Ted Ligety competes during the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup men's giant slalom on March 01, 2015 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
The 2015-16 alpine skiing world cup season begins this weekend with the traditional Soelden, Austria, giant slalom races. And after a long summer of training, 2014 Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is antsy to race again.
“It’s always fun having the first race where it is kind of a mystery who is skiing fast,” Ligety said, “and seeing all of the guys you haven’t seen all summer is cool as well.
Ligety’s skiing could be the biggest mystery of all.
After dominating world cup giant slalom races for two straight seasons — and claiming five overall world cup giant slalom titles since 2008 — the 31-year-old skier struggled last season. He only won one world cup GS race and finished third overall.
“There were a number of things that worked against me last year from summer training conditions,” he explained. “I like/need more miles than most people, [I was] experimenting with different training and diet, injuries, bad luck, etc.”
He also thinks that other athletes are skiing better than in the past as well.
In February, his come-from-behind victory at the 2015 world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, was an emotional victory. For the man who has redefined giant slalom skiing — arc-ing turns around the gates where others throw their skis sideways — the world title helped redeemed his season.
It was his third world giant slalom crown and his fifth total. With seven world championship medals, Ligety holds more than any other U.S. alpine skier ever, male or female.
“Obviously Ted has had a run in GS that’s almost unmatched since Stenmark and von Grünigen in the modern era,” said head coach Forest Carey, referring to Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark, who dominated slalom and giant slalom in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Michael von Grünigen, the Swiss skier who ruled GS in the mid- to late-1990s.
“Ted was the world champion last year, but he didn’t have as great a season as he was used to having the three years prior, so he’s hungry — quite frankly,” continued Carey.
The last time Ligety was hungry was after he failed to win an Olympic medal in Vancouver. That hunger fueled his subsequent trip the top of the world cup rankings — and his GS victory at the Sochi Winter Games. He also has an Olympic gold medal in combined from the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
Ligety spent this off-season training at home in Park City, Utah, at the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence. He was also on snow. He tweeted, “Best @usskiteam camp in awhile,” after a trip to New Zealand in August, then “2 weeks at home then off to Chile for some speed training.”
But the two-time Olympic gold medalist did more than lift weights and bash gates this summer. He also walked down the aisle.
On July 25, he married long-time girlfriend Mia Pascoe.
“I've done a lot of cool stuff in my life but yesterday was the best day!” he tweeted, adding the hashtags #lockingitdown, #marriedman, #offthemarket and #lovers.
Now, after only three months, marriage seems like old hat for Ligety.
“Doesn’t feel so much different (to be married), we’ve been with each other for a long time, so it’s nice to finally be married,” he said. “We’ve been together about six years, and she’s been traveling with me for the last three to four years, so it’s good. It’s definitely nice to have that support, and have someone with you who cares about you so much.”
During the off-season, Ligety also introduced new products for Shred and Slytech, companies that he co-founded — such as armored gloves and mittens to protect his hands when he drags them in the snow on his deepest carved turns. He broke bones or tore ligaments in his hands each season from 2006-12. He finally said enough was enough.
“Last year I hit my hand on the base of a gate that was sticking out of the snow, and the force was so great I folded my hand over my wrist, dislocating my wrist, tearing a bunch of muscle and ligaments and some wrist bones, but my hand was in pretty good shape considering,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my glove protection, I’m sure I would have broken a bunch of bones on my hand.”
With no world championships or Olympics this season, the primary focus for the world’s top alpine skiers will be the world cup. Ligety still calls the overall world cup title his ultimate career goal, “but a lot of little things have to come together for me on that front,” he said.
Regaining the overall GS title is the main goal. But he hedged when asked about his expectations this season.
“We’ll see, I feel like I’m skiing well, but I have no idea where I really am because we’ve only been training with the U.S. guys, a couple of Swedes, but I haven’t really tested myself against the top guys,” he said.
And no longer is Marcel Hirscher from Austria Ligety’s only competition in GS. Hirscher is the four-time defending overall world cup champion — and three-time overall GS and slalom champ.
In the eight world cup GS races last year, a handful of men bumped Ligety from the podium, including Hirscher (who won five) and the French duo of Alexis Pinturault, who won an Olympic bronze medal in the Sochi GS, and Thomas Fanara.
On Sunday, the men will tackle the course on Soelden’s Rettenbach glacier. It will be Ligety’s ninth time racing there — and 279th world cup start.
To date, Ligety has only finished out of the top three twice in the Soelden GS. In 2005, he finished eighth. And last year, he was in second after the first run, just 0.19 seconds behind Hirscher, but fell to 10th after making one big mistake his second run.
“We’ll find out on Sunday how fast [Ted] is, because we haven’t trained much with other teams,” Carey said. “But, I think he’s driven, and he’s motivated, and he’s good at his craft, so I think he’ll be in the hunt."
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.