Published: December, 2003
Sure, it takes hard work to land a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. Commitment to excellence, sacrifice and all that, yada-yada. But at the end of the day—or in the starthouse atop a steep, icy course—what it really takes is this: courage. Not mere bravery, but a short-circuit in the brain that bypasses the self-preservation lobe and instead fires the "go faster synapses.
Racers don't talk about fear, but if they weighed the odds, they'd know that what they do will periodically result in violent crashes on very hard snow with skis that might as well be welded on. If you want in, you'll need to be comfortable with the fact that during your career, you'll probably sustain many injuries. The scars on most World Cuppers' bodies read like maps of anguish.
You'll also need to be blessed with extraordinary balance and reflexes. And you'll need to prefer skiing on ice, given the choice. (World Cup slopes are often injected with water if they aren't deemed "firm enough.)
Jesse Hunt, alpine director of the U.S. Ski Team, had to make his own decision about a career that took him to the U.S. C Team but didn't appear destined for World Cup greatness. He chose the coaching track and now keeps an eye on junior results for the next Miller or Rahlves or Clark. All three, by the way, went to Eastern racing academies. That's not a prerequisite, but it certainly helps. "Most of the kids who end up in our system are in pretty structured programs—academy or otherwise, Hunt says.
HOW TO GET THERE: Start at an early age, and win or place in virtually every race. Learn how to gain, control and occasionally dump speed. Know how to keep your skis tuned for maximum precision and speed. Have parents willing and able to pay for academies, travel and equipment. And don't call the U.S. Ski Team. If you're good enough, they'll know about you. They have tough but unambiguous "objective criteria by which they measure prospects (ussa.org). Achieve a certain ranking and you're in. Fall short, and you can hang on, hoping you're a late-bloomer, or go to college. This much is certain: College is safer.