World Cup ski racing looks glamorous on paper, right? Travel the world, sleep in on race day for those easy noon starts, ski for about a minute and a half, collect the fat paycheck....
The reality of racing is extremely grueling and rarely rewarding. Prize money is only allotted to the top ten finishers in a field of at least seventy racers. The stressful World Cup schedule may see racers compete on three continents in as many weeks. Jet lag is a big part of ski racing.
After moving a mountain of gear from one race site to the next, racers need to train on the new hill. Competitors must spend 1-3 days running the course in training. These results often determine which names make the roster for any given team. For the top-heavy Austrian team, training day is as competitive as race day.
When race day arrives, racers are up early to inspect the course. Most competitors try to choke down some sustenance along with the butterflies.
Racers must memorize the course during "inspection." Early in the day the finish area may have ten or twelve athletes visualizing their runs--eyes shut, upper limbs mimicking what the feet will eventually do on course. Jonna Mendes, racing for Team USA, says, "Memorization is really important; it takes all your focus on each chair ride back, through warm-up, right up until you're in the start gate."
At the starting area, every racer has his or her specific routine, be it stretching, strapping on headphones or continuing to visualize the course.Racers lucky enough to do well must run the press gambit in the finish area. Radio, print and television reporters hold endless bouquets of microphones, while interviews are conducted in several languages. Then the top three athletes troop over to the podium for an additional photo op, followed by a sometimes lengthy press conference.
By now, it's late afternoon, and that early morning buttered toast has worn thin. After gathering their gear, skiing down the mountain, and changing at the hotel, those top racers may actually get brunch before 4:00 p.m.
Pretty glamorous, huh?