Team America athlete Alex Leever is looking to prove that self-belief and persistent, steady improvement can get you to the highest level of alpine skiing.
The 25-year-old independent racer from Vail, Colo., has secured his first World Cup start following 11th- and 22nd-place finishes at the recent Europa Cups in Val Cenis, France. Leever, one of several Team America athletes to gain a World Cup start under head coach Peter Lange, will start in both of the upcoming races in Flachau, Jan. 16-17 — which were rescheduled first from Wengen and then Kitzbuehel due to concerns over COVID.
It has been a long and unconventional journey for Leever to reach this point. He’ll be the first to admit, he wasn’t sure this day would ever come. As a junior racer, Leever was ranked as one of the top for his age but was never considered a dominant athlete.
After competing throughout his high school years with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, he was shy of an invitation to join the U.S. Ski Team. Leever instead put his heart into college racing at University of Denver, where he raced for five seasons and earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in quantitative analytical finance. He was a member of three national championship teams and achieved multiple NCAA podiums. But there was one thing that was always missing — a win.
After college, he wasn’t done — and he didn’t want to be done. Leever continued to progress and captured NorAm podiums and Europa Cup successes until two herniated discs and a concussion in 2019-20 cut his season short. Leever feared his career might be over, and that wasn’t the way he had hoped to go out. Determined to make improvements in his skiing, Leever decided to take one more crack at it … and here we are, on the cusp of his first World Cup start.
This season, an unconventional year by any standard, Leever trusted the process and kicked things off by landing on the podium in three of the four races he entered at U.S. Nationals at Copper Mountain. His early-season success against World Cup-level athletes provided the confidence he needed to show his ability at the subsequent Europa Cups. His recent 11th- and 22nd-place finishes placed him as the second American behind U.S. Ski Team member George Steffey, leading to an invitation from the NGB to enter his first World Cup at Flachau.
“I’m not 100% sure I knew I would ever make it this far,” said Leever. “It’s just such a daunting process, and I wasn’t a dominant kid winning every event growing up. I just wasn’t sure if it would be me. I tried my hardest, but seeing it actually come to realization, I can’t believe I am actually here. I am actually about to step in the start gate of a World Cup.”
If there is one thing that has gotten Leever to this point it’s persistence. His coach, Peter Lange, saw talent in the young 14-year old athlete and has stuck by his side for the last 11 years. The two have been invested in his professional programming since he entered FIS at the age of 15. Leever has since taken ownership of his skiing, and his investment has paid off in his persistent pursuit to improve.
“He has had a little progress every year, and some steps back once in a while, but generally a slow ramp up,” said Lange. “He loves it and keeps believing he can get a little better. If you keep on getting a little better, you end up being pretty good.”
When he was a junior athlete, Leever recalls the time his dad, Dan Leever (owner of Ski Racing Media), drew a picture representing the gap between himself and the winner of the race. He was told that, if the winner improves at 1 to 2%, but he improved at 3%, then eventually he would pass him. That has stuck with Leever throughout his career and motivated him to continuously get faster.
“What’s been working really well for me this year is realizing I don’t have to do anything different than in training,” said Leever. “I don’t have to ski extra hard or cut off more of the line. If I just ski well and believe in my abilities, then I’m fast. There are many talented skiers out there, I just find joy in improvement and that’s what kept me in it.”
Skiing is a very simple sport, but it’s difficult to execute. At least that’s the founding principle of Lange’s coaching. When there is flat light or fear on the mind, it becomes that much harder to execute. When it comes to Leever’s skiing, the focus has been the same since Day One: balance on the skis, a solid stance to support weight transfer, and applying the turn. Physically, Leever has gotten stronger every year, making the technical execution happen easier. Mentally, he has focused on the process and stayed away from the outcome.
In Lange’s 30-plus years in ski racing, he has seldom seen the mentality with which Leever approaches the sport. Lange recognizes Leever’s admiration for his teammates and the fact that he can take joy in his competitors’ success, even when those athletes are at a higher level than he. The happiness for other people’s success is something that comes without explanation, a feeling that is rooted in Leever’s persona, says Lange:
“To me, it’s pretty inspiring. The thing I’ve always loved about Alex is he never has regretted anyone’s success, and that has allowed him to really enjoy ski racing. Here’s this guy with a master’s degree in finance, he’s accomplished that, and now he is accomplishing this.”
“This” refers to Leever stepping into his first World Cup start gate in Flachau on Saturday. He is overjoyed with emotions, excitement, and a feeling of preparedness. He’s hopeful and confident he could ski into the top 30 — if he skis well — but he’s also keeping his expectations in check. His only real goal is to have fun and to ski his best.
“There is no doubt that he is skiing the best of his life,” said Lange. “I have worked with enough guys who have opportunities to ski in the World Cup, so I knew he was skiing at a level capable of doing this. But this is about him believing he could do it, not me.”