Glenwood skier McKennis enjoys first Olympics despite fall

20-year-old downhill skier trained in Steamboat for a year

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U.S. Ski Team/Courtesy

Alice McKennis

— When 20-year-old Glen­wood Springs Alpine skier Alice McKennis got loose in the bumps and thrown off the course at the women’s downhill in Whistler, British Col­umbia, on Wed­nesday, disqualifying her from the event, there really was only one thing to do.

McKennis, who trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club from 1999 to 2000, wanted to hit the last jump.

So instead of skiing down the side, McKennis rode out the course and hit the last jump.

“I just tried to finish,” said McKennis, who finished 36th before officials disqualified her. “I really wanted to hit the last jump because it’s pretty fun,” she continued. “I figured I might as well finish even though I’m like 17 seconds out.”

Americans Lindsey Vonn and Julie Mancuso won gold and silver, marking the first time that’s happened in Alpine skiing since the 1984 games. The last time it happened, Americans Phillip and Steven Mahre went 1-2 in the men’s slalom and Deb Armstrong, now Winter Sports Club Alpine director, won the gold in the women’s giant slalom and Christin Cooper won the silver.

It might be that resiliency that leads McKennis to bigger and better places. On a day when all the focus was on Vonn and her injuries, McKennis, who grew up on a ranch outside of New Castle, said Wednesday was quite the learning experience.

As the youngest U.S. women’s Alpine skier, McKennis said being around the Olympics has been a totally new experience.

“I was nervous today,” she said Wednesday. “I’m usually more calm and laid-back. It was dealing with the nerves and amount of people and the hype around it. It’s a great experience coming here. I’m so proud to represent the United States. You learn from your mistakes, basically. You learn from today and hopefully not do it again.”

The course, which had been a big question coming in with varying weather conditions all week, proved to set up well Wednesday. But the Franz’s Run course was much different from the one the men ran Monday.

It presented a challenge that during Monday’s training, the course was broken up into two parts.

“I think it is more technical than the men’s, and I think it is quite difficult for the women,” said Brian Stemmle, the lead Alpine analyst for the Canadian Television Net­work. “The men’s is more of a medium course as far as danger is concerned, and you can see the ladies’ is right up there.”

The top and middle sections where McKennis went off course were bumpy and featured lots of rollers.

“I’m definitely more of a glider,” McKennis said. “There is no gliding on this hill. We’ve been running really smooth tracks all season. It’s definitely a shock with the other training runs, and it was like a mogul field. It was smoother today, but experience definitely helps.”

McKennis has been on the fast track since she started racing at age 6. After her one year in Steamboat, she skied for Summit and Aspen clubs before going to the Rowmark Ski Academy.

By 18, she was on the U.S. developmental team, and in 2009, she won the NorAm downhill and super-G contests.

In the final downhill World Cup before the Olympics, she had a career-best ninth-place finish in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Despite her finish, McKennis said she’s excited about the future. She plans to return to Colorado on Sunday for a day before resuming training.

Until then, Mc­­Kennis is just going to revel in the Olympic experience.

“It was always my dream as a girl growing up to come to the Olympics,” she said. “I thought I would make it someday. I knew it was a lot of work, but it seemed like it was so far off. Coming into this season, it was amazing.

“It’s just the amount of excitement. It’s the one event people all pay attention to.”

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