My preparations for the 2018 winter Olympics started on February 11th, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. That day I crossed the finish line in the Olympics Men’s Downhill in 5th place, less than a half a second away from gold. Getting this close to the ultimate prize in my sport was an amazing accomplishment that ignited a fire in me to try and do better 4 years later in South Korea.
Flash forward to today, December 23rd, 2017. I have accomplished a lot in ski racing since my first Olympic experience in Russia. I won two World Cup DH races in Italy and Germany. I won the Silver Medal at the World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek. I accumulated over 25 top 10 results — results where one less mistake could have landed me on the podium! I learned a lot as an athlete in the process. I pushed my limits to be faster than the competition. I battled with injuries, and the impact on my body of a sport that is not kind to our knees, back, and bones. Along the way, I fought emotionally with triumphs and failures.
Leading into this Olympic season, I started my on-snow training with the US Ski Team in early August down in South America. Every year, teams from every ski racing country in the world migrate to Chile or Argentina. There they find winter conditions and start the process of testing equipment, testing out (hopefully) healed injuries, and finding race speed for the upcoming season.
I left Lake Tahoe on August 8th to join my team, the American Downhillers, in La Parva, Chile. La Parva is a good-sized ski area in the Andes Mountains, perched high above Santiago. It is a great spot to start the first on-snow camp of the season because it has a long mellow terrain and a decent downhill track. On this kind of ground, a skier can go fast without the risks associated with a more traditional downhill ski racing track. My primary focus for this first camp was to find an excellent balanced position standing on my skis, then dial in my boot set-up.
Equipment is a huge part of the equation for elite athletes in ski racing. Finish times are separated by hundredths of a second — after skiing 4 to 6 kilometers for over two minutes! If something is off with your equipment, time is just going out the window even if you are skiing competitively. It is similar to Formula 1 racing, in that we have technicians who are always tweaking and trying to improve our equipment. The ski and boot techs compare training run times, talk to the athletes after each run, and watch the videos that the coaches take during training. Testing equipment takes a lot of time, energy, and patience, but at the end of the day, it is crucial when fractions of a second matter.
Camp life in La Parva was 6 days on snow, one recovery day, and then 6 more days on snow. Each day we woke up in the dark, drank a cup of coffee to sharpen the morning haze, and then got our bodies moving with a morning warm up. Next came breakfast, then we got all our ski gear on for the training session, made it downstairs to catch the shuttle to the slope, and met up with the ski techs to lug 4 pairs of downhill skis up three Poma (t-bar) lifts to the top of the downhill track. All of this while the sun was rising! We usually inspected the course before the light was bright enough to ski. The mornings at camp were busy, to say the least.
After all the prep we got to work, perfecting our craft during 3-6 training runs on a carefully prepared downhill track! Even though the Winter Olympics were over six months away, I made every run count, thinking about the opportunity coming in February.
About Travis Ganong –
Travis is a Lake Tahoe local who was born and raised skiing in Squaw Valley. He is a Ski Business and Resort Management major at Sierra Nevada College. He finished in 5th place for Team USA at the last Olympics in Sochi Russia, the best Downhill finish in an Olympics for an American since Tommy Moe won in Lillehammer in 1994. Travis is one of the top contenders for the US in Downhill and Super G going into the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Photo: Travis training at La Parva, Chile, in August 2018.