One step after another

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US Ski Team’s Luke Winters is currently the most successful US male skier in the SL World Cup. Winters, a quiet man, is talented, but his success has come one step at a time.

This season, Winters broke the five-season Men’s Slalom World Cup Finals drought in the United States when in the final slalom of the regular season, Winters finished seventh, earning him his first invitation to the final. Previously, the last American male athlete to qualify was retired David Chodounsky in 2016.

Kitzbuhel | Bib Luke 38 | @lemosmedia

Winters’ story begins in Portland, Oregon. Like many, the 25-year-old started skiing young at the age of three, with his first experience in the spring at Summit in Government Camp on Mount Hood. However, as a child, Winters enjoyed other sports as well.

Winters says, “Baseball and football were the dominant sports in my schools, but I also loved skiing. In my mind, all sports were equal. When ski season ended, it was baseball season, then football season, and I loved baseball and football as much as skiing. I played several sports for seven or eight years, and it was great.

Living near Mount Hood, it was surprising to hear that Winters didn’t feel like he did more than a camp or two a season. He says, “I wouldn’t say I’ve skied more than anyone else in the country. Everyone has come for at least one ski camp a year at Mount Hood. I remember driving from ski camp to Portland, going to a baseball game, then driving back to Government Camp and skiing the next morning.

When asked when he became a full-time skier, Winters replied, “Well, I went to Mt. Hood Academy in eighth grade. But really, it wasn’t until I went to Sugar Bowl Academy that I started to see myself as a full-time skier. However, while enrolled in Sugar Bowl Academy, my sophomore year, I returned to my school in Portland to play baseball with my twin brother in the spring. Sugar Bowl Academy then told my family that we couldn’t come back unless we were coming all year. I’m glad they did it because it was the right thing for me at the time. So it was my junior year when ski racing became my only sport.

After a successful experience with the Sugar Bowl Academy, Winters entered the US Ski Team system as a member of the National Training Squad for the 2015/16 season. It was an exciting change, but this season in January he suffered an ACL injury which kept him out of the snow until August.

Sugar Loaf | Luke Bib 8 | US nationals | @mr.jayriley

Winters remarks, “I went back to snow with Ted Ligety because we hurt our knees the same day. We both went to New Zealand for our return to snow. It was six months after the operation and we joined Jared Goldberg who was coming back from an Achilles tendon injury. It was cool doing that with Ted. Then it took me a few more years to have success on the NorAm circuit.

During the 2018 season, Winters finished third in the NorAm SL standings. In the following 2019 season, while splitting time between the World Cup and the NorAm Series, he finished second in the NorAm SL standings and secured a full-time World Cup starting position for 2020.

Sugar Loaf | Luke warming up | US nationals | @mooney_ryan

Things went well for Winters in his first full World Cup season, posting three top-30 results. However, there were a lot of struggles and Winters knew he had speed, but he realized all the learning to come.

Winters: “I think a lot of people, after those great races, thought I was going straight to the top. But looking at my skiing, I could see problems and I knew it wouldn’t be so easy. I knew I still needed to change things in my ski to have consistent speed. I struggled for the rest of that year. I didn’t score after the Adelboden run. I didn’t even qualify for a second run. At the end of the season, I wondered what I should do. I was trying to change my skiing to be better for the 2021 season, but I never really found the rhythm.

The best race of the winter in the 2021 season race was on warm snow in Chamonix. “When it rains and it’s salty, it’s not that I ski better, but I like it. I grew up skiing in the rain three days a week, which helps. I think everyone gets depressed, and I can get over that.

When asked what he did to reach a new level this season, Winters replied, “After the 2021 season, I sat down and wrote things that I knew needed to change. I watched some videos and picked out a few things in the best skier’s ski that I didn’t see in mine. I met the coaches and said that’s what I’m going to focus on this year. And that’s what I did. There are so many variables in skiing, and at this level you have to have it all. Gear is one of the key things, and I also figured out some things in my setup that helped. Once I was able to ski free and be athletic, confidence took over and I was consistently fast. Before this year, I skied well one day and badly the next. Now I’m strong almost every day.

Cortina | Luke finishing | GEPA

Winters just completed his seventh season in the USST program. I asked him what he thought. “I think everyone’s experiences are different. And I think right after high school it was clear that I needed to ski more. The multi-sport approach helped me be a better athlete, but I needed to save time on the snow. I wanted the opportunities and resources provided by the US Ski Team. Also, having the resources of the US Ski Team in the summer is a great asset. Spending time in Park City at the Center of Excellence proved invaluable.

When asked if he could see himself doing anything else, Winters replied, “No, I feel like I’m closest to my potential. I’m in the top 30 now, my inner drive is strong and I’m motivated to move on. So, no, I’m totally focused on skiing. I enjoy many other things in life. I think of life after ski racing. I have experience in construction, and that interests me. But now I ski because I like it.

Yes, Winters has talent, but his success has come one step at a time.

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