Editor’s note: This is the first installment in what is now the third season of the Aspen Daily News profiling area residents who live for riding the mountains.
Local Wiley Maple officially traded in his fat powder skis for a pair of Super G racing sticks about five years ago when he joined the men’s U.S. ski team right out of high school.
For Maple, 22, the opportunity was a long time coming.
Maple, who grew up in the valley, started racing when he was 10 years old as a member of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC). He gave up other sports in high school to focus on ski racing, and after that he quickly moved up the competitive ranks, Maple said. His on-mountain skills led him to win the 2008 National Junior Championships downhill gold medal and ski with the big boys on the U.S. Ski Team before graduating.
Now that he’s on the team, he spends most of his time traveling, training and sticking to a tight regiment where shredding powder isn’t necessarily the priority. As athletes move up the ranks, training takes up most of their time and becomes more of a job, Maple said. That includes spending most holidays away from friends and family in order to train and race, he said.
Maple loves what he does, but sometimes the demands of being a professional racer conflict with his passion for skiing, he said.
“I grew up as a skier before I was a ski racer,” he said. “Most of the guys on the ski team just love to race. Only a couple of us grew up skiing first.”
As a kid in Aspen, he would spend all day bombing runs from the first chair until the mountain closed, Maple said. Now, when he’s home, he tends to opt out of pushing himself while free skiing because he needs to save his energy for racing, he said.
Last year was particularly difficult because he only was able to ski two powder days all season, he said. One of those days was when the team was in Chamonix and most of his teammates passed on shredding the pow, he said.
Still, Maple said he hopes the hard work will pay off one day. In a sport where racers peak in their late 20s, Maple has a long way to go to make it to the top, he said.
“I think I have the skills and motivation to race World Cup full time and maybe see the podium if I can,” Maple said. “But it’s a sport that’s always changing and injury impacts your performance.”
Avoiding injury is all about luck, Maple said. And he hasn’t had a lot of it lately. Since he’s been on the team, Maple has had a surgery every year due to ski accidents. Currently, he’s healing from hand surgery — his seventh hand surgery overall — to correct a broken thumb.
“It really sucks,” he said of getting hurt. “It kind of tears apart everything I want to do. It stops me from getting out and going on a run ... doing things that I need to do to stay sane.”
The injury, although minor, has kept him from racing thus far. It should be healed in time for Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey World Cup race on Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, he said. His coaches will make the final call on whether he races the event, he said.
Despite traveling the world to race on some of the best mountains, Maple’s favorite run on a good powder day is dropping into Pandora’s at the top of Aspen Mountain followed by Bingo Glades, he said.
When Maple skis in Aspen he easily runs into 20 people a day, who offer encouragement and support, he said. Earlier this month, Maple held a fundraiser at the Wheeler Opera House to help him pay for his travel expenses for the upcoming ski season. Funds raised fell short of his $22,000 goal, but it was enough to get him through this season, he said.
When asked where he plans on living when he retires, he responded as though the answer were obvious.
“Aspen,” he said. “It seems pretty much like the best place I’ve ever been.”
Donate to Maple’s 2012-2013 race season by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you would like to nominate a candidate for the ski bum profile, email email@example.com