VAIL, Colorado - The U.S. Ski Team alpine racers kicked off their season Thursday the right way - with hundreds of cheering fans.
A large crowd gathered at Vail Square in Lionshead to hear the announcement of the ski team's alpine A, B, C and the development teams, a group of about 40 of the fastest skiers in America, including Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, Mikaela Shiffrin, Andrew Weibrecht and New Castle native Alice McKennis.
The concert-like atmosphere saw young fans arriving early in order to get closer to the stage, then politely waiting through several videos and speeches for the ski team's arrival and their chance to get photos and autographs with the athletes. Their patience was rewarded with frequent swag giveaways, including hats, T-shirts, socks, stickers of all shapes and sizes, Lindsey Vonn posters, Birds of Prey World Cup posters, and large metal Audi R8 toy cars. Between segments, host Uncle E shouted "Who's fired up?" before shooting t-shirts out of a cannon into the crowd.
"They don't want to hear from me," Vail Mayor Andy Daily said after a quick speech, saying he was trying to make it short and sweet in order to let the fans at the ski team. And while his speech was less than a minute, he cut to the heart of the celebration with a salute to ski racing in Vail.
"Vail has hosted more World Cup events than any other venue in the Western Hemisphere. Vail is racing. Vail is skiing!" he shouted.
United States Ski and Snowboard Association president Bill Marolt also spoke fondly of ski racing's history in Vail.
"The thing I think that is really cool about Vail, and the reason it has such tremendous racing heritage and history is because of the guys that founded it," Marolt said. "Peter Seibert, Morrie Shepard and all those guys that came here in the early days and believed in ski racing and believed that ski racing could make a difference in a resort. And it's clear to me that it has with what we have here, from the past 50 years and ultimately what's gonna happen in 2015."
Among the many young fans who politely waited though the speeches were Ski and Snowboard Club Vail "Dream it Team" members Austin Obourn, Emma Hall, Wyatt Hall, Shane Cole, Matt Macaluso and Zoe Livran, who were not only waiting to see the athletes, but to interview them. The group's academic level and ability to keep and maintain a strong journal earned them the chance to ask anyone on the team anything they wanted on stage in front of the crowd.
Livran asked Miller to share something nobody knew about him, to which he replied with a story of how he was married.
"Our only witness was a cat, and that's our family right now," said Miller. "So I'm a cat person, I don't know if anybody knows that. I'm a dog person too, but mostly a cat person."
The crowd went wild.
Other interesting pieces of information that were revealed throughout the evening included the fact that Shiffrin still doesn't have her driver's license, and Robbie Kelly enjoys naked bungee jumping.
The U.S Ski Team continues their training at Copper Mountain and Vail's Golden Peak this week. Next week, the women head to Aspen while the men head to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, for World Cup action.