LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Andrew Weibrecht landed on his first alpine skiing world cup podium last weekend in his 10th season on the world cup circuit. The two-time Olympic medal-winning alpine skier tore through a snowstorm at Beaver Creek, Colorado, to finish third in the men’s super-G.
“It’s such a monkey off my back,” he said after the race. “I get the question all the time, that ‘I have two Olympic podiums but never have podiumed on the world cup, why is that?’ I’m sick of fielding that question. Hopefully that’s done now.”
Weibrecht stopped at home in Lake Placid, New York, on his way to more world cups in Europe. His wife, Denja, is pregnant with their first child — a baby girl due in early February. And 29-year-old Weibrecht is making a point of coming home whenever he has a break between races.
At his parents’ hotel, the Mirror Lake Inn, he talked about how he is finally finding success on the world cup.
Every Day Is A Race
After Weibrecht won the super-G silver medal at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014, both Bode Miller and men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said that Weibrecht skis his best when the normally reserved skier can connect emotion with ski racing.
But Weibrecht knew more was involved than getting amped for one race. This past summer — thanks to work with a mental coach — he began to figure out what it takes to remain skiing at a high level throughout the season.
The key, he has realized, is to treat the first training run every day as if it is a race. After that one run, he proceeds with the rest of his training day as usual.
“That’s something that I think a lot of people overlook, and I overlooked for a long time,” he said. “When you figure out how to do that, that’s when you learn the consistency and what works and what doesn’t work (on race day).”
Finding The ‘I’ In ‘Team’
After he finished third in the Beaver Creek super-G (and fifth in the downhill the previous day), Weibrecht credited teammate Travis Ganong with great course reports. In super-G, Ganong was the second skier on course; Weibrecht the 10th.
“He told me it’s totally chargeable, that it’s super easy, just absolutely hammer it,” Weibrecht said after the race. “That was the perfect advice.”
While course reports from teammates are nothing new, the improved team environment on the men’s speed squad is refreshing for Weibrecht.
“As a team, we’ve grown a lot in the last couple of years, especially on the speed side,” said Weibrecht. “The team has come together, we’ve learned to work with each other a lot better.”
Asked to explain how this has helped him, Weibrecht said that the team was close around the Vancouver Games in 2010. Then for several reasons, injuries among them, the men grew apart. Injuries led to some members feeling insecure, which could lead to bickering.
“It created this really negative cycle,” he said.
Now, the team has matured.
“We’ve started to work together in a positive way and push each other in a positive way rather than try to get ahead of each other by cutting the other guys down,” Weibrecht said. “We all realize that we’re working for a common goal, and we can actually be happy for each others’ positive results instead of getting mad because one guy beat you or the other guy beat you. Every victory is a step forward for the team.”
New Relationship With Downhill
Weibrecht competes in both downhill and super-G. While his best success has come in super-G — the discipline that combines the turns of giant slalom with the speed of downhill — he has what he calls a “mixed relationship” with downhill.
Until this season, his best result in downhill was 10th place, scored at Beaver Creek in 2007 — a race where Weibrecht burst onto the scene because he started far back in 53rd.
Last spring, he began skiing downhill well again. This has created a new dynamic for him on the world cup.
Instead of surviving the downhill and waiting for the super-G, he now enjoys downhill training and racing.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the super-G,” he explained. “That’s a huge step forward for me. I’m really looking forward to not just resting my hopes on one good super-G run but being able to gain confidence through downhill training runs, a good downhill race, then ultimately the super-G.”
The Minor Leagues
So how did Weibrecht come to terms with downhill?
First, he found an equipment setup (boots and skis) on which he is comfortable.
He also took a step back and competed in the lower-tier Europa Cup tour. This is akin to a major league baseball player dropping down to the Triple-A level so he can work on his swing or improve his fielding.
With two top-three finishes in two Europa Cup downhills last January, Weibrecht raised his world ranking, and thus his start position in races (lower-ranked racers start near the back and often face rutted, bumpy courses).
“I started to take the normal steps instead of just hoping that I would go from 60th back into the top 30 — which I did one time, but I was way younger,” he said, referring to his 2007 race at Beaver Creek. “I spent time thinking about the smartest way to do it and what would make it most effective.
“I also just learned how to relax and ski again. I stopped trying to force things and just let things go.”
Force = Mass x Acceleration
Alpine skiing is a gravity sport. And Weibrecht struggles to maintain his weight at 190 pounds during the season. For whatever reason, he has found that he doesn’t go as fast if he drops to even 185.
“If I wasn’t trying to do what I’m trying to do, I would probably be about 30 pounds lighter,” he joked.
The Mirror Lake Inn is famous for its homemade chocolate chip cookies. And Weibrecht admitted that his hand would find the cookie jar, especially when he was younger.
“Cookies are perfect for training,” he joked.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.