This year’s graduating seniors are getting a raw deal: No senior spring, no graduation (or a much delayed one), no victory lap as the BMOC. The same holds true for ski racers who are retiring at the end of this season. Instead of getting that last crack at spring races and the laid-back, sunny, friend-filled payback for all the deep, dark, frozen days of winter, they get a whole lot of hanging out in their living rooms.
One such athlete graduating from the sport in this unceremonious way is Foreste Peterson, who recently announced that her last ski race had been on March 12. She had been training in Vail, preparing for the final push of spring NorAms and nationals, when the season completely collapsed. It’s an especially unsatisfying way to leave a sport for the 2018 Dartmouth graduate, who became known for pushing through barriers, challenging expectations and creating opportunity where none had previously existed.
I recently caught up with Peterson by phone in Santa Barbara, where she was spending her quarantine time with her mom. She reflected on her career, that spanned virtually every level and type of ski racing, from her club at Squaw Valley to college, national and private teams; from World Juniors to the World Cup, via the NCAA and even a stop on the Pro Tour.
The final season
The decision to retire from ski racing had been on her mind during this season, during which she was focused on securing a World Cup spot for next year. “It was especially hard to swallow because I wanted to give it all I had and fight to the very end,” says Peterson. “Not getting that was the hardest thing for me.”
Fight she did, with the support of Team X, through a year of what she calls the highest highs and lowest lows in the sport. After a strong start — earning a World Cup start, her fourth, in the Killington slalom, which is not her best event, and nabbing her first ever Nor Am win in GS, her groove event — Peterson seemed poised to fulfill her mission. But then, as happens in ski racing, little things went wrong and had a ripple effect, to the point where she hit bottom in mid-February. She left the Whiteface NorAms uncharacteristically down in the dumps, but then, in very Foreste style, she bounced back. She won the most physically challenging and financially rewarding race on the tour, the parallel event in New Jersey. After a grueling 12 hours of head-to-head competition, Peterson was back in the NorAm hunt, with $11,000 in her pocket. A title was a long shot, but it was still a shot, and Peterson had the full force of Team X in her court.
Forging a new path
For Peterson, Team X was the vehicle that both allowed her to continue to pursue the highest level in ski racing, and a way for her to share her talents on and off the hill. She is a hard worker, a team leader and, according to John Dwyer, who coached her for three years at Dartmouth, “the consummate professional.” She is talented not only physically and athletically, but also emotionally and intellectually. “She was super grounded,” says Dwyer, “unfazed and accepting of whatever was going on. Good or bad she always had a smile on her face.”
Peterson, who grew up racing at Squaw Valley, came to Dartmouth after four years on the US Ski Team. She felt stalled, and had lost her passion for the sport. At a time when going to college was seen as the end of the development road, Peterson kept her dreams alive, regained her love of the sport and then just kept getting better. She earned All American honors, was named Dartmouth’s Female Athlete of the year in 2017, and continued to climb the FIS ranks. As a senior, she earned her first World Cup start in Soelden, and a few months later another in Kranska Gora. Dwyer encouraged and helped facilitate those opportunities, even if they conflicted with the NCAA schedule. “He always wanted what was best for me long term,” says Peterson.
Unlike what it had been for American women ski racers, college graduation was not the end of the road for Peterson. Jim Tschabrun had seen in Peterson what Dwyer described, and invited her to lead Team X Alpine, the elite level women’s ski team he was starting. “At her core she is so kind, genuine and thoughtful, which is what sets her apart from most people, not just ski racers,” says Tschabrun, who was also impressed with Peterson’s resiliency, her ability to sift through feedback to find what worked for her, and her way of keeping everything in perspective. That mattered on a team built around a holistic, balanced and supportive approach to ski racing. From a home base in Park City, the team provides NorAm-level athletes with complete resources for training, racing, conditioning, equipment, sports psychology, and PT. For Peterson, Team X was the best of everything she had learned along the way.
After a promising start to the 2018-19 season, which included a World Cup start in Killington and a NorAm slalom win, she sustained a season ending injury. She returned this season healthy and focused winning a NorAm title. That pursuit would end abruptly, and, like it did for so many others, with unfinished business.
The highlight reel and the legacy
As she’s done throughout her career, Peterson focuses on the highs, especially her time at Dartmouth and with Team X, which became like a family. Teammates Madi Hoffman and Katie Fleckestein were like sisters. “It was so much fun being on a team that prioritized the process just as much if not more than the outcome,” says Peterson. “We had the kind of team dynamic in which everyone took their job really seriously, but no one took themselves too seriously.”
Other major highlights were the Killington World Cups, where she enjoyed the outpouring of support from friends, family and her team. Last year’s field included six current and four former NCAA ski racers, for which Peterson can take some credit. “Foreste opened a lot of doors and a lot of eyes for athletes who want to push,” says Dwyer, who explains that college coaches could then point to Foreste in the recruiting process. “I believe college skiing teaches you how to win so when you get to the World Cup you are prepared to finish and compete, not just participate.”
Peterson herself may not have been able to convert that into World Cup success, in a system that was not yet geared to accommodate that path, but her legacy can be seen in the rising representation and success of NCAA athletes on the World Cup. “Though I didn’t go nearly as far as I wanted with my skiing, I hope that I’ve left a positive impact by showing what is possible during and post college,” says Peterson. “I think what I did really only scratched the surface of showing the potential of what’s possible.”
Peterson plans to go back to school to pursue her Master’s in Exercise Science online through Concordia University Chicago. That will allow her to build her future career in sports performance, while also living in Park City and staying active in the ski world in some capacity. “I’d love to give back to the sport. Coaching would be good way to do that, and also a nice way to transition out.” Peterson also has some freeskiing aspirations, and will likely feed the entrepreneurial streak that fueled her “Flow by Fo” hair tie business.
“If there’s one thing I’ve realized from all of this, it is that life is way too short not to take an opportunity to shoot your shot! I recognized my opportunity to pursue my passion and chase my dreams with Team X was once in a lifetime, and am so glad I didn’t pass it up.”
Keep up with Foreste @forestepeterson, @flowbyfo and @teamxalpine