BEAVER CREEK — Wiley Maple hopes the new schedule for the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup races will play to his strengths of doing better with fewer training runs.
“My style of skiing is, I usually do better with less,” Maple, the Aspen native and veteran alpine racer, said Thursday from the lobby of the U.S. Ski Team’s hotel in Beaver Creek, where this weekend’s races are unfurling. He said overthinking his plan of attack can sometimes be counterproductive.
Maple, 28, was fresh from skiing powder with Sam Coffey, his technician, support staffer and oldest friend, after the Nov. 29 downhill training run was cancelled. New snow also prompted organizers to shuffle the series’ schedule and move the downhill, the marquee event, to 10:45 a.m. Friday, and the super-G to 11 a.m. Saturday.
Maple won’t compete in Sunday’s giant slalom — he’ll come home to Aspen for a week before flying to Italy for races in Val Gardena and Bormio — and honestly can’t remember the last time he raced a technical discipline like GS.
Speed has always been his strong suit, even when he was a member of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and while the results don’t bear witness to it, Maple’s first series of the year last week in Lake Louise, Alberta, showed he can be a contender with the best in the world, Coffey said.
The racer’s split times were fast and his times were solid near the finish, owing to good conditioning, Coffey added. Strong winds at the bottom of the racecourse weren’t helpful but Maple finished only about one-tenth of a second outside the top-30.
A mistake in the flats in the next day’s super-G also kept Maple out of the points, though he allowed that due to his late start position it’s incumbent on the back-of-pack group to take risks. Sometimes they pay off.
The Freaks score
Maple and Coffey originally thought they might get 50 people to turn out for their recent fundraiser at Aspen Tap. Instead, about 300 people showed up for the event, Coffey said.
The $20,000 that was raised from the benefit will help defray the approximately $70,000 the “Freaks Ski Team” needs to train, travel and be competitive. Both men said they were touched by the community support which helped to “get the stoke going,” according to Coffey.
Their fundraising efforts have received extra publicity since Bode Miller got behind Maple’s cause. Asking people for money has become easier, Maple said, though he’s still not totally comfortable with the role and, “I don’t feel like it should be part of the job.”
But for all but the A Team members of the U.S. Ski Team, funding at least a portion of the tab is a necessary evil. Still, “I’d rather just be asking companies for support,” he said.
Good results can grease the fundraising skids and Maple is encouraged that he’s been healthy for consecutive seasons, including last year which culminated in his qualifying for a trip to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. At the same time, Maple and other experienced American skiers are grappling with the reality of the team’s youth focus, which has left the slightly older generation without much financial support.
The rest of the U.S. Men’s speed squad, which is under the direction of Johno McBride of Old Snowmass, doesn’t differentiate between those who are fully funded and those athletes who are not., both men said.
The athletes eat together, train together and stay in the same hotels together, even if Maple is on the hook to pay the “FIS rate” of 120 Swiss francs per night for lodging.
“The whole speed team fully accepts me as a full member,” Maple said. His World Cup debut was in 2011 in Wengen, Switzerland, with his first World Cup points (top 30) scored in 2012 in Val Gardena, Italy, according to the FIS website. Maple said his best finish on the World Cup was 17th place in a 2015 downhill.
In an ideal world, Maple would choose to continue racing for another 10 years, as it’s fun to compete, travel the world and skiing is something he truly loves. That would put Maple at 38 years; Coffey pointed out that the great Swiss skier Didier Cuche won a downhill when he was that age.
Beaver Creek in the past has left Maple wanting: He’s been cursed here by weird incidents and injuries; a car accident and dislocated elbow from running were two of his memories.
The Freaks Ski Team are feeling like this year could be better because of Maple’s fitness level and Coffey’s handling of details, including tuning his 12 pairs of Atomic skis to be race ready.
“Two pairs we know for sure are fast,” Coffey said.
Maple added he can do better than the time he laid down during his first and only training run at Beaver Creek.
“Yesterday I mostly moseyed my way down the course. I wasn’t prepared mentally but it was fun still and I wasn’t that far out,” he said before leaving for dryland training.