To think that no American skier has ever captured the world cup men’s downhill season title is a bit mind-blowing to Steven Nyman, given some of the talent the United States has produced.
Bode Miller came close twice, finishing second in 2005 and 2008, but the title eluded not only him but also gifted skiers Tommy Moe, Daron Rahlves, A.J. Kitt and Bill Johnson.
That drought could change this season, with the FIS World Cup Finals being held in March at Colorado’s AspenSnowmass, no less, and Nyman would love to be the American to do it.
“It would be a huge accomplishment, but obviously it’s a huge undertaking seeing that those legends never accomplished such a thing,” Nyman said. “For me to do it this year, on home snow, would be a dream come true, but I have a lot of work ahead of me still.”
Nyman, of Provo, Utah, has already accomplished one impressive feat that no American downhiller had ever done before when he reached the podium in the final four world cup races of last season. The streak began at the PyeongChang Olympic test event in Jeongseon, South Korea, where he finished third, and continued at Chamonix, France (2nd); Kvitfjell, Norway (3rd); and, finally, St. Moritz, Switzerland (2nd). The three-time Olympian finished the season ranked sixth, matching his career-best ranking from 2015.
Part of the reason for the string of podiums was a new boot. His old boots were starting to break down from the wear-and-tear of his 6-foot-4 frame hurtling down the mountain, but it took Nyman some time to realize that was the issue.
“I finally figured out it wasn’t my technique that was faltering, it was just that the boot didn’t have the rigidity I needed anymore,” he said. “I got the new boot and it was instantly like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Someone else may have figured that out quicker because I like looking at myself first before I go blaming my equipment.”
Equipment was only part of the equation, though. Nyman also credits the U.S. coaches and training staff for his success not just at the end of last year but also over the past few seasons. It started with former coach Andreas Evers, who changed the team’s mindset and approach to training and skiing, Nyman said. Also big was the hiring of strength and conditioning coach Toni Beretzki, who taught Nyman how to balance work with rest and make sure his body was prepared to last through the rigors of a long season. Men’s head coach Sasha Rearick also shifted the focus of the team’s spring training camp from a time to test gear and products to free skiing with instructors and working on technique.
“Stepping away from the gates and just skiing and reestablishing those movements and patterns without the gates is something that really helped me and helped me gain an understanding of what I do,” Nyman said. “Really taking a step back and refining my technique and understanding why I need to move this way or work the transition that way was a big help for me. Transferring that from free skiing to the race course was big.”
This season hasn’t quite started off with a bang for Nyman. He crashed and broke his wrist during a training camp this summer and the ski team’s preparation was hampered by poor snow conditions in Colorado in the fall. In the downhill opener at Val d'Isere, France, at the beginning of the month, Nyman said he was taken aback by the speed and demand of a world cup race. Yet despite what he called some “truly ugly skiing," Nyman still placed 15th and was the top American.
With positives to be taken from the opener, Nyman has more waiting for him in the months ahead. His goal last year was to get to know the Olympic course, and it was his third-place finish on that course in Jeongseon that started his podium streak. The last race during the streak was St. Moritz, which will host the world championships this season. Knowing he can perform on both those hills, Nyman said, should set him up to do well. And although it’s new to him to be favored such as he is, it also says a lot not just about him but also about the U.S. team.
“It’s cool because there’s always been hype around Bode, but now the spotlight’s on American downhillers and our whole crew because there’s depth here,” he said. “Andrew (Weibrecht), me, Travis (Ganong), any of us could perform on any given day. Knowing it’s not all on me, that it’s on the group, is special.
“We’ve created something pretty special, and our focus is on fostering competition and pushing each other further and further. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling, get some momentum and see what we’re capable of.”