The list of Robby Kelley’s skiing accomplishments is long: National Champion, NorAm titleholder, the youngest American male to score World Cup tech points in the 2013 and 2014 seasons – the accolades could go on. Currently the 53rd ranked slalom skier in the world, Kelley is no stranger to taking the road less traveled to the World Cup.
As a member of the famous Cochran lineage of American ski racers, Kelley hopes to make his own mark on the landscape of the World Cup.
After falling short of qualifying for the national development team as a junior, Kelley chose to attend college in his home state, skiing as a University of Vermont Catamount under coach Bill Reichelt starting in 2009. While at UVM, Kelley began honing his speed into something special, eventually earning a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s C squad following his sophomore campaign in 2011. However, Kelley was overlooked for selection to UVM’s NCAA championship team in both of his years there, something that still stings to this day.
In the years since, Kelley has notched NorAm and National Championship giant slalom titles in 2012, as well as a 26th-place finish at the 2013 World Championship giant slalom in Schladming, Austria.
Despite such on-hill performances, Kelley was left off of the squad for the 2014 Sochi Games due to a criteria discrepancy, and he was subsequently cut from the national team at the end of that season.
Taking these setbacks in stride, Kelley took to forming a team of his own, Redneck Racing, with older brother Tim and fellow Vermonters Andrew McNealus and Tucker Marshall. Following a season that saw Kelley make an equipment switch in addition to shifting his focus to slalom, he surprised many with his results and was awarded a World Cup slalom start in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, as well as a nomination to the 2015-16 U.S. Ski Team.
Kelley, however, kept the surprises coming and respectfully declined his nomination in favor of having complete control over his own program, something he feels is the key to his success.
“From a personal standpoint, I was disappointed that Robby declined his (national) team nomination,” explained U.S. Europa Cup coach Ian Lochhead. “Whenever you get the chance to coach someone as talented and passionate as Robby, it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
Lochhead commended Kelley for his commitment to an independent program while underscoring just how difficult pulling it off can be. Between travel, training, video, working out, and tuning skis, the workload can overwhelm some, but it seems to be a structure in which Kelley thrives.
“Ultimately, Robby and his family made the decision they felt was right for him. I watched him switch his focus from GS to slalom last year, as well as make an equipment change, all without the support of a team, a coach, a serviceman, PT, sports science … basically all on his own. The success he achieved and the progress he made in his skiing was nothing short of amazing,” Lochhead added. “He’s clearly capable of taking care of himself, and feels comfortable making his own choices on scheduling, equipment, and technical focus. I wish him nothing but the best, and look forward to watching him ski fast this winter.”
Kelley took some time out of his busy summer schedule to answer SkiRacing.com’s questions on the decision, as well as his future plans.
What was your reaction when you heard you were selected for the U.S. Ski Team after spending last season off of it? What factored into your decision to turn it down?
It’s always an honor to be named to the Ski Team. I know for a lot of people it’s their ski racing dream to make it on to the national team. It was a tough decision to make. Ian Lochhead, the head Europa Cup coach, is one of my favorite coaches of all time, and the team is filled with a bunch of my really good friends. I know it would be a ton of fun and Ian is going to run a great program for all of those guys. After spending a year independent of the team, I found it awesome to be fully in charge of my own program and to be able to choose exactly when I am skiing, what events I’m skiing, and where I’m skiing. Rather than having a program set up for what’s best for the seven or so guys in one group as a whole, I get to do what’s best for me at all times. It’s an individual sport and the freedom to make my own decisions about my career is something that I find very liberating. Money was also definitely a factor in my decision. I really couldn’t afford what the Ski Team was charging, it wasn’t comparable to what my season ended up costing me this past year.
What are your summer plans?
I just got back from an awesome two-week camp in Les Deux Alpes, France, with my old club, the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, and I am headed down to Australia in a couple of weeks for a month of training and racing with the Mt. Hotham Racing Squad. I’ll be home in Vermont when I’m not skiing, working out hard and working for my dad selling quality building products.
(Speaking of working out hard, here’s a clip of some slalom “skiing” from one of Robby’s workouts at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, Vt.)
What have all of your past experiences in skiing taught you about the sport and life?
There are going to be a ton of ups and downs along the way. I’ve had some really great moments, from winning U.S. Nationals to coming down with a big lead in front of 50,000 people at the World Championships in Schladming. I’ve also had some moments that were really tough, from not getting named to the NCAA team at UVM to being the only American to score World Cup points not named to the Olympic Team. Things don’t always go as you planned, but you have to keep working hard through the highs and lows. I want to be the fastest skier in the world, and I know that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Whether or not it happens, I can be happy knowing I gave it everything I had.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to ski as long as I can. There’s nothing in the world I would rather be doing. I feel really fast and consistent in slalom right now and feel ready to start making my mark on the World Cup.
What are you most looking forward to this winter?
Honestly, the thing I’m looking forward to most is getting “The Face” at Cochran’s open so I can get back to taking a zillion runs of slalom a day.
(Check out Robby working on those slalom skills on the slopes of Les Deux Alpes, France.)
What are your goals for this winter as far as NorAm/Europa Cup/World Cup racing are concerned?
At this point in my career I don’t really have result-based goals, I just want to be doing everything I can in training to get myself skiing as fast as I can. I want to get in a ton of quality repetition on a bunch of different course sets and conditions so I am prepared for anything and ready to ski as fast as I can in any race I enter. I know if I focus on all the right things in training, the results will take care of themselves.
Any fun facts or hidden talents?
I really enjoy all different kinds of art, drawing, painting, digital art, photography, beat making, etc. I get a great satisfaction out of the creative process – creating something that has never existed before. I was a studio art minor at UVM.