You know that feeling?
That feeling at the top of the course when your stomach is crawling up your throat. And your body is tingling. And your mind is spinning.
Rob Cone loves that feeling.
“You’re happy. You’re kind of scared. And you have this pause with the good kind of butterflies and nerves,” says the 26-year-old Killington, Vermont native—an alum of Burke Mountain Academy, Middlebury College, and the U.S. Ski Team. “Ideally, you know you’re in a good position against your competitors and you’re trying so hard to find all the confidence you can. You experience it anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, and it just drives me unlike anything else.”
To say that feeling “drives” Cone is, quite frankly, an understatement, because he’s going well out of his way to pursue one of the most challenging and unique ski racing paths imaginable. Here’s how it works: Monday through Friday, he’s living in Boston and working full-time for the homegoods giant, Wayfair. And when the weekend rolls around—like Clark Kent valiantly transforming to Superman—Cone shifts gears, hits the road, and competes in high-level races all over North America; collegiate races, NorAms, you name it.
This lifestyle seems absolutely crazy, right? How can someone work full-time and just dive into elite ski races every weekend? When Cone first told me about it all—late at night, inside the beer-soaked Pickle Barrel Night Club, during the Killington World Cups—I was completely flabbergasted. But, he was so casual about it. To him, continuing to ski race, even with a busy work schedule, just makes sense.
“I think people oftentimes can’t wait to hang up their race skis and go on ski trips for the rest of their lives; nice luxurious heli-ski trips or something else like that. That’s fine. But, for me, I prefer to travel to ski races and be with 20 of my best ski friends who are still involved—whether they’re athletes, reps, or coaches. That’s way better than some small, expensive, elite ski trip.”
Of course, ski racing is not ultimately a cheap pursuit. But Cone points out it’s not as expensive as some may think—especially when you’ve already put countless dollars toward a ski academy, a college racing career, and piles of race gear.
“First and foremost, a FIS License is the cost of a monthly gym membership,” he says. “All my skis are still in the closet, ready to go. The same with all my other equipment: suits, helmets, goggles, everything. Travel can add up, but I can have a cheaper weekend up at an East Coast NorAm than I can hanging out in Boston.”
As a product of multiple top-notch racing programs, Cone knows frequent on-snow training is key to success. But when you’re working 40-plus hours a week in Boston, that whole philosophy basically goes out the window. Occasionally, he’ll visit a team or two and find a little time between gates but, for the most part, he’s just going for it every weekend and trusting his abilities; a true weekend warrior.
“If somebody contacts me and tells me there’s a course, I’ll go up and train with them, but I’m really up into the mountains on Saturdays, and as soon as the snow is falling on the East Coast, there are races going on. So, why don’t I just go up and race? I know how to ski. I have the skills I have… I’m not going to sit here and be so stoic about it; I would love to have time off and train. But there are a lot of programs, life events, and other things I’m working on in the meantime.”
Despite the lack of on-snow training, Cone still knows the importance of physical fitness and spends as much time as possible in the gym. Additionally, he’s relying increasingly on mental fitness—something he’s been refining more and more with the help of ski racing legend, Barbara Ann Cochran.
“I’m always doing visualization work to remind myself of that feeling—the feeling of skiing well,” he says. “I think about the things I’ve worked on over the years. I remind myself of what it feels like to ski well. I remind myself of what it looks like. I go through those motions and picture them over and over.”
Let’s be honest: Cone’s approach to ski racing is totally nuts. No one does what he does. But, somehow, it works. The most shining case study is his performance at last year’s FISK Trophy Slalom Race—the longest-running ski race in North America—at Suicide Six in Vermont. With very little training under his belt, Cone won and walked away with a 10-point result. In second place was U.S. Ski Team Veteran, Nolan Kasper, who was on his way to South Korea for the Olympics shortly thereafter. The Wayfair kid beat the Olympian.
The morning after I saw Cone at that beer-soaked night club in Killington, I stood at the bottom of the women’s GS course—waiting for the show to start. The crowd was fired up. The sun was shining. The forerunners began to come down, and one looked familiar.
It was Cone, taking his first run of the season in gates, with thousands of people watching. He looked fast. And, more importantly, he looked really happy.