Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will interview World Cup athletes to talk about their experience with the coronavirus outbreak and how they’re coping with the quarantined lifestyle. We plan on publishing an article once a week for as long as we have to.
After a strong 2018-19 season, US Ski Teamer Bryce Bennett came roaring into this winter with a desire to do even better. But for a little while, things were just getting worse.
“I had some pretty high expectations and those expectations got shattered pretty quickly,” says the 27-year-old speed skier from Truckee, California. “I was absolutely sucking. I had some back issues and some boot issues, so the first three races of the season were pretty bad.”
To go faster, Bennett ironically decided to slow down. Over the Christmas break, he stayed in Europe with a coach and found some GS training to focus on fundamentals, all while testing a stack of new boots.
“I got a lot of stuff dialed, did some boot testing, and from there on out the season went pretty well,” he says. “It was good to go from being four seconds out and scratching my head, to completely turning it around.”
Bennett’s skiing was progressing with a number of impressive results, including 7th at the Wengen Downhill, 8th at the Kitzbuehel Downhill, and 9th at the Hinterstoder Super G. But COVID-19 was progressing faster—making its way toward Europe and eventually the US—and the season came to an unfortunate halt.
Of all people, Bennett is well-suited for a difficult time like this—a time when we’re all forced to put our passions on hold, stay at home, and wait for better days. Because even though his day job is going as fast as humanly possible down terrifying mountains—basically the complete opposite of sitting on the couch—he’s an incredibly calm and patient guy who seems to always be thinking about the big picture.
With that, Bennett is the perfect guy to kick off Ski Racing’s new series, Life in the Slow Lane, which checks in on World Cup Ski Racers to see how they’re getting through this pandemic.
So how exactly did your season come to an end?
In January, when we were in Wengen, we started hearing rumors about the China World Cup being canceled. At the time, it was like, ‘That’s ridiculous. Come on.’ And then more news started coming out, and Wuhan was locked down, and we realized it was getting really serious. By the time we got to Kitzbuehel, we knew there was no chance we were going to China.
The whole season itself was weird. We had really terrible weather and shortened starts everywhere, with only one training run most of the time. And then the virus kicked off. I knew there was a chance the virus would get to Europe but didn’t realize it would dismantle all sports worldwide so quickly.
FIS hadn’t come out with an official decision to cancel the World Championships in Cortina, Italy by that point, but Tiger Shaw (President and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association) and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team took a stance that they wouldn’t be sending any of us there. I was obviously pretty disappointed about the entire situation that was going on in Italy, and also would’ve been nervous about going to an event right in the heart of the pandemic at that time. Additionally, I was concerned about racing in Italy and flying back to the States—potentially having the virus and giving it to other people. Or getting flown to a military base to be quarantined—something extreme like that.
After racing in Norway, we flew to Austria and were there for a couple of days thinking we might be able to keep training. But we woke up one morning to a text saying Trump was banning travel and that we had to leave immediately. I got back into the States the day the travel ban kicked in. It was pretty hectic.
Where are you right now and who’s with you?
It’s just me and my girlfriend here in Truckee. We haven’t seen anyone. We’re really trying to keep it safe because, in our community, there are only nine ventilators. So if it does escalate, it could get bad pretty quickly here.
What has COVID-19 looked like in the Tahoe area?
I’ve been so isolated that I don’t really know, but our county has been under a lot of stress because they didn’t want people coming here to their second homes. A lot of people did take that warning seriously, but when you own a home here, no one can really stop you from coming to a property you own.
On top of that, right after I got home, it snowed a good three or four feet over two days, like exactly when the ski areas shut down. Everyone was so bummed; it basically hadn’t snowed all year and all of a sudden it was insane how much snow we had. But it was a really good call for the resorts because all the schools were closed in the Bay Area and so people were here in town to ski. When the ski areas shut down, everyone went home. The traffic was out of town insane.
What are you doing inside to pass the time?
Dude. It’s been pretty boring. I bought an Xbox because all my friends are playing all the time. So, yeah, I’ve been playing some video games. I caved. But it’s been kind of fun honestly because we’ve just been crushing Call of Duty together online. Crack a White Claw. Play some video games. That’s life these days.
The gym I train out of is obviously shut down, but the owner is lending out all the equipment to clients. He’s been running classes online, too, which is really cool of him. So I basically went over there and ransacked the equipment and set up a home gym. It’s been nice to have a little space for that but it’s also pretty tough to get motivated in your garage.
And what are you doing outside to pass the time?
The only thing I’ve really done is drive five minutes to the river and fish a bit. I’ll take the dog for walks and go on bike rides around the neighborhood, but there’s pretty deep snow all around so you can’t really go too far.
Seems like everyone’s baking bread and making puzzles—stuff like that. Have you taken up any hobbies?
Well I was born and raised in a fishing family but I always ask my dad why he never got into hunting. It was always fishing; he’s a hardcore fisherman. So my new endeavor I want to get into is bow hunting and I set up a big foam target in the garage. I got a bow last fall and didn’t shoot it all this winter. Now I’ve got time to shoot it and it’s incredibly fun.
Alright. Some rapid-fire questions here… What do you find yourself eating all the time these days?
A lot of protein. We’ve been using the crock pot a lot. Ramens, ribs, chilis, all that.
What are you drinking all the time?
A decent amount of White Claws. And some coffee. And water.
Definitely not Tiger King. I’ve been watching Forensic Files, it’s insane. Also, I’ve been watching Hunters. It’s about the Jews after World War II and they’re hunting down the Nazi scientists we brought over after the war, which I didn’t know about. Most of it is totally made up, but some of it is true because we did actually bring over these scientists after the war when we didn’t want the Soviets to have them. Crazy.
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday.
The MeatEater Podcast with Steven Rinella. It’s mostly about hunting but also about access to public lands and the ideology surrounding that.
When the pandemic is eventually over, what’s a lesson you’ll take away?
It’s a little cliché, but I’ve learned that slowing down is okay sometimes. More than anything, I’ve learned to be grateful for what we have as Americans and how kind of easy our society is in a lot of different ways when you can go online and order something and it’ll be at your door the next day. That system is so fragile. And when it goes away you really find an appreciation for what you do have and what’s important to you: family and eating good meals and reading a book and just hanging out.