The reconstituted World Pro Ski Tour kicked off its season in Vail this weekend with the Pepi Gramshammer Cup. Robert Cone led an all-American podium in first with the winner’s $10,000 check, followed by Team America’s Garret Driller in second taking home $5,000, and his teammate Alex Leever in third with a $2,500 prize. The competitive field included the entire podium from the 2019 US Nationals dual event. Rookie Simon Kammerlander from Austria, skiing for Bolivia, was fourth falling to Leever in the small final.
Tour stars that were eliminated in the quarterfinals included Phil Brown, last year’s Tour overall winner, along with Tucker Marshall, Michael Ankeny, and Nolan Kasper, the 2018 Tour Winner.
The final round was won in an incredibly tight race, with Rob Cone taking the victory by 35 thousandths (.035 seconds).
In catching up with Rob, a graduate of Middlebury College and long-time US Ski Team Member, he said, “Living in Boston and Vermont while carrying a full-time job, I have been getting my mind ready as best I can while sitting at my desk. As for training, I freeski as much as possible and was able to forerun the Women’s World Cup in Killington. It was great to get on good snow in an intense, high-pressure environment in front of a big crowd.”
Commenting on the atmosphere of the Pro Tour, Cone said, “There’s a lot of energy among friends to do the best you can. There’s a different atmosphere than FIS racing, which is tied to an annual result versus a single-day performance in the Pro Tour. It’s about doing your best on that day only.”
Second place finisher Garret Driller, a graduate engineer from the University of Montana was asked why he races in the World Pro Ski Tour. “I race because it’s fun. It’s a change of pace, you are racing against your friends instead of the clock. I think it makes it so much more interesting for the fans and the athletes, you feel them breathing down your neck and it makes it more exciting.”
With over a foot of snow falling on Saturday and two six-foot jumps, the conditions were gnarly indeed.
University of Denver graduate, Alex Leever commented, “The race crew did a really great job, we got a lot of snow overnight and they were able to prepare and create a great venue with tents, spectators, and announcers all right at the base of Golden Peak. It was a super fun race to be a part of.”
When asked about his approach to ski racing these days, Leever continued, “I’m very fortunate I was able to complete my master’s degree at DU while skiing. Now that I’m skiing the Pro Tour, I don’t have it in the back of my mind that I don’t know what I’m going to do afterward. I’m confident I can go into the real world once I need to, but for now, I’m enjoying racing on the Pro Tour.”
Alex and Garret are both current teammates on Team America and former members of the National University Team. Next up, they’re heading up to Nakiska to race the NorAms, then back down to Steamboat for the Holiday Classic, and then the Pro Tour in Steamboat on the 2nd of January.
Fourth-place finisher and Pro Tour rookie Simon Kammerlander said, “Pro racing started with my father, he was a pro racer himself and was always talking about it. When FIS changed the rules and lowered the number of World Cup starters, I was left out so we were scrambling to find high-level racing and we found the Pro Tour. Now everyone here knows who I am and I will be at all the races so I will be doing my best to stay in the mix all season.”
In addition to the individual standings, there are team standings on the tour as well. After the first race, Team America stands at 55 points, Slalom Tokyo Drift at 30 points, and Redneck Racing earning 25 points.
On Saturday, while pros were running the qualifiers, the U14 Alpine Bank Junior Race, another dual-format race was held with its own set of saloon-style start gates and jumps, just like the pros. The race awarded college scholarships to the top four racers from Breckenridge, Summit County, Vail, and Steamboat ski clubs.
The next stop on the World Pro Ski Tour is in Steamboat at Howelson Hill under the lights kicking off the new year on January 2nd.
To take a look at the full race results, click here.