Travis Ganong competes during the men's downhill at the 2022 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Dec. 3, 2022 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
On March 15, 2023, Travis Ganong will do his final run in men’s FIS World Cup downhill. The next day, the 34-year-old alpine skier plans to bid a adieu at the world cup finals in Andorra, along with his fiancée Marie-Michèle Gagnon, a Canadian slalom-turned-downhill skier.
“Marie-Michèle is also retiring this year, so in Andorra, we're going to do our last run together,” said Ganong as he sat on a delayed flight from California back to Europe for world cup finals. “Actually, we're doing a ceremonial retirement run together in the super-G. It's going be really fun.”
Earlier this month, Ganong’s longtime teammate, Steven Nyman, made a similar retirement run at the world cup in Aspen, skiing his final downhill in the famed American Downhillers faded denim vest. For the past decade, American downhill skiers have penned in their best finishes inside the vest, and Ganong and Nyman have led the charge, collecting 17 world cup podium finishes (and five wins) among them — the most of any American since Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves retired.
There is no idea what Gagnon will wear in her ceremonial ski run, although it won’t be a wedding dress – not yet. Too busy training and racing on their respective national teams (almost 18 years for Ganong, 17 years for Gagnon), the two have not had time to plan a wedding yet. Hopefully summer 2024, said Ganong. And eventually, they wish to start a family of their own.
One of only three American men to win a world championship medal in downhill in the 21st century (with a silver medal in 2015), Ganong is ending his career on a high note. In January 2023, he scored a bucket-list item: He finished on the podium in the famed Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, Austria. The Hahnenkamm, held on the notorious Streif, is known as the most difficult downhill on the world cup tour. The “Startschuss,” a 51 percent grade, leads into the “Mausefalle,” an 85 percent incline (almost vertical). Then, at speeds approaching 75 mph, downhillers have to navigate a 180-degree turn, where centrifugal forces exceed 3 g’s. From there, it’s another leg-aching, minute-plus to the finish, with more jumps and difficult turns.
“I've won races, and I've performed to the Olympics,” said Ganong, a two-time Olympian who finished fifth in the downhill at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. “But this last year, I knew it was my last season, and I've always wanted to perform at Kitzbühel, so I knew it was my last chance this year. That was kind of my only focus.”
In the dozen years that Gangon has raced the Hahnenkamm, he has finished in podium position in a few training runs. But until this season, his best finish in a Kitzbühel downhill was seventh.
“Looking at my whole career, I always knew I had more opportunity ahead of me [in the Hahnenkamm],” he added. “But then this year, knowing it was my last, I was able to have an amazing performance at the toughest downhill, and that really made me happy and capped off an amazing career.”
So, why is he retiring?
After 18+ years focused solely on ski racing, Ganong has found his mind wandering lately. He grew up freeskiing in the big mountains around Lake Tahoe, chasing his older sisters (Megan was also on the U.S. Ski Team over a decade ago). But his outdoor life was not confined to winter.
“I lived an adventurous life outdoors, spending time on Lake Tahoe and mountain biking, climbing, running through the woods just exploring, that was literally my life,” he said.
While he loved ski racing, the focus and training required made him feel disconnected from an all-encompassing outdoor lifestyle.
“Lately, it was getting to the point where I was starting to be more curious about other things, other interests that I’ve put on hold for the past 18 years,” he said. “The last couple of years, it’s been difficult to really dedicate the same amount of effort to racing as I had in the past because I was getting really excited about future projects and endeavors.”