Looking back on his decorated career, Ted Ligety names his ability to compete in multiple disciplines as his crowning achievement.
“It’s always hard to pick a single favorite race or accomplishment,” Ligety said in February after announcing his retirement at the 2021 World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. “Some of my proudest moments were being on top in many disciplines. To win in giant slalom, super G, combined and slalom is something I feel really good about. My three victories in Schladming [for World Champs gold in GS, Super-G and super combined] is a standout.”
As a kid working his way up in ski racing, one of Ligety’s heroes was Norwegian star Lasse Kjus, who served as a model for the Utah native when shaping his quest to excel in both tech and speed races.
“I’ve always looked up to Lasse,” Ligety said. “I’d see him on the podium in every discipline and that became one of my goals.”
It takes a lot of scrolling in the FIS results database to reach Ligety’s first year on the World Cup. It came at age 19 in 2003 on his hometown hill in Park City, where a few months earlier, he’d gotten his first taste of the big leagues by forerunning the 2002 Olympic giant slalom course and then watching Kjus take bronze. It wasn’t until his second year on the World Cup that Ligety came in smoking, notching a handful of top-15s in slalom and following up with his first podium – also in slalom – at Beaver Creek in 2005. His momentum continued with a couple more slalom podiums before Ligety suddenly snapped onto the household-sports radar, winning a gold medal in the 2006 Olympic combined event in Torino, Italy. From that point forward, he was on fire.
Getting there and beyond
Ligety went on to win another Olympic gold medal in 2014 in giant slalom; a discipline he would dominate for so long and with such distinction that the ski world dubbed him “Mr. GS.” He won seven World Championship medals, including five gold; six World Cup crystal globes, five GS and one combined; and of 336 World Cup starts, he stood on a whopping 52 podiums – taking the top step in 25.
Like his hero Lasse Kjus, Ligety managed to notch a World Cup podium in every single discipline (yes, even downhill – Lenzerheide 2014).
“To be able to come from those expectations to what I’ve done is pretty surreal,” Ligety said, adding that his goal to measure up to the likes of Kjus and his relatively late start in the game sparked what followed. “It gave me that extra fire to make it happen, to ask the right questions and be a fighter. Nobody’s ski career follows a linear trajectory. The sport of ski racing is so brutal in that way. The margin of error is tiny. The window of opportunity is tiny. To make those things come together is really difficult. The best in the sport can say they’ve failed far more than they’ve succeeded. But that’s part of the enjoyment of it. Every day is a challenge. There’s no stagnation. Every day you can push your limits.”
Although Ligety’s days of pushing his limits on the World Cup are now behind him, a fresh set of gates lie ahead. The 36-year-old has returned home to Park City, where he will start a new chapter joining Lasse Kjus in product innovation at KJUS, a performance-driven brand that engineers high-end ski, golf and lifestyle apparel. He will also focus on family, raising his three children – Jax, who is about to turn 4, and twins Will and Alec, born last summer. He looks forward to the seasons ahead and envisions the entire family ripping around the slopes together.
Family time on the slopes and product development
Serendipitously, Ligety’s retirement segued with KJUS’s desire to leverage Ted’s expertise in their product-innovation process, as the brand has recently made Ligety an ambassador.
“Now that my life is going to be charging hard in a different way, I couldn’t ask for a better partnership,” Ligety said. “I always wanted to stay involved in the ski industry. I started Shred (Ligety’s technical goggle and helmet brand) when I was only 21 years old and I always had a passion and yearning to tinker with product. Having the opportunity to partner with a brand like KJUS, founded by one of my childhood heroes, getting behind the scenes and being part of that engineering and product team can help me in that next phase of skiing. I’ll be able to come at it with a different mindset. I’m excited they want my input for already high-quality, amazing gear.”
Swiss ski-race champion Didier Cuche and Argentinean extreme skier Lucas Swieykowski are also KJUS ambassadors. As far as the brand sees it, KJUS patiently waited for Ligety’s retirement. He was an obvious choice to bring into the fold.
“Lasse started KJUS in 2000 to fill a gap in the market for technical ski gear. Since day one, Lasse’s competitive nature has infiltrated our team and we have kept innovating,” said KJUS President Brooke Mackenzie. “We are our own biggest competitors. If we can make our products better year-over-year, we can stay ahead of the game. When thinking about what KJUS creates in terms of freedom of movement and managing temperatures no matter the weather, the best place to go is to the experts. Ted and Lasse have spent countless hours on the mountain. It’s tough to get undivided attention from someone who is ski racing professionally to pick their brain. So, adding Ted to our team now that he has retired, we can take all of his fresh expertise from years of ski racing and put it into new product innovations. The combination of Lasse and Ted is powerful.”
The KJUS headquarters is based in Boulder, Colo. Ligety’s primary role will not only be testing sportswear in the field but imparting his wisdom into the development process. “We had our first ideation session where both Lasse and Ted joined the KJUS Product Engineer Team,” said Mackenzie. “It was inspiring to listen to two legends share incredibly innovative ideas. Our developers are hard at work to make these ideas a reality for Fall of 2022.”
Ligety added, “Product tinkering is in my blood. I’ve been doing it with my race equipment and playing with outerwear options all my life. It was so much fun to share my equipment frustrations with this passionate KJUS team and come up with technical solutions. There are exciting challenges for me in this new chapter.”
Once Ligety’s children get older, they might also have a role in selecting colors and features for KJUS kids wear lines. “I don’t need a lot of excuses to get out on the hill. Jax already loves skiing and hopefully the twins will, too. It’s awesome to be able to share that joy with my family. It’s not like when I retire from the sport, I leave the sport. It’s lifelong. I get to share it with my parents, my brother, my wife and now my kids. Hopefully a long, long way from now, I will get to share it with their kids, too.”