Growing up, Ryan Cochran-Siegle believed success was defined by career accolades – winning World Cups, titles, medals, really anything he could put his name on. And who could blame him? The now-28-year-old was essentially born to be a World Cup ski racer.
American ski racing history buffs know his family name. His mother, Barbara Ann-Cochran, is a 1972 Olympic gold medalist. His aunt, Marilyn Cochran Brown, holds the 1969 giant slalom World Cup title. His uncle, Bob Cochran, was the first American man to ever win in Kitzbuehel’s alpine combined in 1973. His aunt, Lindy Cochran Kelley, is a two-time national champion (1973 and 1976.) Five of his cousins have skied for the U.S. Ski Team, making him the sixth Olympian and 11th national team member in the family. At 28-years-old, Cochran-Siegle represents the tail end of the second generation of the “Skiing Cochrans,” the famous family that went from lapping a tiny T-bar-serviced hill outside of Richmond, Vermont, to finding Olympic and World Cup success.
Ski racing is in his blood. But Cochran-Siegle claims he never felt pressured to pursue the sport — he more or less fell into it, and in turn, fell in love with it. He’s created his own name for himself, affectionately called “RCS” by friends, teammates, and fans. Cochran-Siegle carved his own path over the years, but the pressure to live up to his history has always been present. Never did the pressure come from his parents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Most of it was self-inflicted as he carried the weight of his family’s legacy around the World Cup.
Like many ski racers, Cochran-Siegle has had to overcome injury and self-doubt, in addition to external pressure, in order to reach the level he is at today. In 2013, an ACL and lateral meniscus injury steamrolled into further damage to his left knee during his initial recovery, requiring multiple surgeries and nearly 18 months off-snow before Cochran-Siegle could begin rehabilitation. At the time of his injury, the then-20-year-old had just begun to break into the top 30 on the World Cup. His goal of being one of the best guys on the hill in every event he competes seemed further out of reach. His injury was one of the first stark awakenings in his career, one that revealed he is more than an athlete. Although skiing is Cochran-Siegle’s passion, it’s not the only thing that defines him.
As Cochran-Siegle regained his momentum, his focus shifted from speed events to giant slalom, a discipline that suited his style during the comeback years. In 2019, he set his sights on World Finals. The giant slalom had been his priority, and at the end of the season, he missed qualifying for Finals by a single point, a blow, he says, that broke his heart a little bit. Cochran-Siegle took a while to recover from that loss, deemed a failure by his past definition of success. But this setback also shined a light on past lessons learned from his time spent injured. One point would not make or break his character. So Cochran-Siegle brushed it off, shifted his perspective and expectations, and redefined his standards of success.
“When I was younger, in a way I would hope to get lucky and be successful, but I don’t think that’s what you can define success as,” explained Cochran-Siegle. “Success is just being a person that is able to continually grow but help the world be a better place by doing so.”
Heading into 2020, the Vermont native was no longer focused on the numbers, and it showed in his results. His final rankings blew previous results out of the water. If he had been given the chance, his attendance at the 2020 World Finals would have looked dramatically different than in 2019, when he only qualified to race the super G.
Prior to his first race of the season in December, Cochran-Siegle had set out to ski the full speed circuit, plus some giant slalom here and there. Despite an abrupt and unexpected end to the season, Cochran-Siegle finished the year ranked 20th in the world — the best overall world ranking for American men. He ranked in the top 25 of each discipline he started, including downhill, super G, giant slalom, parallel, and alpine combined, making him the only U.S. athlete, aside from Mikaela Shiffrin, to achieve that feat.
Cochran-Siegle now is one of the few “jack of all trades” skiing on the World Cup. He does not actively compete in the slalom, but he is competitive enough in the discipline to capitalize on his skills in the combined. His season-best result was fifth place in the combined at Bormio. Success in the combined came as a surprise, just as his sixth-place finish in the Beaver Creek downhill did.
After winning the training run on home snow, it became obvious to him that the speed is there, but Cochran-Siegle will be the first to say training runs don’t mean much — that ski racing is all about what you put out there on race day. If anything, the training runs indicate it’s only a matter of time before podium results begin to rear their heads on race day.
“As a ski racer, when you haven’t reached that step before, you’re kind of always hoping at each race that you’re ready for that,” said Cochran-Siegle. “But my past results don’t make me a better skier going into the gate for tomorrow. You’re only as good as where you are skiing that day. I know I can be on the podium, but I also know that I have to ski well to get there, that it’s not just gonna come because I get lucky one day.”
In the wake of his most successful season to date, a matured Cochran-Siegle has come to understand success has nothing to do with numbers and titles. Instead, it has everything to do with character, he says. To him, champions are the guys who, despite their success on paper, remain approachable, humble, and relatable to the general population of people that exist outside of the World Cup bubble. His setbacks have taught him how to be less hard himself, stay humble, and focus on being a good person, not just a good ski racer.
“One thing I’ve learned this year, even with a little more success than I’ve ever had, is that success doesn’t change who I am, and that doesn’t change the work I’ve done,” said Cochran-Seigle. “You don’t gain more happiness just because you gain a little more success. If I do bad, or I do well, I know that at the end of the day I’ll still be the same person and still be happy. Hard work pays off.”
Would Cochran-Siegle love to stand on the World Cup podium someday? Of course. Now that he’s begun to shed the weight of his own pressure, he believes his chances are improving. Based on this season’s results, his strategy of focusing on self-betterment appears to be paying off. Although he says he still struggles to find time to be himself, he now has strategies in place to pull himself out of the funks that come when the results don’t — strategies that bring him back down to earth.
Cochran-Siegle loves ski racing, the endorphin rush that comes with descent and speed, the feeling that he gets when he’s on the limit, feeling like he’s doing something that he’s not supposed to. Rather than focus on the details, such as points and standings, he focuses on that feeling — a feeling he wants to share with anyone who loves the act of skiing.
“The feelings you get when you’re skiing down the hill, whether you’re a beginner or a World Cup skier, comes from enjoying the process and that form of dynamic living,” said Cochran-Siegle. “That’s the freedom you feel as a skier. Not being contained by rules or anything else, just going out there and experiencing it in your own way. I want to show younger generations that yeah, what we do is hard, but it’s always attainable if you put in the work. Keeping those things in mind is key for me.”
RCS hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, the family he represents, or the potential history that is left to create. But he has redirected his focus toward his own legacy. Skiing, he says, is a huge privilege and there will come a day when his career is over. Will he be able to look back and like what he sees? What he wants to see are the places he’s been, the people he’s met, and the relationships he’s built — not necessarily the material items meant to mark milestones. He wants to be satisfied, knowing he found comfort in a sport that pushed him to the edge, that he found joy in the sensation of skiing — a sensation he fell in love with as a kid many years ago.
“Every individual that competes on the World Cup brings with them their family and friends, and for me, that means bringing my history of growing up in Starksboro, Vermont, and skiing at the Cochran Ski Area, coming from this tiny little T-Bar hill,” said Cochran-Siegle. “It’s definitely a source of pride for me. I’m trying to be my best self for my family. I’m a ski racer because I love it. I learned that from them, but it’s also something I’ve had to learn within myself.”