Ravi Drugan poses for camera at the 2021 world cup in Leongang, Austria.
At this time last year, Ravi Drugan was a rookie on the U.S. national para alpine team and getting his first taste of competing on the world cup circuit.
He certainly couldn’t have predicted that he’d go a year in between international races, or that this season would consist of just one world cup event.
But with slalom and giant slalom races beginning Tuesday in Leogang, Austria, Drugan and the three members of Team USA who are with him — Laurie Stephens, Andrew Kurka and David Williams — will soak up what they can of world cup racing.
“I want to take full advantage of the opportunities we do have this season because they’re very limited,” Drugan said. “With the (Paralympic) Games coming up just a year away, time’s starting to feel short.”
The full team traveled to Austria last fall for a training camp, but it turned out there wasn’t much of a season to prepare for. The world championships were to be held this month in Lillehammer, Norway, featuring alpine, Nordic and snowboarding world championships together for the first time ever. But in November, World Para Snow Sports and other organizing entities announced that the world championships would be postponed to January 2022 because of COVID-19 and related concerns.
The first world cup races of 2020-21 were held in late January, but the U.S. team remained home in Colorado and Utah, racing mainly against one another and national team hopefuls. Now they’re in Austria, but their stay overseas will be short. The next world cup race, which was to feature downhill, super-G, super combined, slalom and giant slalom in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia, was canceled.
Drugan said that at times he wondered if they’d get to race internationally at all this season.
“Everything’s been up in the air with COVID, so a lot of things have been just a few days before knowing if something’s really going to happen,” he said. “Even with that, as our coaches said, we could fly somewhere, show up and things could get canceled. So it’s definitely super nice to come over here and get a few races off and a little more experience under my belt.”
Last year was an eye-opener for the Eugene, Oregon, native. Drugan raced super-G and giant slalom in Switzerland, where his results were generally toward the bottom part of the pack. However, he did have two ninth-place showings and one seventh-place finish racing slalom in Italy. He also competed in giant slalom and slalom in Slovenia.
“I want to say I’m older and wiser (this year) but definitely I’m a more confident skier and a lot more comfortable in the position I am in on the team,” said Drugan, 31, who competed in mono skier X at the X Games four times between 2011 and 2016, finishing as high as third. “Every day I’m still working on everything and learning more and becoming more comfortable.
“Last year was my first year jumping into it, and it was a definitely a long, hard year with some finishes that weren’t quite what I was hoping for. I was a little farther from the podium than I was hoping for. But it definitely showed what I need to work on and the amount of work and commitment it takes to really perform.”
For Stephens, she finally gets to race as the defending overall crystal globe winner in women’s sitting world cup competition. It was her fourth time earning the award, although it was an unusual season — not only was it shortened, but there were also fewer entrants at the final world cup event the U.S. team attended.
Kurka, a speed specialist, won’t get to compete in his signature events, but he’ll race in the giant slalom.
“Speed is definitely my focus, but at least it’ll give me a good opportunity to gauge where I’m at and see if I’m able to get on the podium,” he said. “If I can get on the podium I’ll be extremely happy with that and it will give me a huge confidence booster going into the Games.”
Williams will be making his world cup debut.
It may feel almost like a debut to Drugan, although he said he’s trying to stave off his nerves and treat it like just another race.
“For sure I’d like to be within five seconds or so of the podium, but the ideal goal is always to be first on the podium and faster than everyone else,” he said. “But I just hope to ski to my full potential and hopefully get some good results and some world cup points.”