Aspen ski racer Wiley Maple healthy again, ready to ‘do some damage’ on World Cup
If anything, this weekend’s World Cup races in Lake Louise are about pushing any lingering doubt aside for Aspen ski racer Wiley Maple.
“This summer, I wasn’t sure if I would race again,” Maple said. “What I’d like to see happen with my skiing is hopefully show that I can ski very quickly and really make a push for being a full-blown World Cup skier.”
Maple, 27, has been there before. The former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club standout and two-time U.S. national downhill champion has more than 40 World Cup starts to his name, but his career has been mired by injury more often than not. He missed the entire 2016-17 competition season — which included the World Cup Finals in Aspen — because of those injuries.
He’s had multiple back surgeries, but his main ailment has long been his patella, or kneecap, which he has, again ,had multiple surgeries on. Prior to joining the U.S. Ski Team for its annual fall training camp a few months ago in La Parva, Chile, Maple hadn’t legitimately been on snow in nearly a year and a half.
Because of this, Maple wasn’t officially named to the U.S. Ski Team for the 2017-18 Olympic season.
“For the last year and a half, it’s been, ‘Who the hell knows?’” Maple said. “At some point it’s like you have to finish school and give up this dream. At another point, it’s like you’re young right now and if your body still works and you’re good at it, then you are almost obligated to keep going.”
While it can be easy to doubt Maple’s body considering his medical history, it’s difficult to question his relentless ability to bounce back. He’s been denied a roster spot by the U.S. Ski Team multiple times throughout his career, each coming after a season in which he didn’t compete for medical reasons.
So not being on the team again this year isn’t anything new to him. In fact, Maple thrives when left to his own doing, part of the reason he’s long had a tumultuous relationship with U.S. Ski Team executives since competing in his first World Cup race in January 2011.
“The way I ski race and live my life is very independent and I know to race the way I want to race I have to be myself and that doesn’t necessarily mean following all the rules,” Maple said. “All the years I haven’t been named have been my best years. Hopefully that continues to be true.”
While Maple isn’t officially with the U.S. Ski Team this winter, he’s still involved. He’s always had strong relationships with his coaches, including fellow Aspenite Johno McBride, who returned to the national team this season to be the head coach for the men’s speed team after recently serving as the AVSC’s alpine director. McBride was Bode Miller’s coach when he won both of his overall World Cup titles.
Maple’s showing while at training camps in Chile, and more recently at Copper Mountain, are encouraging. He’s as healthy as he’s been since winning his last national downhill title in Aspen in March 2016, and maybe the healthiest he’s been his entire career. Earlier this month, he took 19th and 21st in a pair of FIS downhill races at Copper Mountain, and Friday was the top American during the only training run ahead of the season-opening World Cup speed races this weekend in Canada. He was 24th with a time of 1 minute, 54.14 seconds.
While there has been some tentativeness from the U.S. coaches to throw him back into the fire, Maple doesn’t know any other way. It seems to be an Aspen thing.
“There is something about Aspen athletes where we hammer way too hard. … I’ve come back a lot of times and this is how I’ve done it. You can’t let the fear set in,” Maple said. “Right before Chile there was still a large part of me that wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to ski at that level again. … I was actually surprisingly fast, immediately. Within a week I was right in there winning runs and feeling pretty comfortable on skis again.”
A strong showing this weekend at Lake Louise — the downhill is today and super-G on Sunday — and next week at Beaver Creek would likely get him back in the U.S Ski Team’s good graces and pave the way for a complete World Cup season. As for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, it’s hardly out of the equation either.
Maple has never been to the Olympics — he missed the 2014 Olympic season because of injury — but he considers himself to be among the five or six men with a chance to earn one of the four downhill spots for the U.S. come February.
“It is going to be a little bit of a battle for the spots,” Maple said. “I’m feeling healthy. I don’t think it should be a problem to ski right back onto the World Cup and hopefully do some damage.”
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