Authors’ note: This month, we wanted to explore a few athletes’ perspectives of their own success. Why did they succeed? When did they break through? What helped them stand out in the past, and what helps them continue to progress? Ski Racing is such an amazing sport because it has heroes from all different backgrounds with many, many unique strengths and weaknesses. We think it adds meaning to examine these strengths and weaknesses from a personal standpoint. So, we asked six athletes from different levels of the ski team to talk about their background, early skiing career and what they think got them to where they are today.
Initially, we were planning to combine all six stories into one article. But since we received so much amazing content from all the athletes, we decided to release them separately in a mini series in order to give each athlete the due credit their story deserves. Stay tuned this month for stories from Steven Nyman, George Steffey, River Radamus and Galena Wardle.
We hope you enjoy.
Tommy Ford- “Playing is Underrated”
“I guess you could say I’m a product of the North West.”
Let me pause. We’re speaking to Tommy via WhatsApp calling as he’s in the midst of a training camp down in Valle Nevado, Chile. We’ve been trying to connect with Tommy for a few days, but spotty wifi and a bad stomach bug (classic Chile!) have delayed our call. As most of you athletes and parents know, there’s almost never a good time to talk at ski camp so, thanks for making it work, Tommy! After chatting about his summer and the training conditions in Chile, we dove into the interview. Here’s what we learned about Tommy’s ski racing progression.
Tommy grew up skiing at Mt. Bachelor, where good friends, supportive parents, and variable snow conditions taught him to love skiing.
“I learned to enjoy skiing in every condition. The North West taught me that. It helps today, because on race days, you just have to get out there and enjoy it, even if the weather’s bad,” he said.
With his families’ ski racing history, Tommy, from a young age, had visions of skiing at the highest level.
“I always wanted to go all the way, and my family’s understanding and support made a big difference,” he said.
Tommy describes his childhood approach to ski racing as a lighthearted focus.
“I mostly just enjoyed being out on the hill, going as fast as I could, and trying to get better. I was focused and always striving to be fast in training, but also in free skiing. I was always free skiing with friends to the top of the course or bombing to the bottom after training, playing and jumping all the way down. We did a lot of playing,” he recalled.
Coupled with this lighthearted approach, Tommy and his friends always knew what was happening on the World Cup circuit.
“I remember watching Bode, Herman, and Koznick, on World Cup Winning Runs. I’d be standing there tucking and watching them on TV. Or, I’d hit park jumps with friends, and we’d practice Daron Rahlves’ air position in our slalom gear. I didn’t like doing drills when I was younger, but I appreciated them because I could see how they translated into fast skiing,” he said.
When asked what made him stand out from other racers, Tommy notes that he asked his coaches a lot of questions.
“My parents taught me that if you don’t understand something, you need to communicate with the coach. So, I asked a ton of questions to understand skiing and the concepts coaches were teaching,” he said.
Looking back, Tommy recognizes J2 Nationals, where he won three golds and a silver medal, as a turning point in his career.
“That was eye opening and showed me that I could do it. Everything moved fast from there,” he said.
Tommy quickly qualified for the USST D-Team, began winning NorAms, and earned his spot on the World Cup GS team.
“I tried to stick with having fun but winning changed the environment, and made it more serious. It was a big switch with the peer group and vibe on the World Cup team. Being there with Ted, Bode, Nolan, and the rest of the crew was awesome and made me learn a lot more quickly. But I became more serious, got stressed, and had a hard time on the road. That snowballed into me breaking my leg,” he said.
Breaking his leg was another major point Tommy’s career.
“It taught me to enjoy each moment- like walking,” he said.
Since then, Tommy has been working on combining his lighthearted childhood attitude with the discipline he’s learned from the World Cup.
We finished the interview by returning to his camp in Chile.
“Playing is underrated. Looking around Valle Nevado, there’s so much fun stuff and wind lips to play around on. You only see a handful of racers out free skiing after training. At this point, we need to let playing be a priority,” he said.
Jackie Wiles- “Controlling All of the Factors”
We caught up with Jackie in Park City, Utah, where she’s been rehabbing her leg since a gnarly Downhill crash just before the Olympics. We’ve known Jackie for about six years now, and have become great friends in addition to being teammates. This is entirely due to Jackie’s laid back, caring, and hilarious personality. Seriously, as first year FIS athletes we were way too intimidated to approach any of the USST girls, but we remember Jackie making an effort to say hi and get to know us. We’re glad she did! Over the years, we’ve cheered Jackie on as she’s fought her way onto World Cup podium. While we’ve been friends for years, we never knew the details of Jackie’s journey to the USST. We’re impressed with what we’ve learned and think you will be too!
Jackie began her ski racing career as a “very laid back and relaxed kid” in the Pacific Northwest.
“My coaches would probably say I took skiing seriously, but really I kept it pretty lighthearted. It was always fun skiing around with friends and I think genuinely loved it,” she said.
Growing up, Jackie always knew that she wanted to be ski racer on the national team.
“I’d always had that dream, but when I went to watch the Olympics in Salt Lake I realized that this is what I actually wanted to do,” she said.
She remembers finding success quickly as a young racer, however, there came a point in her FIS career where her progress began to plateau.
“There were about four or five years when I was really struggling. There were some coaches who didn’t believe in me and I wasn’t invited to work in with the USST for camps,” she recalled.
Though her parents remained supportive through these tough years, Jackie took it upon herself to turn the negatives into positives.
“I had to take a step back and understand why I wasn’t getting better. I realized that I was relying on my talent alone, and I wasn’t doing everything I could to improve. So, I tried to take control of all the factors in my skiing and lit a fire under myself to do everything I could to improve. I got a new trainer in the gym and worked out really hard, and I started working with a new coach. So, in the end, the people telling me I wasn’t going to make it gave me that fire, and forced me to be more self-motivated and driven,” she said.
Around age 20, Jackie realized just how far her hard work could take her.
“I was never the best technical skier, but I always had the eagerness to get better. At some point, I started to figure out that you have to work as hard as you can, day in and day out, and then you can go as far as you want in the sport. That was a lightbulb for me,” she said.
As her hard work and dedication began to pay off, Jackie sought to find her place on the World Cup circuit.
“When you first make it to the World Cup you’re trying to figure out everything- where you stand and who you are. I’d look at the older racers and try and figure out what they were doing to be better. But then I realized that wasn’t really me. I kind of need to keep it lighthearted. I go over the course a few times in head my and try not to be too serious, try not to get too intense with myself. That’s been super helpful lately. I think you need to know that everyone approaches races differently, so you don’t need to copy other people’ routines,” she said.
Today, Jackie thinks her relentless drive is what helped her break through on the World Cup circuit.
“You hit a point where everyone’s a pretty good skier and willing to work hard, but you need the willingness to never give up to really make it happen. If you never stop, you can do anything on or off the slope with that drive. That’s a lesson you can take with you. Believe in yourself and work hard,” she said.
Yaaasss Jackie! Haha okay, but actually- we’re psyched to see you get getting healthier and stronger every day.