Judging by his skiing alone, it’s hard to believe the U.S. Ski Team’s Ben Ritchie is still only a teenager. The six-foot-three native of Williston, Vermont, skis with the same poise and intensity often only seen in racers nearly a decade older than him with dozens of World Cup starts under their belts. Ritchie, on the other hand, has just one.
Cutting his teeth on the slopes as a kid in Jay Peak in Northern Vermont, it wasn’t long before he saw himself looking up to U.S. Ski Team legends and Olympians Jimmy Cochran and Nolan Kasper, themselves Vermont products.
“When I was a kid, they were the only racers I knew,” Ritchie explains. “I didn’t know about anyone else. I didn’t know about Ted Ligety or Marcel Hirscher so to me, they were the best skiers in the world. To watch them and race them at the Town Meeting Day race at Cochran’s as a kid was great.”
Although Ritchie is still wet behind the ears in terms of his World Cup experience, he has been hitting it hard on the international stage since his U16 years at the Green Mountain Valley School. Ritchie competed in and podiumed at both the Longines Future Champions event and at the Hahnenkamm Juniors races in 2016.
“I think the biggest thing I learned, and I’d say I learned it the year I was at the Kitzbuehel races as a U16, was that Europeans ski just like we do,” he says of his early exposure on the international stage. “They’re really no different than us and there’s really no reason that we can’t go to Europe and compete with them and beat them.”
Ritchie turned that early success into a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team in 2018 and managed to cap off his 2019 season with a spot on the B Team and two World Junior Championship silver medals in the slalom and team event. He also made his first World Cup start in the Wengen slalom in January.
“It was the most fun experience I’ve ever had ski racing,” he remembers of his World Cup debut. “It was a very new experience and there were a lot of different emotions between nervousness and excitement. Inspecting was extremely intimidating on that hill. The snow had been injected three or more times so it was super icy and the terrain is just insane with super steep pitches and then you have to factor in that you’re inspecting next to Marcel Hirscher, Clement Noel, and all the best guys.”
Although Ritchie didn’t make it to the second run that day, he did take away one important lesson from his first experience on ski racing’s biggest stage.
“Starting out on the hardest hill makes the rest of them seem easy,” he laughs.
After his most successful season to date, the Vermonter had yet another important decision to make. After some initial equipment testing at U.S. Ski Team training camps this spring, Ritchie made the move to Dynastar, Lange, and Look to take care of his ski, boot, and binding needs going forward.
“I’d say the thing that attracted me the most to Dynastar and Lange was watching video and comparing me to skiers like Clement Noel and seeing that they were doing what I wanted my skis to do,” he explains. “This spring I tried out Dynastar and instantly they just felt way more natural to my skiing style. When I tried the Lange boots, it was a whole other level and just knew it was right.”
Ritchie adds that seeing a skier like France’s Noel — who is well over six foot himself and shares a similar skiing style with the American — have so much success on Dynastar and Lange on the hardest World Cup slaloms this past season made his decision that much easier.
Ritchie’s coaches on the national team have taken note of his impressive work ethic and mental maturity as well, seeing the potential in such a young, yet mature talent.
“His work ethic, determination and attention to detail in his approach has been far beyond his years,” says U.S. Ski Team coach Ryan Wilson. “He has his share of ups and downs but his lows always seem to present him with something positive to move forward with.”
Although Dynastar, Lange, and Look are all legendary brands in the skiing world, Dynastar has not been in the U.S. Ski Team’s pool of official equipment suppliers since the 2008 season and hopes that landing an athlete like Ritchie will only help bolster the brand’s legacy in the United States — a legacy that started all the way back in 1994 with Tommy Moe’s breathtaking gold medal performance in the Lillehammer Olympic Downhill.
“I don’t think I’m there yet, but it’s a huge goal of mine to get to a point where I’m inspiring and a role model for young racers,” Ritchie says. “I think having someone for young kids to look up to that they can relate to and has taken maybe a similar path to the one they are on is super important. It’s a lot easier if you see that someone has done it before you because you know it’s possible.”
If Ritchie’s 2019 season is any indication of what is to come, the tall slalom skier might be that role model sooner than he thinks.
Ritchie picked up not far from where he left off as a U16 in Europe, capturing silver medals in the team event and slalom races at the 2019 World Junior Championships in Val di Fassa, Italy, this February. The team effort in the parallel race was particularly special for him, he says.
“It was an incredible night,” he remembers. “None of us really knew what to expect going into that night. I had only done one panel race before and I crashed so that didn’t last very long and had only trained it a couple of times. We were all just trying to feed off each other and give each other as much energy the whole night as we could. It was a really cool atmosphere, the whole World Junior team was there with posters. We definitely had the best supporting team and ended up skiing really well and making it to the finals. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win but it was super exciting to perform like that and take the silver. I don’t think the other teams were expecting much from us.”
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Four days later, Ritchie found himself climbing the podium once more in the slalom, finishing in second place after hanging on through a rapidly-deteriorating second run. Ritchie also led the Americans to an impressive showing of three skiers in the top 10 and four in the top 30 — more than any other nation.
“In the gate, I was feeling confident,” he says of his second run. “There’s always nerves but it was more excitement and it wasn’t overwhelming. I was confident in my ability to ski a solid run. When I crossed the line it was really close and it was almost relieving, like a weight was off my shoulders and I was just super happy to come down and complete my task.”
With Dynastar finally back in the mix in the United States and the brand having World Cup success with Frenchman Noel, Ritchie is eager to carve his own name into the record books on his new gear.
“Hopefully, I can get to that level and be at the top of the World Cup and add another level to Dynastar and Lange’s legacy,” he says. “They’re definitely making a comeback and hopefully I can add to that heritage.”