LIENZ, Austria — Sarah Schleper let out her trademark roar at the start of a World Cup race for the last time, then leisurely skied down the Hochstein course in a gray minidress, carrying a photo camera and picking up 3-year-old son Lasse midway through her run.
Schleper, a four-time Olympian for the United States, said the slalom Thursday was the last World Cup race of her career. She retired at 32 — 15 years and 186 races after making her World Cup debut in her native Vail, Colo., in 1995.
"I love traveling, but it has become just a little bit too much stress," Schleper said a half-hour after her final run, still wearing just the minidress despite the freezing temperatures. "The pressure of every race was getting to me. I felt it was time to let it go."
Schleper decided in the fall that she was going to call it a career as soon as the year 2011 ended.
"I am definitely going to miss racing. I still love being in the starting gate. I still love racing and competing. I love all the girls on tour," she said. "But I didn't feel myself getting faster anymore. That was the time for me to pull the plug."
Schleper won one race — a slalom in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2005 — and had three more podium finishes, all between 2000-05. She won five national titles — four in slalom and one in giant slalom.
Her best results in major events were seventh in the Santa Caterina downhill at the 2005 world championships and 10th in the slalom at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
She skipped the 2007-08 season to give birth to her son. Now she's looking forward to spend more time with Lasse and husband Federico.
"I want to make my family a little bit bigger and really focus on my kids and make sure they get the opportunities that I have had," said Schleper, adding her farewell was emotional. "I have been crying a lot. Last night we had a team meeting and I cried. My team is like my family. To have to leave them behind and not seeing them all the time, is one the hardest things."
The U.S. women's team will miss Schleper as well, Lindsey Vonn said.
"Sarah has always been the light of the team, always smiling, always happy, always funny," Vonn said. "She just brings so much energy to the team. I tried to convince her to stay on the World Cup but she says it's her time. We wish her the best with whatever she's going to do in the future. It's not going to be the same without her."
Schleper said she enjoyed the ups and downs of a skiing career on the highest level.
"It's the journey, all of it," she said. "My journey has been incredible."