Alice McKennis, former Team Summit member, rips it up in downhills
The Denver Post
Meyer: Alice McKennis “awesome” in Cup downhills
By John Meyer
The Denver Post
VAIL – I’m not sure what is more remarkable about what Glenwood Springs racer Alice McKennis accomplished in the season’s first two World Cup downhills.
The fact that a 20-year-old finished 18th and then 10th in her second and third World Cup downhills? Or that humble Ski Sunlight produced a World Cup downhiller?
Whichever point of emphasis you want to make, her eye-popping results last month at Lake Louise, Alberta, impressed a lot of people.
“She skied awesome,” said Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, the two-time World Cup overall champion and Olympic gold medal favorite who won those two downhills at Lake Louise. “It’s pretty incredible to watch her improve. Her 10th place was extraordinary. She’s got a lot of talent, and she’s working hard.”
In her first season as a World Cup regular, McKennis has put herself in position to make the Olympic team in downhill. This could be an important week in that quest, because there are two downhills scheduled in Haus, Austria. If she does well there, she will have the inside track to joining Vonn in the Olympic downhill.
“Right now I’m not going to think about it too much,” McKennis said last week after skiing Vail with her father during the World Cup holiday break. “It would be fantastic to go. Either way, I’m going to be happy that I’m skiing and able to do the sport that I love. I’m not going to stress out about it too much.”
I mean no disrespect for Sunlight, because it’s a wonderful little area, but the vertical drop barely exceeds 2,000 feet – not exactly the cradle of downhill legends. Yet that is where the McKennis story begins. She learned to ski with her father before her second birthday.
“I would take her to Sunlight maybe four or five days a week,” said her father, Greg. “It was very obvious she was going to take to it. She wanted to go down the fall line, down steep trails. Sunlight is actually a pretty serious mountain. Some of it is quite steep, particularly for a little kid.”
McKennis began racing at age 6 and joined Ski Club Vail at age 9. At the time, Vonn was a 14-year-old Ski Club Vail phenom already prized by the U.S. Ski Team.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, she’s the greatest thing ever,’ ” McKennis said of Vonn. “I was so young, anyone older and better just seemed like God, you were just in awe. But she seemed especially good.”
That also was the winter of the 1999 world championships hosted by Vail and Beaver Creek. Little Alice was in heaven.
“That was the coolest thing ever,” McKennis said. “I ran around here for the two weeks and just had the time of my life, chasing after Hermann Maier, trying to get his autograph. I loved it.”
The next winter she raced for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, followed by two seasons with Team Summit, a couple years of private coaching at Copper Mountain and two more with the Aspen Valley Ski Club, mentored there by former U.S. Ski Team downhiller Casey Puckett. She skied two seasons for Utah’s Rowmark Ski Academy before making the U.S. Ski Team last year.
Last season she won NorAm Cup season titles in downhill and super-G, guaranteeing her spots in those disciplines on this year’s World Cup. She had one previous World Cup start before going to Lake Louise last month.
“I went in hoping for top 30s,” McKennis said. “I started off really well with the training runs, being fourth and then 10th. I was like, ‘All right, maybe I can get in there.’ Then the first (race), getting a top 20, that was astonishing. I was really excited.
“The next day, I’m like, ‘I’m not going to put any pressure on myself, not going to change anything, just go out and try to have fun skiing.’ That’s what I did. I just had a great run.”
Vonn didn’t earn her first World Cup top 10 until her 45th start. I’m not suggesting McKennis shows more youthful promise than Vonn, because Vonn began skiing World Cup regularly at age 17 and was already an Olympian by then. Still, for a kid to finish 10th in her third World Cup downhill start is extraordinary.
Especially a kid from Sunlight.
“It doesn’t really matter where you come from, as long as you work hard and you have the drive,” Vonn said. “She definitely does. She wants to win, and she’s out there pushing herself every day. It’s showing in her results.”
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