The careers of many world-class athletes culminate with an Olympic gold medal. Ted Ligety did things differently. That’s where he began!
On Friday, Feb. 19, Ligety will bid farewell to the White Circus, racing his final giant slalom at the World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Ligety announced today that he is wrapping up one of the most storied careers in alpine ski racing history, culminating nearly two decades of prominence for the Park City, Utah native.
Ligety will close out a chapter of his life that will fill a huge trophy case in his Park City home.
- Two Olympic gold medals
- Seven World Championship medals including five gold
- A string of three-straight World Championship GS gold medals – a feat never before accomplished!
- Six World Cup crystal globes (five GS, one combined)
- 25 World Cup wins, 52 podiums in 336 starts
“I love skiing, I worked hard, but I think everybody at the highest level has to love skiing and work hard,” he said from his training base in Folgaria, Italy, this week. “But what really separated me from a lot of my competitors was my independence and my way of asking the right questions of myself and coaches — trying to figure out ways to get better. But at the end of the day, I always had to trust myself and go on my own path. I was always asking questions and never just following the normal path.”
But the story of Ted Ligety is not just one of gold and crystal, it’s about a young man who combined opportunity, independence and dedication to his craft to build a legacy as an accomplished athlete, innovative businessman, and now a father who’s looking forward to skiing with his kids and family.
When he finds his way home from Cortina later this month, skiing for Ligety will become cruising down Success with his sons at Deer Valley. Earlier this week, Jax was showing his grandfather, Bill Ligety, how to do it with a top-to-bottom run at just three-and-a-half years old. The eight-month-old twin boys will come later.
“The family has become the priority,” said Ligety. “I’m looking forward to the next step and spending more time with family and ripping up the mountains with the kids and having fun with them.”
Product of his environment
Ligety was a distinct product of the environment in Park City during his childhood. His parents, Bill Ligety and Cyndi Sharp, were local realtors — skiers themselves but never racers. They had Ted and his younger brother Charly skiing from a young age. The learn-to-ski program at the resort was a babysitting tool, at first. But the boys loved it. It also taught Ted independence and let him forge his own path.
“I had put Ted into the kids program at Whistler/Blackcomb when he was five and he wasn’t that crazy about the whole thing,” laughed Cyndi. But he and Charly enjoyed the local learn-to-ski program. A few years later, young Ted didn’t make the Park City Devo Team in his first try. But the next year he was racing around the mountain with coach Dar Hendrickson.
Both of Ted’s parents agree that an important element of their son’s love for ski racing was ownership. “They need to own it themselves,” said Cyndi, “it can’t be the parents.”
Ligety was born in 1984. Throughout his childhood, nearly every Thanksgiving from 1985 through 2003, he was able to witness the best ski racers in the world when the America’s Opening World Cup came to town.
A key factor was the management of the Park City Ski Area. Under the ownership of Nick Badami and his marketing chief son Craig, the resort invested heavily in building the brand of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team. It was the team’s hometown and the resort sponsored athletes, helped support the Park City Ski Team and brought international ski racing to town — adding a new energy to the World Cup tour.
“I was really fortunate in Park City,” said Ligety. “I got to watch the best in the world every single year. Right after the World Cup, we were able to train on that same hill. Most of my best friends were all amazing ski racers at the time. So we had a great group camaraderie there, really close, tight-knit friends that really pushed each other.”
The Park City Ski Team was one of the most highly respected clubs in the country. Skiers like Jeremy Nobis, Erik Schlopy and Bryon Friedman had come out of the program to the men’s team, followed by Adam Cole, Steven Nyman, Ligety, T.J. Lanning and later Tim Jitloff.
Ligety became accustomed to ducking under fence lines at America’s Opening to get close to the global stars of the sport like Kjetil Aamodt and Lasse Kjus.
In 2002, he had his dream role — forerunning for the Olympics in his hometown. He was just 17.
“We picked Ted even though he wasn’t the fastest guy, but because he was determined. And gritty. And it was a message to the other guys,” said coach Rob Clayton. “It was a reward for the hard work. There were other guys who had better results and were faster skiers, but none of them had worked as hard as Ted.”
That experience forerunning the slalom and GS opened new doors of opportunity and confidence. A week later, he won a junior GS at Mt. Bachelor. That next December, he opened the season with a dominating presence in FIS GS races at Park City and Winter Park. A year later, he got his first America’s Opening start at the age of 19. Bode Miller won. Ligety didn’t qualify for the second run. It was the last time the World Cup would be run there.
“Being a forerunner was definitely an eye-opener — seeing the best in the world on their pinnacle day,” he recalled. ”And what really opened my eyes to me was that it wasn’t that much different than what I was doing at the junior level. The majority of guys are just chatting with each other and it’s a normal day, which is exactly what I grew up doing. I love that side of ski racing — that I was buddies to my competitors. And I saw that, and I was like, ‘oh, it’s not like you have to be some crazy monster machine in order to compete in the sport at the highest level.’ Like these guys are normal guys.”
Starting out with Olympic gold
By the 2005-06 season, Ligety had become a regular on the World Cup. He celebrated his debut podium at Beaver Creek that December in slalom, then added others in Kranjska Gora and on the Chuenisbärgl in Adelboden. He was named to the Olympic team underneath the spotlight glare of Miller and Daron Rahlves. Oh, how that would change.
“It was a hope and dream in the back of my mind that I would be going for a medal in 2006, but it was far from expectation,” said Ligety looking back. “I was just excited to be there, to be part of the Games and this huge event that is the Olympics.”
The 2006 Torino Olympics were filled with controversy. The team’s “best in the world” expectations were on display going into the Games. In the opening day men’s downhill, both Miller and Rahlves missed the medals. Already the media was gunning for the team.
Heading into the combined two days later, the attention was all on Miller. He led the downhill and was having a spectacular first run of slalom (it was still a two-run slalom then) when he imperceptibly straddled near the bottom. It took a video replay for officials to make the call 30 minutes after the race. Suddenly, the Americans’ hopes were dashed.
Well, maybe not quite yet.
Earlier in the day, the 21-year-old Ligety rode a lift with his friend Kjetil Jansrud of Norway. “He’s like, ‘you know, we have a chance today. Like, you don’t think so?’” laughed Ligety. “I was like, ‘whatever.’ But it kind of got the ball rolling in my mind.”
Ligety had been 32nd in the downhill, 3.06 seconds behind Miller. But he knew he stacked up well against the other slalom skiers. While the world was watching the Bode Miller story unfold, suddenly they saw Ligety vaulting up into third with one run to go – just .86 behind Austria’s Benni Raich.
“After the first run I was like in ‘holy cow’ mode,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘hey, most of my friends are in college. Like, what if I won a medal in my first Olympics? They would think that’s pretty crazy.’”
Starting 28th, Ligety was brilliant again with a near-flawless run to take the lead. Next was Croatian star Ivica Kostelic. He couldn’t do it. Now it was up to Raich. A precision slalom skier, Raich charged out onto the course. His .86 margin over Ligety began to evaporate down the course. Then, it was over as Raich skied out in the lower third of the course. Ligety was an Olympic champion.
Ted Ligety celebrates winning Olympic gold with teammates Scott Macartney and Steven Nyman as Ivica Kostelic reacts.
Looking back on it now 15 years later, Ligety still shakes his head. “I was just … actually, I’m STILL in shock when I think about it,” he said. “Especially that I had no idea what was happening. I had never won a major race. It was a crazy, wild, unexpected dream come true.”
Accelerating his career
The Olympic gold medal was a career-defining moment for Ligety. And he took advantage. The week after the Olympics he flew to South Korea for a pair of World Cup giant slaloms. Exhausted from the media crush and travel, he overslept on race day and didn’t make it to the start. He made up for it 24 hours later, winning his first of 25 World Cups.
“After the Olympics, I was like, ‘OK, I can’t be a one-hit wonder here,’” he said. “I have to prove myself. And that was a big motivator for the rest of my career. That motivation and confidence I built from the Olympics definitely helped.”
That summer, he expanded his year-old relationship with Carlo Salmini to launch SHRED. The next winter he began to establish himself on the World Cup tour and missed a World Championship medal by just .07. In 2008, he skied to his first crystal globe and in 2009 took World Championship bronze.
“Nobody progresses in a linear fashion, in any sport, especially ski racing,” said Ligety. “Every year, I was trying to get better, trying to figure out ways to go faster, trying to figure out ways to evolve as an athlete and I was able to do that. I was able to have some good early successes and win a couple of giant slalom globes.”
But as quickly as his career was accelerating, it came crashing down after the World Championships when he injured a knee in Kranjska Gora in late February while leading the World Cup GS standings.
Heading home to Park City to rehab, Ligety became a guinea pig for the new Center of Excellence, which opened that spring. His intense focus on rehab was effective, and he was back for Sölden in October — on the podium!
Olympic disappointment becomes a speed bump
Despite the injury, his 2009-10 season was remarkable — second at Sölden and second in the Val d’Isere super G. On the eve of the Olympics, he went back to Kranjska Gora and picked up a win and a third going into Vancouver.
As much disappointment as U.S. Ski & Snowboard had in Torino, it paid back in spades in Vancouver — a total of 21 medals including a record seven in alpine from five different athletes. But Ligety wasn’t among them.
He came into Vancouver leading the World Cup GS standings. He watched his teammates excel. He was fifth in the combined, using the new one-run slalom format. But was ninth in GS.
“That was a huge disappointment – not just from the placing but in my approach,” he said. “I got to the finish line and I just knew I left time on the hill and that hurt!”
In typical Ted fashion, he used that as a motivator to make sure it never happened again. ”That was definitely a good shift in my mindset to really own my approach and not try to do little math equations, what the points were, what the hundredths were. Just go for it.”
Building dominance in his sport
As disappointing as it was, Ligety credits the Vancouver disappointment as a key for his success to follow, becoming the most dominant skier in GS for the next five years. He closed out 2010 with the GS globe. And he came back the next season to win his third GS title and first of three straight World Championships.
He had truly become Mr. GS!
At the same time, Ligety used his independent spirit to defend his sport and fellow athletes. The International Ski Federation (FIS) had proposed a variety of new rules including a change in ski radius as well as adjustments of commercial markings on uniforms. Ligety became a leader for the cause, organizing his fellow athletes and taking a stand with FIS.
At the annual Forum Alpinum in 2011 at Sölden, Ligety and a crowd of over 30 World Cup athletes brought their message to the FIS news conference, with a formidable presence in the room. Ligety followed up with a scorching blog article, which ran as an op ed on SkiRacing.com entitled Tyranny of the FIS.
“Yeah, we were fired up,” said Ligety. “FIS had come up with new ski rules that at the time were really draconian. Just the ski rules would be one thing. But they were having logo issue rules with goggles which directly affected me with SHRED and my competitors. If you’re making logo size smaller, you’re diminishing the value of athletes to sponsors. And for them just to go through and push these things through without any logic or athlete input or science was very frustrating. It was just very emblematic of their approach towards athletes.”
While he was leading the charge against FIS, he also recognized that the rules were likely to go into place. He actually began training on the new radius skis in the 2010-11 season to the point he was ready to race. So despite his protests, he was the best prepared to actually win on the new skis.
“I knew that if I was going to get that pissed off and fired up about it, that I would have to step up and show that I wasn’t just pissed off and fired up because it was going to hurt me as an athlete, but because it was a real issue,” he said. While testing new skis with HEAD the season earlier, he found that in some scenarios he was already faster. But he couldn’t race on the skis until 2011-12. But the information he gained helped him better prepare.
“Having skied so much volume, I knew that there was going to be a different toll on your body,” he said. “And my training in the summertime had to be adapted to that. So I was able to really get ahead of the ball as far as preparing for those new skis, that led to having a fantastic couple of seasons following.”
What happened next was stunning. The rotation of World Championships is always fascinating, especially when it comes around to Austria. Other than winning at home, the next best thing is winning in Austria. Rahlves had proven that in 2000, stunning Austria with gold in super G. Then Ligety came to Schladming and left with three gold medals.
“I would say I knew there was a possibility of winning three golds, but the difference between a possibility and a realistic expectation is very, very different,” he said.
The super G hill favored him and he was skiing well in speed. His slalom was OK so combined was a possibility. And he was the favorite in the GS.
“I was really hungry at the time,” he said. But an odd set of circumstances set up Schladming nicely for him.
In January, Ligety was in contention for the overall globe. Then he had two bad weekends. His binding released in the combined slalom at Wengen. A week later, he came out of Kitzbühel with a full slate of DNFs. He had left hundreds of points on the hill. The overall was no longer a viable goal.
“I was like, ‘alright, that’s out of the mind,’” he said. “I’m going to forget about it, I’m not doing the race before the World Championships and just prepare myself for Worlds. I was definitely prepared and psyched and ready to go.”
He went into Schladming and won the super G, then the combined and finally the giant slalom. It was a feat that only Stein Eriksen (1954), Toni Sailer (1956) and Jean-Claude Killy (1968) had accomplished before in an Olympics or World Championships.
When he returned home two months later, a huge crowd showed up to welcome him. Foremost among them was Eriksen. The great champion looked every young kid in the eye as he talked about Ligety — not about his ski racing accolades, but his personal character. “Be like Ted,” Eriksen exclaimed.
“Stein’s a legend,” said Ligety, who is now, himself, an athlete ambassador for the late Eriksen’s Deer Valley Resort. “Growing up skiing Deer Valley, I had known Stein as a kid. He was a legend in the sport. But you’d see him skiing around Deer Valley and you’d think it was funny as a young racer kid. He had the early carving skis and we were like wide stance and all this. And he was just like perfectly pretty, just like dancing down the hill, feet pinned together. And then you get him in the NASTAR course and like, shit, this guy can ski! To listen to him sing my praises was pretty humbling.”
Nothing like home-country racing
While Ted Ligety’s youth was spent watching World Cup ski racing at his home in Park City, after 2003 things shifted to Beaver Creek. Ligety was still at the top of his career in 2015 when the World Championships came to Vail/Beaver Creek.
He opened with a bronze in combined, with his sights then set on winning a third straight GS gold — a feat that had never been accomplished by a man or woman. With just a six-hour drive, it seemed like most of Park City emigrated to the Vail Valley for the week.
“I just think I was fired up,” said Ligety. “I knew I had a string of dominance on that hill and I didn’t want to let that slip at World Championships.”
Coming into the race, Ligety had won five of the last six World Cup giant slaloms at Birds of Prey. The one he didn’t win, he was second to Marcel Hirscher by just .16.
“I had a lot of competition there that was skiing at a high level and were also hungry,” he said. “Hirscher was skiing great at the time.”
Fans were on edge as Ligety was fifth in the first run, but just .24 back from Hirscher in a crowded field. There was great tension in the second run.
“Those World Championships, I mean, I think that second run in the giant slalom was probably one of the best runs of my career,” he said. “I was fired up.”
Leaving his legacy to the next generation
An important measure for any athlete is what they leave behind. The U.S. Ski Team has always enjoyed a tight bond between athletes. It’s something that Ligety worked at. Tommy Ford’s win at Beaver Creek in Ligety’s last race there, Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s podium and win in Val Gardena and Bormio, and River Radamus’ transition from junior superstar to the World Cup, have given him great satisfaction.
“I’m really proud of what Ryan’s accomplished this year and Tommy, over the last couple of years,” he said. “Those guys have been my main training partners for the last 10 years. It’s awesome to be able to see guys I’ve been skiing with for a long time and knowing that they had that potential actually come through. Camaraderie was really important to me. There’s a good push and pull that happens when you’re training with your teammates.”
Radamus burst onto the junior scene with gold-medal performances at Youth Olympic Games and Junior World Championships. Now he’s learning the reality of the World Cup and it’s starting to take hold, regularly banging into the points and more confident of his future.
“River is really starting to show himself as a World Cup contender this year,” said Ligety. “He’s had this phenomenal junior career, which sometimes can be a curse. Not every junior phenom lives up to their expectations in the World Cup.”
Everyone’s second favorite team
During his career, Ligety was a part of the nucleus of the U.S. Ski Team that attracted fans from around the world. In fact, Ligety’s own official fan club is based in Germany and has had a notable presence supporting him for over a decade.
“I would say the U.S. is everybody’s second favorite team outside of their home national team,” he said. “With the U.S. Ski Team, we have had a lot of cool personalities, whether it’s myself or Bode or Lindsey. We brought a different view and look to the sport and have shown the fun side of it. People really enjoy that.”
The future for Ted
With his departure from the World Cup, skiing with the kids at Deer Valley and working more closely with SHRED is now in his plan. “I’ll now be able to do more of a day-to-day basis and be able to put more work into SHRED.”
Still, he knows he’ll miss the competitive aspect of the sport and is looking to compete on the World Pro Ski Tour.
“I’ll probably do some Pro Tours — that’s something I look forward to,” he said. The Pro Tour opened this past weekend in Steamboat Springs. “One of the things I know I’ll miss about ski racing is that competitive fire and getting in there and racing and having that like real competitive drive. So I plan on doing some Pro Tour races and keeping that competitive drive, staying involved in ski racing. I’m just not going to travel the whole world like I have been for all these years.”
With a burgeoning trophy case, Ligety won’t pick one favorite medal or globe. But he is proud of one of his underlying goals.
“One of the things I’m most proud of in my career is being on the podium in the World Cup in every event,” he said. “To be on the podium in super G and downhill and combined, slalom and giant slalom. It was something as a kid I really wanted to be able to do. I always looked up to the guys like (Kjetil) Aamodt and (Lasse) Kjus who were able to be dominant at all events.”
He was quick to offer his own advice for junior ski racers who look up to him. “You have to own your own path. You have to try to figure out how to progress for yourself and really try to take ownership in it.”
His parents have remained big fans, in the stadium for every Olympics and World Cups at Beaver Creek. They are proud of his accomplishments, but it runs much deeper.
Said Bill Ligety: “For me, it’s when people say, ‘the stuff he’s accomplished in skiing is really phenomenal. But when I first met him and talked to him, he’s just such a nice guy. So down to earth. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s just such a great person.’”
TED LIGETY BY THE NUMBERS
- Two Olympic gold medals
- Seven World Championship medals including five gold
- A string of three straight World Championship GS gold medals – a feat never before accomplished!
- Six World Cup crystal globes (five GS, one combined)
- 25 World Cup wins, 52 podiums in 336 starts
- 2008 Giant slalom
- 2010 Giant slalom
- 2011 Giant slalom
- 2013 Giant slalom
- 2014 Giant slalom
- 2014 Combined
- 2006 Olympic combined gold, Torino (Sestriere)
- 2009 World Championships GS bronze, Val d’Isere
- 2011 World Championships GS gold, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- 2013 World Championships super G gold, Schladming
- 2013 World Championships combined gold, Schladming
- 2013 World Championships GS gold, Schladming
- 2014 Olympic GS gold, Sochi (Rosa Khutor)
- 2015 World Championships combined bronze, Beaver Creek
- 2015 World Championships GS gold, Beaver Creek
Where Ted Won (World Cup)
- 6 Kranjska Gora
- 5 Beaver Creek
- 4 Sölden
- 2 Alta Badia