Catching up with the ‘Aligator’ — New Castle’s Alice McKennis reflects upon retirement after 24-year ski racing career
A disciplined work ethic, a dose of reality and, oh, lots and lots of ski laps.
Those are some of the key pieces of advice long-time U.S. Alpine Ski Team member Alice McKennis Duran offers up for young skiers coming into the sport.
After 24 years of competitive ski racing — 14 of them with Team U.S.A.; a stint that included one World Cup win, two U.S. championships and two Olympics appearances, one of which produced a fifth-place downhill finish — the New Castle native recently announced her retirement.
“I think back to the young part of my career, and I spent so much time just free-skiing,” McKennis said. “That gave me a really good feeling on the snow, and of skiing different terrain.”
Much of that time was spent at Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs, where she learned to ski with her dad, Greg McKennis, and older sister, Kendra.
To honor her roots there, Sunlight in 2018, following her fifth-place run at the Pyeongchang Games, renamed a portion of the famed East Ridge “Aligator Alleys.”
“The Aligator” is McKennis’s Instagram name.
“I remember always loving skiing from an early age, and often just being by myself at Sunlight and going all day long,” she said of those formative years. “I just loved ripping around through the woods; it was such an adventure …”
It was there at Sunlight, when McKennis was about 10 or 11, that she said she first began to understand her own potential.
A lot of young skiers find themselves at that crossroads — take the less-serious, just-out-here-to-have-fun path, or turn down that serious road.
“You have to recognize that if you’re going to have big goals and big dreams, you’re going to have to have a big work ethic and work through some adversity, inevitably,” McKennis said. “It’s never an upward trajectory. It’s up and down, and sideways and plateaus. … You have to be ready to work through that and to persevere …”
It was that mindset that got McKennis through a few injury-plagued years in her own career. And, that dose of reality she talks about is what ultimately led to her decision to hang up the World Cup career at age 31.
After suffering a serious ankle and opposite knee injury just before Christmas 2020 at one of the first World Cup events of the season at Val d’Isére, France, McKennis said she began the difficult mind journey to her ultimate decision point.
Once again, she was looking at an extended rehabilitation and recovery period before attempting yet another comeback.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries in my career, and I’ve pushed it to the limit and overcome all of them,” she said.
This time, McKennis said she came to terms with that little voice that said, “you know, I’m really not interested in being injured anymore.’”
After conversations with her husband of two years, Ski Club Vail coach Pat Duran, and with her family, McKennis said she decided now was the time.
“Ultimately, it boils down to the risk-reward balance, and it just isn’t worth it to me anymore,” she said. “Eliminating that risk in my life will give me better health for the next 50 or 60 years that I hope to have.”
McKennis closed out her career with a ceremonial lap during the U.S. National Downhill Championships at Aspen Highlands on April 10, with husband Pat following behind getting video.
There are lots of highlights and good career memories to share now.
“Just making the U.S. Ski Team, that was my only goal at the time,” she said of the hard developmental work she put in training and racing for several Colorado ski clubs during her teens, including the Aspen Valley Ski Club and Ski Club Vail, which finally paid off.
Bigger goals ensued, of course.
The ultimate achievement came at St. Anton, Austria on Jan. 12, 2013, when McKennis won her first and only World Cup downhill.
“That was definitely a highlight in my career,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about having a World Cup victory. It’s something a lot of people never get, or even second or third. I just feel really proud of that.”
She also finished 10th overall in the World Cup downhill standings that year. Over the course of her career, she had nine top-10 finishes.
Nationally, McKennis had a first-place finish in the Super G at the 2015 U.S. National Championships at Sugarloaf, Maine, and first-place finish in the 2017 Nor-Am Cup downhill at Copper Mountain.
McKennis doesn’t expect to leave the sport completely. Duran continues to coach, and she may have some things to offer in that regard, also.
“I’m extremely passionate about skiing, and I of course wish I could keep going,” she said. “But I also recognize that I could have an impact in other ways, too.”
Other than that, McKennis said she has plans to work with sister Kendra at her cattle ranch operation near Meeker, raising local grass-fed beef for the growing direct-to-consumer market.
And, there’s the horse-boarding operation her dad continues to run in New Castle, which has its constant responsibilities.
Greg McKennis said he has the expected mixed emotions about Alice’s retirement decision, but it’s one he ultimately supported.
“I’m just tremendously proud of all that she did in her career, and it really showed what she’s made of,” he said. “After 24 years of racing, there have been a lot of great times.
“I’m just happy for her, and she’s got a lot to look forward to that I’m sure she’ll be just as successful in.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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