New Castle teen travels on skis
NEW CASTLE, Colo. – In a sport where everything hinges upon a two-minute race, it pays to be a little obsessive. A successful two minutes can spell a rankings boost or create a new opportunity, drastically altering the landscape of a skier’s career.New Castle’s Alice McKennis, at 17, understands.”The little things make you that much faster,” she said. “It all builds up. Every little turn is a 10th of a second.”McKennis’ obsession with precision is paying off. The home-schooled alpine ski racer – who’s gunning for a spot on the United States ski team – is racking up the accolades, most notably nabbing Ski Racing magazine’s No. 2 ranking for women juniors.It’s all about the little things, McKennis stressed.”One mistake can really cost you as you move up in the higher levels,” the Nor-Am Circuit racer said. “You can have a great run going and mess it up on one turn and then have a half-second out. You really have to be on your game at all times.”
McKennis, who formerly trained with the Aspen Ski Club, now trains with Rowmark, a ski academy within St. Mark’s-Rowland Hall School in Salt Lake City, Utah. She heads to Utah to train whenever she can, putting in time on the slopes in former Olympic site Park City. Getting a break from racing is the tough part.”I’ve been up here two times this season,” McKennis said from Utah last week. “I’ve basically been racing back-to-back races since November. I finally had some time to train with coaches, work on things. It’s nice to train for more than a day.”It won’t be long before she’s again blazing the race trail. McKennis will participate in the Nor-Am Finals in Panorama, British Columbia, this week and then she’ll head off to the Canadian Nationals in Whistler, B.C., and the U.S. Nationals in Alaska. “They’re some big races,” she said. “I’m really excited.”Good thing the youngster already wrapped up her schooling, completing her GED at 16 after a childhood of home schooling at her family’s ranch in New Castle. McKennis is already chipping away at the next level of education, taking courses through Phoenix Online. She’ll have an associate’s degree in business in two years.
According to the 17-year-old, homework’s a great way to pass the downtime at ski events, worlds away from her Western Colorado home.”It’s good to have something to do at races, to get your mind off other things,” she noted.Training and races have made a world traveler of McKennis. She’s been to South America, Europe and all over the U.S. and Canada.McKennis hopes she can parlay the miles and hard work into a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, and more.”I’m just trying to make the U.S. Ski Team this season and then, eventually, go to the Olympics and ski in the World Cup,” said McKennis, about two levels short of the World Cup now.Skiing is clearly her chosen career path.”Hopefully, I can do this into my early 30s,” said McKennis, who skis all the alpine disciplines – downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom – with the speedy super-G being her favorite. “The typical World Cup ski racer usually retires around 31 or 32, depending on if they get injured or something like that.”
Skiing hooked McKennis as a 2-year-old, when her dad introduced her to the slopes at Sunlight Mountain Resort. She hasn’t strayed far from the slopes since.”She loves it,” said Rowmark coach Eric Harlow, who works closely with McKennis and five others as the academy’s head women’s coach. “In our sport, it’s that commitment and determination that sets lots of girls apart from one another.”She’s covering all the bases. It’s also a detail-oriented sport. The equipment has to be right, the training right. You have to be in the right frame of mind to head down some of these race courses. She takes it seriously.” McKennis’ Rowmark teammate and University of Vermont graduate, Jamie Kingsbury, also thinks McKennis will be just fine.”She’s a great girl,” the two-time NCAA champion said. “She’s definitely committed. She knows what she wants and puts her whole heart into it. Usually when there’s a day off, she’s always up there skiing anyways.”Harlow genuinely believes McKennis, tooled with unwavering sense of determination, can take the sport as far as she wants. Again, he stressed, it all comes down to precision.”It’s a sport where your races are two minutes,” he explained. “All the hours of physical conditioning you do in the summer and fall, all the training – you train three to four hours a day – and it all comes down to two minutes of racing. A lot goes into that two minutes, and sometimes that’s hard to explain to athletes. Really it’s the process that matters, not the result.”
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