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Hall Of Famer Erik Schlopy Made Fun Come First On The Ski Slopes

By John Blanchette | April 09, 2015, 5:50 p.m. (ET)

Erik Schlopy competes in the men's giant slalom at the Park City Mountain Resort during the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 21, 2002 in Park City, Utah.

Three Olympic Winter Games, a demanding and unprecedented comeback to the world cup circuit and 32 years of weaving through slalom gates suggest that Erik Schlopy was born to race.

He prefers to think of it as being born to ski.

“I’ll give you a story that might illustrate it better,” said the former world championships medalist. “In one of my first races, a slalom, I peeled off the course because I knew there was a jump over by the trees. I hit the jump, did a spread-eagle and skied back onto the course and finished the race.

“I enjoyed racing, but I just wanted to ski. I wanted to get from the start to the finish and have fun doing it. As long as I was out skiing, I was happy.”

The latest happy development: Schlopy is part of the 10-deep 2014 class that will be inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame on April 11 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“I’m thrilled,” he said. “I’m excited to go in with this class.”

It’s an honor that rewards accomplishment, obviously, but also the singular perseverance required of a world-class athlete.

“So much of it is sticking with it through all the ups and downs,” said Schlopy, who retired from competition in 2008. “Especially in skiing, the downs are so much more abrupt than the ups — not just the crashes, which hurt a lot, but skiing is so unforgiving. You can go an entire season without finishing a slalom — which I’ve done. But you have to weather the storm and keep on.”

Erik Schlopy looks with medal in hand at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship on Feb. 13, 2003 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

Born in Buffalo, New York, Schlopy developed into an elite racer on the slopes of Vermont and managed to “keep on” for nearly two decades after making the national team at 18.

He skied in three Winter Games — 1994, 2002 and 2006 — and won the bronze medal in giant slalom at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships behind teammate Bode Miller’s gold in a remarkable finish that saw the podium skiers separated by just .04 seconds.

But for all that, what set Schlopy’s career apart was walking away from world cup competition at 23 to join the now-defunct World Pro Ski Tour — and then fighting his way back onto the U.S. team three years later.

“I did it because the environment I was in, I was stagnating,” Schlopy said. “I had broken my back (at the 1993 world championships), and there was a year or two after making it back that I wasn’t having the fun I knew I should be. I wasn’t enjoying racing, and I looked at the pro tour as an opportunity to grow and get better in a different environment — and it was. Who knows if I would have had success later in my career?

“It was a road never traveled, and I’m glad I did it.”

Then it was announced that Salt Lake City would host the 2002 Winter Games, and Schlopy — whose family had moved to nearby Park City, where many Olympic events were held — felt the itch to chase Olympic medals again.

But first he’d have to ski his way back on to the U.S. team, from the bottom of the U.S. Ski Team’s points list. That meant “starting 131st with 15-year-olds at Nor-Am races,” he said, “and feeling lucky to get into them.” It meant skiing a fine line to stay upright every race, but still score well enough to move up the list. It meant spending money he didn’t have on equipment, coaching and travel, without a national team subsidy.

It meant winning the season’s final event in Lutsen, Minnesota, by a second and a half or being faced with starting over anew next year — and then doing exactly that.

“But in that process, I learned how much I loved skiing,” he said, “and that I was willing to give it everything I had.”

He would finish 14th in the 2002 Olympic slalom, and 13th in giant slalom in the 2006 Games in Torino. Two years later, he abruptly pulled the plug on his racing career.

“Physically, I was fine,” Schlopy said. “But my daughter was born in 2006 and my son in 2008, and being away from them was so difficult. I was in the middle of a (world cup) run at Val d’Isere (France), and I just realized that was it. I wanted to be home.”

He soon segued into coaching, and in 2013 Schlopy joined the U.S. Ski Team men’s alpine technical staff, where he tries to impart the same drive he brought to his racing.

“If you don’t have that serious passion, it’s easy to make an exit when things get tough,” he said.

“I’m proud of the tenacity I brought to skiing, and I think I’m most proud that I had a unique career — one no one else ever had or will ever have, because the pro tour doesn’t exist anymore. That was a difficult journey, and I’m proud I saw it through.”

John Blanchette is a sportswriter from Spokane, Washington. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.