Take 5: An interview with the U.S. Ski Team’s Hig Roberts
The path to the U.S. Ski Team is hardly a straight line. There are dozens and dozens of events to navigate, not to mention thousands upon thousands of young, hungry competitors vying for just a handful of spots.
This season, Hig Roberts earned his place. The 24-year-old Steamboat native took several zigs and zags on his way to the national team, starting first with youth clubs, then skiing for Middlebury College in Vermont before joining Team America in Vail, a developmental team for competitors who have aged out of the club scene. (No relation to Bode Miller’s punk-inspired independent team from 2007-08.)
While in Vail, Roberts met fabled coach Peter Lange and, in just a single season, started placing on the podium for Nor Am technical events like slalom and giant slalom. He also raced against just about everyone on the World Cup circuit without actually racing in a World Cup event — both a blessing and a curse for an Olympic hopeful.
But Roberts made it, and that’s all that matters — for now. He now joins U.S. superstars like Ted Ligety with three seasons remaining to prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Roberts already had his first taste of World Cup competition in late October at Soelden, Austria, where he admits that a few mistakes on the GS course knocked him out of contention for points.
With first-run jitters out of the way, Roberts comes to Copper Mountain this weekend for the official U.S. Ski Team naming on Nov. 21. Before then, the Summit Daily sports desk talked with the young technical specialist about the upcoming season, his first few months on the national team and why it’s not exactly a bad thing to come up short in his first World Cup race.
Summit Daily News: You took an untraditional path to the U.S. Ski Team, to say the least. How did things come together for you without club or team support?
Hig Roberts: It wasn’t necessarily by choice. I missed the criteria to qualify several years in a row, but it wasn’t anything that crushed me or changed my dreams. I knew I had it in me and believed in myself, but I was a one-man show for a while. I figured out my own summer training program and everything else to get ready. Last year, after I graduated college, I joined the private team in Vail, Team America, and was able to make the mental changes I needed for things to click. I did well in a few competitions and knew at that point I had the chance to really move up.
SDN: Team America was launched in 2013 to help racers in your same position. How important was that opportunity?
HR: I had a lot of support from great coaching and sponsors and teammates, but when I was there I really did develop an approach to skiing I never had before, both physically and mentally. That helped me take that next step and ski at a level that I knew I always was capable of, but just hadn’t reached yet.
SDN: Mental changes? How do you train mentally to be a better racer?
HR: It sounds silly and clichéd, but a lot of it comes from self-belief. I had the confidence that I belonged in a certain place and should be competing with the best. I also started taking a more relaxed approach to racing, just letting things shake out the way they should. Without college and the stresses of school, it was much easier to focus on ski racing and moving up.
SDN: You were an economics major at Middlebury. That’s hardly a throwaway degree. Was it tough to focus on ski racing with school happening at the same time?
HR: No, I don’t think so. My story and similar stories show that it doesn’t. You have less time for dry-land training, you have less time to totally focus on the sport, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. It creates a good balance in your life. It’s not the worst thing to get distracted by school, and I knew I could do both and could accomplish both. I really do think school can be a great thing for a ski racer if they approach it the right way.
SDN: You’re a technical skier at heart. How did you hone in on those disciplines?
HR: It’s really hard to be a four-event skier these days. A couple people do it, but I’ve always been really small. I was the smallest kid on the circuit when I was growing up, so I got good at that early. In college you only race technical events, so you start to focus in once you’re out of the juniors. I also just enjoy it more, making more turns. Going fast is obviously fun and I loved the speed events when I was young, but after a while you start to focus in on what’s natural.
SDN: How long have you been training and traveling with the U.S. team?
HR: I’ve been with them since the first announcement in April, so that meant I moved to Park City in the summer. I attended all the prep camps — Mount Hood, New Zealand, Chile. I was recently in Soelden for the first World Cup race of the season a few weeks ago.
SDN: The Soelden event was your first taste of World Cup racing. How did it feel to finally get out there?
HR: It was a great experience. I made a lot of mistakes, but the first one is arguably the hardest of the year for anyone. I’m just glad to have it under my belt. I want to gain experience, but I also want to shoot high, get good at the same time. I haven’t been around World Cup racing, but I’ve been around these same competitors. I’m a bit older and I have that experience already, so instead of looking at it as my very first year, I want to stay at that same level, put up good results. There are rookies out there doing the same thing.
SDN: Is it helpful to have a few years of Nor Am experience coming into the World Cup season?
HR: Again, it was good to be in that situation early on with Team America. Now, after that first race, I know what it’s like to compete against those guys in the World Cup. At the end of the day it’s no different than any other race. It’s less of a big deal because you know what to expect.
SDN: Looking ahead, any nerves about your first pro season?
HR: No, I’m trying not to be nervous. As a ski racer you learn to take everything head on. There are tough races out there, but this is something I’ve dreamed of doing my entire life, so I might as well go at it with tenacity instead of nerves.
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