Q&A with Peak Performers Alpine skiing runner-up Jake Fiala
2002 Olympian reflects on a storied career, shares advice for young skiers
DILLON — Silverthorne resident and 2002 U.S. Olympic Alpine skier Jake Fiala finished as the runner-up in the Alpine skiing category of Peak Performers, a project honoring Summit County’s top skiing and snowboarding athletes.
Fiala, 44, is a business owner in the county just over a decade after his competitive skiing career concluded. It’s a career for the Summit High School graduate that consisted of the 1999 Super-G National Championship, a top-12 finish at the 2003 World Championships and a silver medal in skicross at the 2007 X Games.
How did you get your start in skiing?
I was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, communist at the time, and my mother and father and myself defected in 1978. My dad and mom both loved skiing there, and they continued their passion here. My dad and I would go (ski) every weekend. He was an engineer for the city of Albuquerque. We’d drive to Taos at 5 (a.m.) in the morning Saturday and come back late Sunday. He was a ski instructor there, and I would kind of have my run of the mountain until I was 10. … When I was 14, we were kind of commuting too far from New Mexico. It was an 8-hour drive to every ski race. So I moved and lived with a foster family in Vail my freshman, sophomore and junior year, and senior year moved to Summit County with (Team Breckenridge coach) John Leffler. … I spent two years in the (post-graduate) program at Team Breck, I made the national team in 1995, and the rest was history.
How did Leffler and the coaches at Team Breck help you reach the nation team?
He had a very disciplined program, which worked pretty well for me at the time, which was what I needed. Vail was less structure, since I was living with a foster family. … When I moved to Breck with John, he was my legal guardian my senior year of high school. He had a very structured program. There was no messing around. … It just helped me realize my potential. So he was a huge part, him and Alex Kendall. And also my summer after I graduated, they paid for a trip for me to go to Australia for three months. I think I left maybe 500th in the world, and I came back top 100 in the world in a couple events. That was a big stepping stone for my career. … Alex was also one of my coaches, and she was very good on the motivational side. … John, he knew everything about skiing. I was able to combine those two styles of coaching to come up with a style that combined John’s technical training. … He knows everything about edge angles and aerodynamics and the science. I’d say he’s a scientist in skiing.
Along with your 2002 Olympic appearance, what are your favorite memories from your career?
I’d say probably either my top 15 at the Kitzbuhel, Austria, World Cup or my top 15 at Beaver Creek. The way I was able to ski those courses, some of the sections.
What was the rhyme and reason behind your transition to skicross?
Because of your speed in downhill, and with the big jumps, transitioning was fairly easy in the skiing aspect of it. What was tough was being in the horse gates — so many guys going at once … the combative nature of skiercross.
What are your words of wisdom to young Summit County skiers who have big dreams like you once did?
Try everything, then just do what you love. … When I was growing up, there was a ton of freeskiing. There was a lot of different kinds of skiing, whether training gates or freeskiing or jumping cliffs. I seem to see a lot of the kids right now are very regimented in their training, and they need to kind of go outside the box a little bit and explore these sports on their own and what they can do with their own imaginations.
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