There was a time when the only role Ted Ligety had to play in his adult life was that of “Mr. GS.”
With two Olympic gold medals, seven World Championship medals and six World Cup titles, the 36-year-old is about to embark on his 17th World Cup season. But life is no longer so simple.
Like everyone else, Ligety is faced with navigating this winter race season around the dangers and precautions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s planning on competing only in the World Cup giant slalom races but would also like to once again test his talent in the mix of the World Pro Ski Tour.
“The Pro Tour races were a lot of fun last year,” he said. “Depending on the calendar, I’d like to do some of those. It’s fun to have that level of racing in the U.S., especially without the World Cup happening at home this season.”
The big factor for Ligety in the coming months is getting home as much as possible between events to be with his recently expanded family. In addition to their 3-year-old (Jax), Ligety and his wife, Mia, welcomed twin boys (Will and Alec) this past July.
Now in Soelden, Austria, training for the 2020-21 FIS Alpine World Cup men’s season opening race on Oct. 18, Ligety is getting a taste of his former, simpler life.
“It feels like a ski vacation,” Ligety said during a phone interview on Oct. 2. “Having the twins this summer, it was a wild ride, for sure.”
Conditions on the glacier over the last week have not been ideal. “It’s raining right now and it’s been summer, fall, spring and winter so far,” Ligety said – but he’s still appreciating the change of pace from the wall-to-wall couple of months that preceded this training period.
While Mia was on night duty with the newborns, Ligety took over in the mornings, navigating parental duties with one hand for a while, having broken his wrist mountain biking a couple of days before the twins were born.
“The wrist is totally fine,” he said. “Three weeks in a brace and it’s a non-issue. With the twins, there’s no down time. It’s nonstop. I’d be lying to say it’s not a challenge. It’s been fun as well. They’re over 2 months now and starting to show personality. Jax has been great with them. It’s been great to see. But I value my time away when I can get a workout in. You learn to maximize those times.”
Wearing the mentor hat
Ligety is hoping snow conditions cooperate for some training on an injected surface in the coming days. In addition to giving his all on World Cup giant slalom courses and working in a couple Pro Tour races, Ligety finds himself playing the role of mentor with younger members of the team this season.
“I’ve always enjoyed training with the younger guys. It’s been a big part of my career,” he said. “Tommy Ford was one of the younger guys and being around guys like him has helped keep me young. Luke Winters, Bridger [Gile] and River [Radamus], it’s fun training with them right now. That team camaraderie is why I keep doing it. It’s fun having that younger group of guys, helping when I can, at times giving them pointers. It’s fun being one of the older guys. I’m happy to impart any wisdom I can possibly impart.”
Ligety’s approach to mentoring, however, is mostly upon request.
“I’m not the type of guy who goes out and lectures them. I let the guys come ask,” he said. “Every once in a while, we’ll do group analysis. It’s always fun and informative. It gives us all a chance for some interesting feedback and thoughts.”
Ligety has thrown his distinctive GS-turning style down the Soelden World Cup course 11 times since 2005. The worst he’s ever finished is 10th. He’s landed on the podium seven times, including four wins. It’s no wonder his teammates come to him for tips, especially during the Soelden training period. However, he feels the most valuable advice he has to offer has nothing to do with technique.
“The most wisdom I feel I’ve imparted is the mental side of the sport,” he said. “It’s the aspect of racing where you’re trying to not make it too complicated. That’s the hardest part of the sport … the mental side. Getting back some intensity, the right focus for the races is where I have a lot of experience.”
Of course, the search for focus and intensity differs from athlete to athlete. Ligety’s own approach, for example, involves “meager eating” on race day – habitually consuming crackers and a Coke before a race. He’s certainly not advising that anyone follow this formula, but recommends his young teammates find their own confidence-building regiment, whatever that may entail.
“The mental piece is finding the couple of things that work for them, owning it and being consistent with it,” he said. “Rather than having a hodgepodge of things leading up to a race, it’s about being confident in your approach and not doing anything too wild and crazy,” Ligety said. “A lot of guys will build it up to something it should not be built up to in their heads. In training, they have the ability to get in there and realize what it is and how they can own it.”
As far as maintaining his own approach to racing while juggling a more demanding home life, Ligety will do his best to strike an alignment that works. For now, he’ll FaceTime with his family while on the road and spend real time at home between race events.
“We will try to be flexible in that regard,” he said. “We’ll see where and how and all of that stuff plays out. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to pack everyone in the car and move from place to place. That’s a big part of why they’re staying home right now and trying to be conservative around COIVD. It’s a balancing act. We’ll have to figure it out as we go.”