When Wiley Maple faces the top men’s speed skiers on the World Cup tour this year, the Aspen native will lack some of the resources he enjoyed during the 2017/18 season, which culminated in his February 2018 trip to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
On the windswept Jeongseon Alpine Centre course, Maple finished 30th behind Aksel Lund Svindal, the first Norwegian to win an Olympic downhill. Maple was the first Aspen man to race downhill in the Olympics since Andy Mill in 1976.
Just getting to the Olympics through performance and self-funding was an accomplishment unto itself for Maple, who, after years of battling through knee and back injuries, was in good health and fitness for the biggest race of his life.
In this post-Olympic season, however, Maple, a downhill and super-G skier, has fewer resources than before, when he was offered camps and training from the U.S. Ski Team. Starting the season again as an independent racer, Maple hopes to prove he belongs among the elite despite the team’s focus on developing athletes. A ski team spokesperson was not available to comment.
“I’m committed to ski again because I still love it and I haven’t reached my potential, in my opinion,” Maple said last week. “For sure it’s really frustrating. Skiing is way harder than it should be for American athletes. Now that I’m finally healthy, I feel like I can finally progress.”
As the 28-year-old prepares for the first North American on-snow camps at Copper Mountain in November, followed by races at Lake Louise, Alberta, and Beaver Creek, Colo., Maple does have a new avenue of support, a lifelong friend and two-time All-American from the University of New Hampshire, Sam Coffey.
Coffey has known Maple since kindergarten. They were in a Ridge Runners group at Highlands as youngsters. Coffey said he will do “everything I can to support Wiley to make it as seamless as possible.”
His most important task is ski tuning, which is critical to a racer’s performance, considering that victory may be decided by a millimeter or a hundredth of a second.
Coffey will also provide other support functions, such as driving Maple to the different ski areas in Europe and juggling schedules and reservations so Maple can concentrate on skiing. Maple asked Coffey to consider this role over the summer, between their ski mountaineering trip to Chamonix and time spent in the Grand Canyon.
Coffey thought it was a great idea, and having just left a job with Backbone Media where he started four years ago, he was game for the new adventure.
He’ll bring a racer’s perspective to the job and is no stranger to prepping his own skis for collegiate events. The past three summers have seen Coffey working as a technician for race camps at Mt. Hood, Ore.
Coffey said he is already starting to work on Maple’s quiver of skis.
“Every pair of skis needs 50 layers of wax before it hits the snow,” Coffey said. “He has 20 pairs of skis. That’s a lot of prep work.” Maple has signed a contract with Atomic skis.
Coffey plans to be working with Maple at the 79th running of the Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
“I’ve raced in Europe but I’ve never been to the Hahnenkamm, Coffey said.
According to Maple, who has raced in Kitzbuhel, “That’ll be awesome to have him on the road.”
Coffey will be heading into his first winter season without his father, Joe Coffey, who died in January after a 10-year battle with cancer.
“Dad loved ski racing. He loved Wiley too. He was always psyched when Wiley did well,” Coffey said Sunday.
Having a loyal friend along for the ride in a season when you are away from family, friends and familiar ground can ease the strain of being months on the road, is a familiar refrain by alpine athletes. Last season, the much decorated skier Julia Mancuso spoke of how helpful it was to have an ally on the road for support, her then new husband.
“That’s something I’d never had. It’s really nice not having to focus on the minutiae,” Mancuso said during an interview at Copper Mountain.
Decade of difference
As a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s C-Team in 2008, Maple was a fully-funded athlete. It’s when he progressed up the ladder that Maple saw the funding dropped from C-Team and then B-Team members, he recalled.
Annually over the past few years, as Wiley has continued to compete in World Cup races with dwindling team support, he’s had to raise in the neighborhood of $30,000 or more. This year, he’ll have to raise more than $50,000 to help fund Coffey’s and his own travel and expenses.
Coffey opined that at this time “the U.S. Ski team is in a crazy place.”
Maple said the team has seen a lot of talented athletes leave for the above-named reasons and others, though he still remains close to his U.S. teammates, Bryce Bennett, Jared Goldberg, Travis Ganong and Tommy Biesemeyer, he said, as well as coach Johno McBride of Snowmass.
“Working with Johno and the speed team is a pleasure,” Maple said. “They accept me as one of their own.”
Maple said that just getting to the Olympics last season required a monumental push, but allowed that in the immediate aftermath of the Games, he “was really burnt out.”
“A lot of energy was put into that comeback,” Maple said.