For the past seven years or so, American speed skiing aficionado, Wiley Maple, has spent too much time in the operating room. Three back surgeries. Four knee surgeries. A couple of hand surgeries here and there. The list goes on.
But, this year, somehow, the 27-year-old Coloradan managed to avoid both injury and surgery—posting up some impressive results throughout the winter and making the Olympic team to boot. So, when the race season ended, he (re)packed his bags and flew to Chamonix, France, for two weeks of hard-charging freeskiing with his best friends.
“I’d been to Cham a couple of times for World Cups and World Juniors and I had always known that’s just the Mecca of skiing,” says Maple. “But I knew nothing about getting out into routes like the Vallée Blanche and climbing for like five hours every morning.”
If you’re wondering what the Vallée Blanche route is, it’s a 15-mile-long run in the Alps that drops about 9,000 vertical feet all the way into Chamonix. (For reference, Vail and Mammoth each have about 3,200 vertical feet.) Alongside his friends from Aspen—former ski racers who now spend their days backcountry skiing wherever the snow flies—Maple would check off wild lines like this everyday.
This group of friends is otherwise known as The Freaks: a contingent of Aspen-based skiers who like to have a good time, all the time. The name originates from Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 sheriff campaign in Aspen, a campaign that was unsuccessful but influential, nonetheless, due to Thompson’s whacky and untamed personality. The late author used the phrase, “Freak Power” to garner a following and, all these years later, Maple and his buddies are still—in the words of Jimi Hendrix—carrying the Freak flag high.
One of the Freaks who embarked on the Chamonix mission is Sam Coffey, who grew up racing with Wiley in Aspen; the two have been friends since they were just six years old. Coffey was an All-American racer at the University of New Hampshire and now spends his days summiting peaks all over the map. Needless to say, he was thrilled that Maple made it out for the big trip.
“The best part about Wiley is that you know he can handle any ski situation you bring him to, which is not the case with most people,” says Coffey. “He obviously has the ski skills to ski any line, no matter how gnarly, but he also has incredible endurance for long approaches and a calm mental game which is key for skiing the big stuff in Cham. The rest of our crew skis together all winter so we have a strong group dynamic. Wiley doesn’t get to ski with us as much during the normal season because of his World Cup schedule, but even so, he’s able to jump back into the group like he never left and become a valuable member for decision-making, route-finding, etcetera.”
Each day was a skier’s dream in Chamonix. The boys would wake up around 6 a.m., head to the cafe, grab a ham and cheese croissant and a baguette, get on the first tram, climb as high as they could, summit by noon, and keep skiing ‘till last call. Then, they’d do as the French do: cook, drink, and unwind in the sun. Coffey could sense Maple becoming more and more relaxed as time went on.
“Even though the ski days can be quite intense here, it’s at a much slower pace than life on the White Circus,” says Coffey—referencing the tolling World Cup Circuit. “I was surprised to see Wiley make the trip after such a crazy travel schedule this year with the Olympics and all, but freeskiing with your best friends and drinking beer in the sun after makes it all worth it, I suppose.”
Some would say that for a racer who competes at such a high level, going off to Chamonix and skiing death-defying peaks is a bad idea. But Maple has always believed that diversifying his skiing—and also keeping up with other sports like skateboarding and mountain biking—is beneficial to him in a number of ways.
“I’ve always thought that being the best athlete possible in multiple sports really helps my skiing. And when I made the U.S. Ski Team, they very much encouraged me to limit my extra curricular activities by cutting out any dangerous sports that aren’t necessary to my training. I still kind of pushed the threshold on what they accepted and, in the last two years in particular, I decided I’m going to be the skier I want to be and I’m going to train exactly the way I want to train.”
As spring fades into summer and plans for next winter begin to form, Maple is increasingly eager to be faster than ever. Unfortunately, due to the increase in cuts on the U.S. Ski Team, he’ll be skiing on his own next season, but that’s made him hungrier than ever to be successful.
“I haven’t had a back-to-back season without an injury to start from the ground floor in over five years, so that alone is kind of unheard of for my career,” he says. “Last season actually ended up being real decent, so I’m planning on giving it another hard push.”
Spoken like a true Freak.