How Todd Ligare Quit Ski Racing And Reinvented Himself
Todd Ligare had one class left at the University of Denver. He’d spent nearly four years working toward a degree while skiing for the institution’s Division 1 NCAA team, and it was all finally coming to a close in the spring of 2006. The end-of-college crossroad was looming: a time that’s typically confusing and stressful. But, not for him.
“I remember the day I decided,” he says. “I was hitting some cliffs in the back bowls at Loveland all alone on a Wednesday afternoon and the decision was made right then and there. I just thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to keep skiing.’”
Ski racing had always been a major part of Ligare’s life. Before he even became a DU Pioneer, the Park City, Utah native grew up between gates, skied with the U.S. Development Team, and even foreran the slalom and GS events at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Then, at DU, his team won the NCAA Championship during his junior year and he was a captain as a senior. With all of this success came a sense of satisfaction and contentment. So, on that calm, spring day at Loveland, Ligare decided his time ski racing was over—that he’d quit while he was ahead. But, he wanted to keep skiing. Just skiing. More specifically, he developed dreams of shredding big mountains coated with dreamy powder and terrifying terrain.
This goal wasn’t randomly created out of thin, Rocky Mountain air. Instead, Ligare fostered a passion for freeskiing at an early age—finding as much time as possible throughout his life to ski powder and challenge himself in different ways. When you’re raised in Utah, where huge cliffs and cornices are everywhere and snow falls at ridiculous rates, it’s hard not to leave the race course every once and awhile and let loose.
“When I was young, my coach was very much about getting us to really ski the mountain and not just be racing all the time,” says Ligare. “He thought that freeskiing was a really important factor for fast ski racing. So, my friends and I had a great foundation that included the ability to hit jumps, ski powder, and more. It was built into the program and that was an early influence for what I do now.”
What Ligare does now is impressive, to say the least. He’s among the biggest names in freeskiing—best known for his appearances in eight different Teton Gravity Research films. Additionally, he’s seen in various other mind-blowing videos across the web, and in several publications, including FREESKIER Magazine, Powder Magazine, SKI Magazine, and Backcountry Magazine. The long-haired, laid-back ripper has reinvented himself since that decisive day at Loveland. Yet, he’s always paying respects to his racing roots: the foundation of his talent.
“I’m certainly grateful for the days of ski racing,” he says. “There are very few environments where you can slow things down and do drills. We just spent so much time on discipline and I do feel like, no matter what, there’s an element of my skiing these days where I don’t have to think about those fundamentals because they’re just so deeply ingrained. I’m grateful for that.”
When you watch Ligare shred down the peaks of Alaska, British Columbia and other famed big-mountain skiing territories, that racing technique is fully evident. His power and speed are rivaled by few, and the confidence he carries is unmistakably derived from his early days between gates.
“If anything, being a racer gave me a leg up in the big-mountain world,” he says. “You carry a certain amount of respect from the previous successes you had in any facet of the sport, I think. And just having some accolades allows people to take you more seriously. I knew my biggest strength was comfort at speed and that’s still something I leverage in my skiing style now; that’s where I’ve been able to define myself among a lot of other freeskiers.”
As Ligare reflects on his path, he encourages other racers to think twice about the way they look at the sport; to set aside time to freeski and simply enjoy whatever type of terrain or snow lies in front of them.
“People who don’t love freeskiing… Those are the individuals who I kind of question their love of skiing, versus their love of being fast ski racers,” he explains. “There are a lot of examples of ski racers who’ve come to high degree of success by freeskiing a lot. The individuals who think they’d be better off spending their time skiing one more groomer versus something else… I think I would say to them that there’s no evidence that approach is right.”
A life on skis has been incredibly rewarding for Ligare. And he doesn’t seem to regret a darn thing. From the earliest days learning how to pizza in Utah to now charging ridiculously-scary backcountry lines around the globe, everything has fallen right into place, winter after winter. The realization he had at Loveland over 10 years ago still rings true: he just has to keep skiing.
“I’ve spent so much time honing my skills and working on this sport. Becoming good at it,” he says. “To me, it just seems silly to not continue.”