courses. The snow is plentiful, however, and the people are very nice and helpful.
The Paralympics always seem like they are looming in the horizon. In a few days we will get our uniforms and final lectures about logistics and proper decorum during the games. I have been told many times about what I can and cannot say about my experience at the games, so future updates might not be as entertaining as I would like. I can tell you that there are a lot of strange rules I have to follow and you may have to Google between the lines. By now you have probably seen some parts of the uniform and some of the venues in Sochi. We will be wearing the same clothes and competing in the same places, but with different logos. We will still look fabulous.
February 5, 2014
I have officially been nominated to the 2014 US Paralympic Team, a press release from US Paralympics has just told me, but this does not surprise me very much. I am sitting on my couch, not jumping for joy and my heart rate has only slightly registered the news. I am happy, sure, but I have expected to accomplish this for a long time.
I do not want to come off as cocky or ungrateful, so allow me to explain. I have been racing on the US Paralympics Alpine Ski Team for about ten years. In order to be on the team for this long I have had to be consistently successful. All of my training in the mental and physical aspects of this sport has been towards success on the race hill. I do not always win, but in general I have been quite successful. For me, doing well at a race, is the equivalent of turning in a decent term paper for university or completely fulfilling your job expectations at work. Granted, my job is a really unique and exciting one, but it is still a job. I expect to go to the Paralympics like university students expect to graduate or people expect to be promoted after years of hard work.
Winning a medal at the Paralympics will be another matter entirely.
It is considered a grand thing to win a medal at the Olympics and Paralympics. A lifetime of hard work leads to one moment to shine. Some people have several chances but the idea is the same. Statistically, doing well at the Olympics and Paralympics is very unlikely. The race itself is like any other, albeit with more people watching and cameras recording your every move. Ski racing is extremely intense and you have to perform at your full potential immediately, for about two minutes. If you let up at all, you lose. Therefore, the rate at which you have a great run is really low. The chances of everything working out for you for a single two minute run every four years, as you can imagine, is really low.
I find the pressure from coaches, teammates, family, friends, and media to do well at a single race every four years to be very frustrating. In many ways, winning the overall World Cup title is harder to do and better reflects who is the best skier in the world. Athletes know this and this title is much sought after. It is much harder to explain this concept to the rest of the world. Everyone loves a hero, and what better way to become one than winning at the most important sporting event the world has ever seen?
With all that said, I am very excited to have the opportunity to compete in Sochi this March. I have a burning desire to win every event I compete in, despite the odds. I know this goal is mildly unrealistic, but in an environment like the Paralympics you tend get caught up in things. There is always the chance that I will not achieve a podium in any event, and I will have to accept that this is a possible outcome. In the last two Paralympics this outcome became my reality and it was devastating. My mind went to some very dark places for a long time. I might have to deal with this reality again, and I fear that this will be one of the greatest mental challenges I have yet faced.
January 17-31, 2014
World Cup Races at Copper, Colorado and Tignes, France
You can’t win every race, but every ski racer definitely tries to do so. This was exactly what I was trying to do in the second slalom of the World Cup in Copper, CO last week. After a wild ride on the first run I was sitting in sixth place. I should have been happy that I even finished the run because ruts were developing that almost sent me head-over-heels multiple times. In IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Cup races, sit-skiers, my class, run last after two other classes: the visually impaired and standing (people missing a leg or an arm but ski standing up). This means that I run after at least 60 people, so the course has really deteriorated by the time that I run.
Fourth place is a really irritating place to be in. You almost made it, but not quite. All the time and effort, just to be the first person not on the podium. One fourth is not so bad, but by the end of the Copper World Cup I had a streak of several fourths and fifths and it was starting to wear on me. I wanted to win so badly but I kept making weird little mistakes in every run. To make it worse, the same people seemed to win every day. I have always striven to be fast and consistent, but it sometimes seems as unattainable as the desire to be come an astronaut.
Fast forward to the present and I am now in Tignes, France at another World Cup race. I have been here several times over my career and every time there has been more snow at this one place than any other ski area I have seen. This trip has not disappointed in that regard, as we got two feet of snow in the first two days. This meant that the first downhill training run was cancelled in favor of powder skiing, my favorite event. I love racing, but I live for powder skiing. Two days of this completely reset my mood and perspective towards the entire sport. Anyone who is moderately good at skiing will understand how the feeling of flying over fluffy clouds of powder will completely remove a bad mood.
Today the weather cleared up and we were able to have a downhill training run in the morning. In the afternoon, due to our now shortened schedule because of the snow, we ran the fist of two downhill races. Because of the powder skiing, I was in such a good mood that I won the first training run and got second in the race. I had some obvious mistakes in the race run, but I am so happy now that I don’t even care. I can just let it go and move on to the next race. That is the power of powder.
— This is the second in a series of articles I am writing for the Littleton Record newspaper.
January 11, 2014
World Cup Race, Panorama, British Columbia
Ski races hardly ever turn out according to plan. If they did, everyone would win. So it always helps to try and create as much fun as possible amidst the chaos of unpredictability.
During a recent World Cup event, this pursuit of fun left me stuck between a pile of rocks and a pine tree in the back bowl of Panorama, B.C. It had snowed just enough to cancel the super-combined race we had scheduled for the day, so my teammate, Chris Devlin-Young and I decided to follow some coaches to a snow field where the powder was rumored to be deeper than anywhere else on the mountain.
After a lot of traversing through un-tracked powder I accidentally scraped over a pile of rocks I couldn’t see. In an effort to extract myself, I fell off the rocks and into a tree-well. After ten minutes and a lot of pushing and digging, I got myself out and onto the snowfield.
The effort was worth it, though, as the snowfield had seemingly bottomless powder and the way down was easily one of the funnest runs I have had this season.
Chris, who coached me at Loon Mountain for several years before I made the national team, was the driving force to get me from recreational skier to World Cup competitor, and is one of the few people I trust to get themselves into and out of tricky skiing situations.
Creating fun on this trip has been of great importance. I am very well prepared for this season and my confidence in my abilities is high, but luck still plays a huge role in ski racing. Inserting elements of fun into this journey to the Sochi Paralympics keeps the seriousness of competition from becoming too overwhelming.
The following description of my races will make it clear how serious the competition can get.
Downhill was the first race at this location. I was feeling really good about it because it started off with a series of technical turns, which I do really well, with the last half being much straighter and faster. Unfortunately I don’t ski fast, straight courses very well because I don’t weight very much and I wasn’t able to ski the technical part precisely enough which ended my day in eighth place, a few seconds out of first. On Sunday, after the powder day, we were able to race a super-combined (one run each of downhill and slalom) and I had similar problems with the downhill portion. I redeemed myself in the slalom, however, by winning that portion handily. Unfortunately, the effort was only enough to out me in into fourth, an immensely infuriating position to be in.
On Monday we ran giant slalom and it started off great, only to end in more frustration. I won the first run by one hundredth of a second and there were about ten guys within a second of my time. I was feeling rally good for the second run and my mind thought I had the race wrapped up. Unfortunately, I ended up not skiing dangerously enough to remain on top, and I ended up fifth.
Tuesday was the super-G (faster and straighter than giant slalom, but a bit slower than downhill) and I was really excited for it because of its more technical nature compared to downhill. My excitement was to be short-lived, however. When I inspected the course it appeared to be technical enough for me to win, but when I ran it, the course turned out to be faster than the downhill. This deception happens on occasion but I still managed another fifth.
About Me: I learned to ski and race a Cannon Mountain, Loon Mountain, and Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. I happen to be missing both of my legs at the knee, and I ski using a device called a mono ski or sit ski. This device is much like the rear end of a mountain bike, where a metal frame moves up and down with the help of a shock absorber. I sit, strapped in on the top of the frame, with a single ski on the bottom in place of a wheel This mono ski allows me to ski just like someone standing up, but in a sitting position. I am currently trying to qualify for and hopefully compete in the Paralympics this year in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympics, for clarification, are the same as the Olympics, but for people with physical disabilities. Competition takes place in the same location as the Olympics, just a few weeks. later.
— This is the second in a series of articles I am writing for the Littleton Record newspaper.
Russia is different.
I have always thought that if were a foreigner flying to the United States, customs was a most unwelcoming and frustrating first experience of this country. Getting into the EU, on the other hand, is super easy and they seem to actually want you to be there. Going to Russia is like going to the United States. You have to fill out a lengthy application and they want to know everything about you. When you get there you have to recheck all of your bags and recheck-in for your next flight. When you are on a 20 person team and every one of you has at least 4 bags at or above 50lbs, this is no easy task. The trip took a while, but we made it.
One of my first experiences of Russia was quite funny. My teammates and I were all sitting at the back of the plane, waiting to disembark in Sochi. Our wheelchairs had not come up to the plane yet so we inquired to the steward if they were going to come up to the plane at all. He pauses for a moment, looks out the door of the plane, looks back at us, and with a slight frown says “I will ask, but this is Russia.” (Where did they go? Siberia?)
We stayed in this completely manufactured village called Rosa Khutor that consists of nothing but giant hotels and a sewage infested river running through the middle. The nearest real town is about 30 minutes down the valley. There is construction going on all along the valley, 24/7, and I have never seen so many dump trucks and concrete mixers in one place.
The security situation in this area is intense. Sochi is just barely north of the Georgian border, which Russia invaded a few years ago over a dispute about Russians living in several regions bordering Russia. This did not go well for Georgia, so they are not exactly friends. Chechnya, a republic of Russia, is a few hundred kilometers to the east, and Russia has had to quell several uprisings over the past few decades. Due to all of this one can see not just the police everywhere, but the army, too. The ski area is accessed by one gondola and you are only allowed to go up there on the days you are racing, so freeskiing is not possible. You also need to pass through full airport-like security run by guards who have no sense of humor and are not allowed to smile. The skiing looks like it would be great and the mountain is huge and steep, but the chances of running into hidden machine gun nests and razor wire are rather higher than your average ski area.
The downhill is awesome. We ran down the men’s downhill which has all sorts of cool terrain features, including steeps, flats, fall-away turns, and a real jump! We don’t often have jumps in our downhills because there are some disability classes that are not well suited to flying through the air, or so I have been told. I saw all the disability classes go down the course and they did just fine, with no one class crashed more than the other. The track was a ton of fun and if you ran it correctly you were in the air for quite some time. Due to very soft snow and warm weather, we ran the only training run of the downhill and the first race on the same day. Normally a downhill takes two days of training and one day of racing. I ended up winning the race because of a perfect combination of a bumpy track, technical turns, and a jump I was not at all afraid of going full speed on. The next day we had another downhill and my teammate, Chris Devlin-Young, won. It bodes well for next year.
The next day it started to rain. We were supposed to run a super-combined but the track go too soft and the visibility was too bad so we just ran a slalom. In the slalom I was top ten in the first run and easily within striking distance for the podium. In my second run I skied some of the best slalom I have ever skied, but I went too straight into a flush just before the finish and flipped over the wrong side of the last few gates. This has been a pattern the whole year, but I know that once I get my consistency, I will crush slaloms.
At the end of this World Cup season I ended up third in the giant slalom standings and I won the speed events globe (we don’t have enough races to do separate globes for downhill and super-g, and a crystal globe is the first place prize of any world cup overall category). Overall it wasn’t a bad year, but I have the skills to be the best.
Thanks to all my sponsors for helping me through another season. Nike, Starz Entertainment, Aspen Seating, POC and Enabling Technologies make it happen!
Here are some pictures!
These World Championships have been a challenging time. The downhill track was really long, but half of it was really flat, which does not benefit me because I have the least amount of mass of the entire men’s monoski field. The second half of the track was quite steep, but the turns were not technically challenging, so I couldn’t make up all the time I had lost in the flats. Regardless, I skied as fast a run as I was able, but all I could manage was 10th place. The super-g was the same situation but the field became slightly more competitive and I ended up in 12th.
The rest of the races ended up even worse for me. I did not manage to finish the super-combined, giant slalom or slalom due my equipment setup and the snow conditions. All of these events require a great deal of stivot turns, which means that you pivot your ski at the top of the turn to give the ski more direction towards the next turn than you would have with a normal, carved turn. Stivots are used when you can’t generate enough pressure quickly enough to make the turn in a clean arc because of the high speed, snow conditions, and/or steepness of the hill. My monoski carves an amazing turn, but does not stivot very well when the snow is really hard, which it was.
The World Championships were not a complete loss, however. On the last day we had a team event in the form of a mini skier-cross. We had an 18 second track with berms and bumps and we each went down it one at a time, with the three fastest times from your country recorded. As a team we managed second place, and I was the second fastest monoskier down the track, only a few hundredths off the fastest. I felt quite at home after many years of X-Games. It was not the most important race of the event, but it made the entire team a little bit happier.
The pressure of an even like the World Championships and to a greater extent the Paralympics, are unique in the world of ski racing. If you want to win, everything has to come together for you in one brief moment lasting no more than two minutes. All your training and media exposure you experience in the years prior is all focused on winning in these two main events, and you only have one shot every few years. If one tiny thing goes wrong, it seems like you have just wasted years of your life for nothing. If you can’t tell yet, I am not a fan of these events. The regular world cup is, in a sense, much harder and a better gauge for who is a better skier. To win a world cup overall title, you have to ski consistently well the entire season. In this environment I have done much better, winning three overall titles in two disciplines in my career. I have never had success at the World Championships or Paralympics, and those two events are all people seem to remember and care about. It is a uniquely infuriating circumstance, but that is what powder days are for.
Here are some pictures from the World Championships.
I am almost finished packing for tomorrow’s trip to Spain to compete in the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Championships, as well as World Cup Finals in Russia a bit later. I have rifled through the contents of my room many times over looking for random bits of accouterments necessary for skiing. I have packed and then repacked all my bags, trying to get them all to 50 pounds or less. I believe I have failed miserably on a few of them, judging by the difficulty I have had picking them up. The last year has been spent preparing for these races, with countless hours in the gym, on the hill, and in the tune room, making sure my body and my equipment are functioning well enough to go faster than everyone else. Even with all the preparation, there is no guaranty of success. I am acutely aware that despite being extremely well trained, the effect of hitting a rut just slightly at the wrong angle is enough to send me hurtling into the safety netting. Regardless, my bags are packed, and all I want is the opportunity to push out of the starting gate.
The World Championships are being held in the town of La Molina, Spain. The hill for giant slalom and slalom has a really steep pitch, so I should have some advantage, as I am lighter and more maneuverable than the average monoskier. The hill for the speed events, however, is rumored to be quite flat, which is not good for me at all. I have quite a bit of skill at speed events, but I am lighter than everyone else out there, making rough terrain, wind gusts, and mistakes add much more to my overall time.
I am most excited for Russia. We are having a test event in Sochi so that we can make sure the venues are going to work properly before the Paralympics next year. Most of what I know about Russia has been learned from years of movies, all with a strong Western Cold War bias. I assume this portrayal is not quite accurate, but the visa application process would suggest the movies are not all wrong. The Russians want to know a bit too much information about you, especially if you have ever been in the military. I don’t have to deal with this issue, but a few teammates do. I can’t help but wonder how I can get a Russian customs agent to say to me “Mister Valker, vee haf vays of making you talk.” That would be fun. I have also learned a few useful Russian phrases, my favorite of which is “spokoynoy nochi” which means “goodnight.” I plan on using this phrase in as many unsuitable situations as possible, such as to the start referee, just before I go out of the start. Imagine the confusion.
The rest of my bags are not going to pack themselves, so google Rosa Khutor, the name of the ski area in Sochi, and I am going to finish up here.
Talk to you from Spain.
I was just training in Valle Nevado, Chile for a few weeks where we did a lot of work on technique for giant slalom and Super-g. The snow was great, with a few days of ice, bullet proof snow. The food, on the other hand, was rather lacking in flavor, variety, and definition that would suggest it was something other than roast dog. The water also smelled of diesel fuel and functioned as quite an efficient laxative. Complaining aside, we were in Chile, which is seriously awesome. The mountains are of such immensity, it is difficult to grasp the scale of things. The people were super friendly, too. We got to celebrate Chilean Independence Day at the ski area, and they put on a crazy party. With all that said, I made a video of one of my training runs, and not of the food or water.
I just got back from an amazing time at the ESPYS! They took place at the Nokia Theater and JW Marriott hotel, both of which are massive and super fancy places.
There were pre-parties, after-parties, and after-after-parties, all of which were outrageous. The music was really loud at each party, and no venue had speakers less than ten feet tall. If you were to go into cardiac arrest, CPR would not be needed, for you would promptly snap out of it, your heart beating in time to some hip hop beat. I learned also that ESPN thinks rap/hip-hop are the only music genres athletes like to listen to. I must have missed that memo.
Before the actual awards show everyone had to walk down the red carpet, full of loud and obnoxious paparazzi who only had attention for the famous and fabulous. I had the unfortunate luck to find myself in between Danica Patrick and Maria Sherapova for this experience. One might imagine that no guy couldn’t imagine a better place to be than between these two. I can attest, however, that when cameras were involved everyone else became invisible, including myself. I think three out of about one hundred photographers took my photo, mostly out of pity. I did, however, have a fantastic suit and rather good looking hair.
Overall it was a once or few times in a lifetime experience that was definitely worth it. I did not get to hobnob with anyone famous, unfortunately. I barely watch sports so I had no idea who anyone was. I did not win an ESPY, either. The prize in my category went to Kyle Maynard who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with no arms or legs.
Tyler grew up in Franconia, New Hampshire. Learning how to ski at Cannon Mountain, Tyler eventually qualified for the US Paralympics Alpine Ski Team in 2003, which he has been a member of ever since. Tyler attended the University of New Hampshire from 2004 to 2008 where he earned a dual degree in geography and international affairs, with minors in political science and German. Since 2004 Tyler has had a very successful skiing career, competing in the Paralympics in 2006, 2010, and 2014. During that time Tyler was also a three-time Winter X-Games gold medalist in Monoskier-X and 2014 overall World Cup champion. Since 2010 Tyler has lived and trained in Aspen, Colorado along with many of his teammates.