Last season, River Radamus finished 19th in the overall NorAm standings. To most people, this would translate to an impressive feat. Radamus was only 19 years old and relatively inexperienced with races of this caliber. But to him, it was a failure.
“I remember just being so disappointed,” says the Edwards, Colo. native. “It felt like my career was over.”
But Radamus’ career was certainly not over. Far from it, actually. He kept working and skiing hard—doing everything he could to improve for the 2017-18 season, and, along the way, he found inspiration in an unlikely source: the NBA. Radamus adopted the Philadelphia 76er’s famous mantra, “Trust the Process,” and ran with it.
“To me, what that means is that you’ve got to suck for a while to be great,” he says. “When I’m doing well, it’s easy to trust the process. When I’m sucking, it’s tough. But you’ve got to keep trusting it because it’ll all work out in the end.”
This season, Radamus, won the overall NorAm title, nearly tripling the points he scored the prior year and earning World Cup spots across all disciplines as a result. The process appears to be more trustworthy than ever for the bleach-blonde skier, now 20 years young.
Ski racing is in Radamus’ blood. For starters, both of his parents are critically-acclaimed characters—particularly when it comes to their coaching prowess. His mom, Sara, has coached at Pico Ski Club, the Copper Mountain Race Team, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and, most recently, for the Puerto Rican Ski Team at the 2018 Olympics. Additionally, she’s spearheaded top-of-the-line ski camps all over the globe—from British Columbia to New Zealand. His dad, Aldo, coached with the U.S. Ski Team for a number of years, ran Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, and was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Radamus is also related to the McNealus and Palmer families, who were basically ski racing royalty back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The family tree is strong, indeed. Yet, Mom and Dad have done their very best to let Radamus find a passion for ski racing on his own—using a hands-off approach while providing as much support as possible in the background. In fact, they declined to be interviewed for this very article.
“They like to keep their distance when it comes to parenting and coaching,” says Radamus. “They made a choice pretty early on when I started to have an interest in skiing that they’d never push me towards it but, instead, just facilitate it. Fortunately, I wound up loving ski racing and I’m sure they’re really psyched just because it’s such a big passion of theirs. But, from the start, they didn’t want to be the ones forcing me to do it, or be the ones responsible for making me lose my passion for the sport. They would come to races and watch from the trees, or as far away as possible, so I couldn’t find them, basically [laughs].”
But Radamus was born to ski. He’s been ridiculously talented from the very start—winning races left and right from the childhood days to the present. Reflecting on it all, he thinks the ability to be on snow so frequently has been crucial to his success.
“That’s where a lot of my natural ability comes from,” he says. “Just messing around on the mountain from an early age. And since I’ve been on the U.S. Team, I’ve really honed in on my technique and on my tactics, and I think I’m becoming a more consistent skier and becoming faster because of it.”
The Coloradan’s coach, Martin Gray, tends to agree. He’s seen the process for years now and everything seems to be falling into place.
“I’ve known River since he was a little kid ripping around Mt. Hutt Ski Area in New Zealand while his parents ran camps down there in the summer,” says Gray. “He obviously didn’t know me but his name has, in many ways, been prominent in skiing since he first started on skis. He is easy to be around and a low-maintenance guy to coach.”
Gray also adds that, while Radamus is a serious force to be reckoned with, pacing will be key to progress responsibility—both on and off the hill.
“River has the potential to keep moving forward in skiing,” says Gray. “We think he’s still a couple years away physically. Technically, he is continuing to improve. He is also learning how to travel and look after himself on the road. I think sometimes this part—living away from home—is often overlooked as an area that can also contribute to success. It’s important that he continues to be managed well and not pushed to the top too quickly.”
Fortunately, the U.S. Ski Team has fostered a strong sense of camaraderie that has instilled a sense of confidence and patience in Radamus. He says there are plenty of other young guns like him that have been a pleasure to ski with, and that working with the big guns like Steven Nyman and Ted Ligety has been incredibly beneficial, as well.
Nyman says that feeling is mutual.
“He isn’t content making the U.S. Ski Team, or winning the Youth Olympics, or winning the World Juniors,” says Nyman. “He is aiming for the top. He has a passion for the sport and you have to have that to become the greatest. You will succeed and you will fail and you will fail over and over again. You have to be resilient and humble and willing to learn. He has that. He won’t let failure get in his way and he will figure the puzzle out. He is hard on himself, which is good. But I want to tell him not to be too hard. River isn’t afraid and is willing to put himself out there and risk it and possibly fail. But he doesn’t let pressure get to him. He hates to lose, which is a great trait in an athlete. River has massive potential and I can see great things ahead if he continues to function like he has.”
Looking ahead, Radamus’ goals are clear. He’s deferred from Middlebury and hopes to squeeze in some classes when time allows, but the primary task, however, is to ski really, really fast.
“I want to keep progressing and become a threat on the World Cup tour,” he says, bluntly and confidently. “Beyond that, I’m seeing what else ski racing has in store for me, working on the little things, and trusting the process.”