Navigating an icy mountainside in 2 1/2 minutes is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical feat.
At least that’s the way Park City’s Ted Ligety approaches it.
And this year, his decision to focus on his effort and intensity more so than the result of each race has allowed him to enjoy historic success. Saturday he clinched his fourth giant slalom World Cup title with his fifth win this season in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
“It’s been a phenomenal year,” said Ligety in a telephone interview a few hours after winning his fifth GS race of the year with a time of 2:35.43. “And I did it in a fashion where there is nobody else who deserves the GS title more than me. Sometimes that’s a bit up in the air, but this year, I’ve won or been on the podium every race, and I’m really proud of it in that sense.”
Ligety’s earned spots on the podium in all seven races, winning five of them. He becomes the first man to do that since Switzerland’s Michael von Gruenigen in 1995-96. His victories move him into third place all time with 16. Ligety earns the World Cup title with one more GS race left this season.
He also earned three World Championship titles in February, including the GS, something no other skier had done since 1968.
Ligety said the significance of what he’s accomplished still feels a little surreal.
“This has definitely been an awesome year,” he said. “I’m still having trouble fathoming all of it, especially world championships. It was such an awesome week of ski racing.”
This season’s success is something that might not have been possible without the deep disappointment of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His failure to medal as a favorite led him to re-evaluate everything.
“The last few years, I’ve started to figure out my approach to racing, for sure,” said Ligety. “Part of it this, the new skis helped me. But I also have better mental technique.”
“Before 2010 I had a lot of races where I won and was on the podium, but I knew I could have done more,” he said. “After that, I had a mental switch go off. I thought I could match a much higher intensity than what I was putting out. Part of that was that 2010 was such a disappointment.”
He was leading the giant slalom in World Cup points that season and ended up finishing in ninth place. He was one second out of first place and four tenths away from a medal.
“That Olympics, I tried to ski safe to get a medal instead of going for it,” he said. “I didn’t want to stand at the finish line ever again regretting my approach. I wanted to be happy every time I finished.”
Ligety has one more World Cup race on his schedule and then U.S. nationals. After that, he plans to ski in Greenland with filmmaker Warren Miller.
“I’ve always had a passion for free skiing,” said Ligety. “I’ve watched all of the movies always wanted to be a part of it. The position I’m in right now allows me to do that.”
He said he loves pushing himself and learning from other skiers how to tackle a mountainside. The two types of skiing have more in common that one might think.
“In a lot of ways, approaching a big mountain line, analyzing where you’re going to go it’s very similar to choosing a line on a (race) course,” he said. “You have to have little landmarks of where to go. You have to figure those things out, as well as just the ski technique. A lot of (free skiers) have racing backgrounds. It’s always good to go skiing with people who are more experienced than myself.”
The one thing he’s not worrying about is whether his success this season will help him earn any Olympic medals next winter.
“At this point, I’m not really focusing that much on the Olympics,” he said. “That’s still a long way away. I need to focus on getting ready for my next race. I think the best preparation for the Olympics is having a good World Cup season leading up to it.”
Ligety isn’t sure when he’ll get home to ski in Park City, but he plans to hold a party with the Park City Ski Team.
“I try to stay involved,” he said of the club that he grew up skiing with. “They’ve really done a lot for me.”