In the slipstream of Picabo Street, Lindsey Kildow prepares for her own big-time careerShortly after turning 16, Lindsey Kildow stood at the finish of her first World Cup race, wondering if she’d make the top 30 and qualify for a second run. She would be nudged out by 0.02 seconds, but it was an auspicious start to a new career. And a career is exactly what this is; at an age when one typically thinks about getting a car, Kildow, now 18, thinks about getting a car-company sponsorship.
“I would like to win the overall World Cup title,” she says. Later, she promptly knocks on wood after saying, “I think I could have a long career if I stay healthy.”
(Editor’s note: She may not have knocked quite hard enough. In the first downhill race of the year at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Dec. 6, Kildow caught a tip at 60 mph and was thrown off the course and through three sets of netting. She was helicoptered off the course and taken to a hospital in Banff, where she was treated and released. She suffered sprained ligaments in her left hip and lower back, and will be off skis for at least a few weeks. Melinda Roalstad of the USST’s medical staff said Kildow would likely be back on snow at the end of December or early January. On Dec. 12, Kildow had a slightly more upbeat assessment. “I should be back skiing the end of this week or the beginning of the next,” she said. “I think I’m going to start racing again in those NorAms up in Quebec,” Jan. 3-6.)
While the polite optimism of the first claim is genuine, the superstitious gesture that accompanies her second claim doesn’t really come off; anyone who knows Kildow knows it’s not her style to leave her future to luck. Here in the post-Picabo world of U.S. skiing, Kildow is patiently laying the groundwork for her own big-time career.
Though Kildow grew up in the Twin Cities area, she began skiing at Vail after several years under the tutelage of legendary Erich Sailer at Buck Hill, Minn. In Colorado, coaches began nurturing what Chip Woods calls Kildow’s “natural feel for the snow.” And while the Buck Hill program is a well-known slalom-star factory, Woods insists the 324-foot slope gives racers a solid foundation in four events.
“She had unbelievably good skills when she arrived,” says Woods, quick to credit Sailer with schooling Kildow in the fundamentals. “One thing that happens on a small hill is discipline, and even as a J IV, Lindsey had that, which is rare. She picked up speed events right away, but then we’d switch back over to slalom, and between run one and run five you could see it all coming back.”
Five years later, Kildow is one of the few, proud, four-event threats in American skiing. And she’s not quite done with high school.
But then, Kildow has been a precocious racer since her first year of FIS eligibility. She jumped through all of the sport’s hoops early, making Nor-Am podiums at 15 and racing her first World Cup at 16, before finishing sixth, at the ripe old age of 17, in her first Olympic race (the combined, at Salt Lake).
Despite these accomplishments, Kildow hasn’t gotten quite as much exposure as her teammate Julia Mancuso, also 18 and winner of the 2002 Sprint/Ski Racing Junior Alpine Skier of the Year title.
Maybe this is a good thing, because so much success at such a young age brings its pressures, such as the inclination to specialize in tech or speed, thus simplifying training and amplifying results. But U.S. Ski Team coaches want Kildow to continue working toward four-event mastery until, in Jesse Hunt’s words, “the skills, strength, and maturity” are in place for a move toward more downhill and super G — Kildow’s natural preferences.
The multi-discipline approach, however, can get complicated. This summer, Kildow had to give up a speed camp in Chile in order to train with new USST head women’s tech coach Mathias Berthold in New Zealand.
Berthold believes in a bright future for Kildow, especially if she stays on a four-event program. “If you focus (on one event) too early, it pays off at first but then you hit a plateau,” he says. “You can get to a world rank of 50 or 40 or 30 and then you don’t improve.”
Kildow listens closely to all this advice, and keeps her eye on the big picture, which might be why her coaches trust her this year with a competition schedule that is weighted ever-so-slightly toward speed events — the choice of her childhood idol, Picabo Street.
Lindsey Kildow Dot Com
As their careers briefly overlapped, Picabo Street and Lindsey Kildow became fast friends, so to speak. Kildow’s father, Alan, recalls that the veteran had an influence on the young rookie that went beyond lessons of line, technique, and psychology. “I think Picabo gave her advice about speed,” he says. “But also I think Lindsey admired the marketing of Picabo.”
Kildow has been trying to imagine herself as a brand of sorts. Last season she experimented with her own web site, www.lindseykildow.com. The site was set up so that whenever the pace of European racing action lagged, Lindsey could slip into a coffee shop, check in on the message board and connect with a growing number of fans.
“I told her to emulate Picabo and Pernilla (Wiberg, the Swedish World Cup star),” says Alan Kildow. “It’s more preparatory now; she needs to lay the groundwork for later … you want to be able to generate the right publicity at the right time.” He points out that his daughter’s site was generating 800 to 1,000 hits a day during the Salt Lake Games.
“It was a refreshing project, really,” adds Alex Huff of Blue Turtle Consulting, which created the website. “The number of fans you have is what makes you a valuable asset. It’s the world today; you market yourself or you just take what they hand you.”
For Lindsey, the site became more than a business project. “I heard from all these kids and some old friends I’d been out of touch with,” she says. “I really liked it. I got some notes from a soldier in Afghanistan.”
The next steps in the building process
For girls 18 and under, Kildow’s top 20 in all events. In downhill she’s fifth among all juniors and 58th in the world. She still has this year and the next to capture the World Junior Championships podium that eluded her this last season when she hit flat light, crashed and slid into a gate.
While nothing was broken, Kildow had bruised her shin so severely that she was in too much pain to race. She entered some of the events, with her boot modified to relieve pressure, but for all intents and purposes she did not compete. “Three years ago [the World Junior Championships] was awesome,” she says, “but now it’s losing its appeal.”
This season, Kildow has her sights set on some even grander goals, thanks to a boost from her Salt Lake Games appearance. “I learned how to be more calm in big races, and to use the crowd to my advantage,” she says.
Kildow has also been trying to compensate for a major growth spurt that her coaches say threw her technique out-of-whack. But by all accounts, she’s much stronger this fall. Berthold claims that Kildow could become the next Anita Wachter or Renate Goetschl — two Austrian stars who, he points out, had to break into top seed in all events before they could hope for gold in the combined event. “Between age 16 and 20 is when you need to build your technical base,” says Berthold. “Then your career is a walk in the park.”