What a World Cup season! Apologies for another extended hiatus from my travel column. I had every intention to give you the lay of the land in PyeongChang, South Korea, but a little event called the “Olympics” got in the way. Darnit. Don’t ya hate when that happens?

Just a little rewind for a sec as I walk down memory lane. Please, just humor me and, join me. Ready?

Sure, the weather was brutal. Turns out, South Korea is colder than we all thought it would be. But, I must say, it made for an excellent surface for race day. There’s this legend of a snow scientist who goes by “Cowboy” (but his given name is Tom Johnston). Many of you likely know him, or you’ve heard of him. In fact, he’s the man in charge of the surface here in Sun Valley. But, of course, he wouldn’t tell you that. Part-time cattle rancher, part-time snow magician and full-time badass, Johnston created a masterpiece of a canvas to ski on at the Olympics. Impeccable. Hero snow.

And so, the stage was set for the best in the world to put the hammer down. The wind came in and it came in with a vengeance. That created a less-than-ideal schedule for Mikaela Shiffrin, who was favored to medal in multiple events. But, on GS day, Mikaela Shiffrin created magic and laid down a stunning gold medal performance. Then, there was the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecká, the skier/snowboarder Phenom who grabbed a surprise win from bib 26 by one hundredth to push Austria’s Anna Veith to second place. Now THAT was an Olympic moment. In the finish, I jumped up and down and cheered like a little kid in a candy shop. No one would have written that script, and that’s why I loved it.

From there, Lindsey Vonn’s emotional bronze in what will likely be her final Olympic downhill. Waterworks for days as she reflected on her season to NBC and what her grandfather meant to her. There was heartbreak and triumph. Comebacks like Laurenne Ross’ that wowed us, and tragedy like Tommy Biesemeyer’s ruptured achilles the day before the downhill that brought us to tears. Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s amazing consistency across disciplines. Through it all, we felt the highs and the lows. And, of course I bladed in the morning to keep the energy even. For these reasons, I took a temporary hiatus from this space. But, I’m back. Not sure I’m back in the “better than ever” kind of way, but I sure am back. 

I know what you’re thinking right now, “Hey, Megan, the Olympics were SO three weeks ago…let’s live in the present, eh? Not the past.” Ok, yeah. I get it. So, fast forward to the Valley of the Sun, where the best in the nation athletes have traveled from near and far for the Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships.

HEY, GUESS WHAT?!
Because Sun Valley is so rad and has their act together, they’re streaming the event. So that’s cool. Tune in. Hopefully, the rain will go away and the sun will come out tomorrow.

Tell you what, the athletes and staff LOVE having U.S. Alpine Championships at Sun Valley. Why? Well, first of all, if you’ve never skied Sun Valley you have got to come here and experience it. The sustained vertical is insane and the groomers are unreal. (Powder people: stop rolling your eyes…you know you like an occasional groomer.) I caught up with U.S. Ski Team veteran – and coincidentally, one of my best friends – Resi Stiegler and she told me why she adores Sun Valley so much.

“Sun Valley is perfect because it’s near my home (Jackson, Wyoming), I grew up skiing here so it’s an amazing family home town vibe, and the town is awesome and provides a good atmosphere and energy. Coming here for U.S. Alpine Championships is just what you need at the end of the season; it’s got really good spring corn and amazing GS groomers and it’s in the West which is obviously the best :).” Yeah, girl. Preach. Sorry east coasters, I’ve got to agree with Resi on this one. Stay tuned to this piece for Resi’s Sun Valley hot tips and cool hangouts recommendations.

But first, coffee. Or Bailey’s and coffee, perhaps?

Okay, here we go.

Upcoming U.S. Alpine Championships schedule:
Friday, March 23, 2018
Women’s Super-G
Men’s Super-G

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Women’s Slalom
Men’s Slalom

Sunday, March 25, 2018
Men’s Giant Slalom

Monday, March 26, 2018
Women’s Giant Slalom

And now, ready for some “who to watch” action?!

Vagablonde’s Top Five + 1 Young Gun – Who to Watch:

Men

  1. Ryan Cochran-Siegle – he emerged victorious to grab his second national title in as many years on Wednesday. Watch him in Friday’s super-G and Saturday’s GS. He’s been skiing hot, hot, hot and is feeling confident. Plus, #dathairdoe.
  2. Bryce Bennett – Big ol’ B-ryce! Gotta love him. In what was his most successful season to date, Bennett is riding high and having fun. It’s been a long season and he’s sadly gotten rid of his creepy mustiache, but Bryce will be one to watch in Friday’s super-G.
  3. Jared Goldberg – Yeah, one of my favorite athletes. Not only has he upped his game and brought a whole new level of focus to his skiing, but he’s also funny, can do a mean Aussie accent and is quite the musician.
  4. AJ Ginnis – He’s the defending slalom national champion and he’s Greece-born but Austria/U.S.-raised. It’s Greek to me! Zick zack! Disco sticks Saturday awaits us.
  5. Mark Engel – Just scored his best career result at the World Cup in Kranjska Gora. He’s a musician who lives in a van and skis fast…you don’t find that combo often.

YG: River Radamus – No list is complete without this 2018 World Juniors silver medalist and NorAm overall champion. He’s the next generation of our sport, and he’s proven he’s one to watch.

*Addendum to the men’s list above *
It would be unfair of me to leave out Tommy Ford and David “Daver” Chodounsky. What’s up with me…am I losing my mind or what?! I blame the end of season haze that is my brain right now. So, let me tell you why you’ve got to watch them. I don’t need to tell you that Tommy Ford lays down some of the most beautiful arcs I have ever seen – because I sound like a broken record I’ve said it so much. But you can see it for yourself too. The hill is his canvas and he’s an artist on skis. Knifing! TFord ended the season with a career-best ninth in Kranjska Gora securing his spot at World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, only to follow that up with another career-best in eighth. Sunday. Watch him. And Daver…well, he’s the nation’s best slalom skier and this former NCAA slalom champ for Dartmouth Big Green is always one to watch on race day. With an 18th-place result at the Olympics in slalom and a season best 15th-place at Kitzbuehel, four-time national slalom champion (including Sun Valley in 2016) Chodounsky knows how to lay it down.

Women

  1. Alice McKennisShe’s en fuego! Am I right?! Fifth at the Olympics. Then, she did the unthinkable: at World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden she earned her first podium in FIVE (!!!) years with a third place, sharing the podium with Lindsey Vonn, who was first. She also wrote this kick-A blog post that deserves to be shared with everyone you know. Right now. So do it, k? Thanks. 
  2. Stacey Cook – I mean, it’s Cookie. She’s from the famed ‘84 birth year and she rips. She’s had a bit of an aches and pains issue since her gnarly Garmisch crash, but she’s feeling better. And she’s here.
  3. Megan McJames 2017 Giant Slalom National Champion and World Cup mainstay, she’s an obvious one to keep an eye on this weekend. She’s an independent athlete with more grit and passion than most people I know.
  4. Foreste Peterson – Second in 2017 at Sugarloaf in the giant slalom, this Dartmouth Big Green athlete ran into some trouble at NCAAs, but she’ll look to find some redemption here at Sun Valley on this challenging track.
  5. Canada’s Roni Remme – I know, I know, but I had to include this Canadian in here, because she’s both fast and a badass! Second in last year’s slalom, and a strong giant slalom skier, she rocks.

YG: AJ Hurt – First World Cup at 16 years old in Killington, then got start spots at Lienz, Austria and Kranjska Gora, Maribor. This lady SENDS IT like only Squaw peeps know how to send. Next level-sending. She inspects faster than Bode Miller and is cruisey-cool to the core. Yeah!

Resi Stiegler competes in the 2016 U.S. National Championships at Sun Valley. // Image credit: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Just the Tips (courtesy of Resi):
Sure, it’s not quite spring and you may not be able to get your blades out just yet, but we’ve got you covered with the scoop on plenty of other things to do and see in Ketchum, Idaho. Ready, set, adventure!

TREAT YO SELF.
It’s been a long winter, and now technically it is spring. How about you go to a spa? Resi says Simply Skin might be the one she went to and loved, but can’t recall. Looks good to me though. Let’s go there. After looking up spas, Resi said, “Now all I want to do is lay around a spa. I miss Europe.” If you’ve been to European spas you know that they do it right. On the road, we always take advantage of a good spa session, complete with sauna (leave your suit at home, Toto – we’re not in Kansas anymore) and lounging in the rest room. Ahhh. The perks of the job.

EXPLORE NATURE.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a hot springs fanatic, y’all. And the hot springs in this area are some of the best. So here’s the scoop: several million years ago, Idaho sat on top of what we now call the Yellowstone Caldera (currently located underneath northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana). In the aftermath of the shifting of the tectonic plates, Idaho still retains the hotbed qualities without the intensity of the active geysers and boiling hot temperatures of Yellowstone’s hot springs.

Resi Recommends: “The hot springs are awesome, you can find a local, bring a case of beer or snacks and go enjoy it. The one I’m thinking of is next to the river and a bit of an adventure to get to.”

Resi’s talking about Frenchman’s Hot Springs, about 10 miles from Ketchum along Warm Springs Road, it’s one of the closest, and thus most frequented, in the area. There’s a natural hot spring in Stanley too, behind the library and across a little bridge, that gives you a great postcard view of the mighty Sawtooths as you soak.

COFFEE COFFEE COFEEE
SO, SO good. Can’t live without it. Love a good local coffee shop.

Resi Recommends: JAVA on Fourth “I love to grab coffee, brunch or baked goods (GF) at JAVA super cute and you know everyone in there.” Also, a good spot for coffee is Maude’s Coffee and Clothes. Love those local spots.

SHOP UNTIL YOU DROP
First, get thrifty, because the word on the streets of Ketchum is that they boast quite the thrift shop.

Resi Recommends: “They have one of the best second hand thrift stores I have ever been to called the “Gold Mine Thrift Shop”. It’s awesome and great for end of season festivities.” Ketchum also has a Lululemon, “which is nice for athletes especially when you have been on the road all winter and need a new pair of leggings or something fun for spring!”

NO TIME LIKE APRES SKI TIME.
You’re in Sun Valley, so make sure to take advantage of some of some of the best skiing this nation has to offer: après skiing, I mean.

Resi Recommends:Apple’s Bar & Grill is the place to hang after a great day of skiing. It’s the best après in town, and run by one of my old western region coaches. It’s just a great place to hang out and catch up with ski town gossip!”

FEELING ARTISTIC?
A stroll down the beautiful streets of Ketchum with the Sawtooths for a view may get you inspired to check out some art.

Resi Recommends: The Broschofsky Gallery, a “super rad gallery run by a friend of a friend.”

MY TURN FOR THE TIPS!
The ski history runs deep in Sun Valley and Ketchum. I remember my first visit to Ketchum, where my travels led me to the Sun Valley Lodge and the legendary Duchin Lounge, a magical place full of former ski bums from the 1970s, who are now wealthy conservative fancy-dressed folks sipping on expensive cocktails in a historical environment collide with a new generation of ski bums amidst hallways flanked with photos of ancient celebrities. Though it has been recently renovated, it’s still a classic and carries the vibes of the past. Speaking of cocktails, we’re not in Utah anymore. The drinks are tall and strong. Kind of like the men. Hey-o!

When in Ketchum, Michel’s Christiana is a must, must must visit. If you’re a skier, you know owner Michel Rudigoz. He hails from the burgundy region of France and he has combined classic French cuisine with ski mountain vibes. From the website: “The Olympic Bar displays Michel’s U.S. Olympic Alpine Ski Coaching career including many notable Sun Valley champions! “The Christy”, as it has been known by locals since 1959, is an iconic, must-experience Sun Valley landmark presenting amazing French Cuisine and wine. Earnest Hemingway used to come so often he had his own table.” Like I said, strong drinks. Proceed with caution.

As the best athletes in the nation descend upon Baldy’s storied slopes, Sun Valley hosts a world-class event, celebrating ski racing and mountain culture. The Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships are chock-full of things to do and end of season parties to check out. For a complete list of things to do/see and race schedule, check out the website.

The last time we were at Nationals here, I donned lederhosen for Marco Sullivan’s retirement party. And we danced. Boy, did we dance. Don’t worry, we’ll dance again. Find me out there. We’ll have a pants off (lederhosen on) dance-off.

Ski fast. Have fun. Be safe. And don’t forget your unicorn mask at home. Yes, indeed – it might get a little weird this weekend.

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Megan Harrod
Contributor
- Born in a trailer home in Hamilton, Mont., before relocating to Wisconsin, Harrod grew up ski racing the mighty manmade hills in Wisconsin and Minnesota (St. Olaf alumna) before landing at the U.S. Ski Team as Alpine Press Officer. She has lived many lives in between, including that of a unicorn.
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