Alpine Skiing

River Radamus on overcoming setbacks: "It's just another learning experience."

The triple Winter Youth Olympic gold medallist reflects on why he couldn't live up to expectations so far and how he's trying to get his confidence back.

By Alessandro Poggi ·

With three Winter Youth Olympic Games gold medals and two junior world titles to his name, River Radamus looked destined for alpine skiing greatness.

When he stepped into the World Cup circuit two years ago after topping the Nor-Am Cup series, the young skier from the Vail Ski club was expected to immediately follow in the footsteps of other precocious American ski talents, such as Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety or Mikaela Shiffrin.

But it hasn't happened yet for Radamus who has had just two top-20 finishes in 32 World Cup starts.

Speaking in Soelden ahead of the new season in October, the 22-year-old admits he underestimated the challenge of stepping up to the top ranks.

He told Olympic Channel, "I came into racing World Cup with maybe too high of expectations. I thought it was going to be easy after having success at junior levels. That's never true, of course.

"I've been kicked in the teeth a couple of times now." - River Radamus

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Despite his struggles, the Colorado-born skier has been able to find some silver linings in the gloom.

"Everybody has bad days. For me, these last few years have been just about learning to love that process and to make sure that I keep my love for the sport, even when the success doesn't come."

And he only needs to look at his team-mates for encouragement with Tommy Ford scoring three podiums in the last two seasons including second at the last giant slalom in Santa Caterina Valfurva.

Luke Winters has also shown speed, leading after the first run in last year's slalom at Val d'Isere.

And this weekend, USA had three skiers in the top six in the Val Gardena downhill including a first career podium finish for Ryan Cochran-Siegle in second place.

Radamus says, "It proves that that we as a team we are going in the right direction.

"Tommy has been a very, very good skier for a long time. To watch him have his struggles, have his defeats and keep believing and keep performing and keep training and be able to reach it later in his career is pretty amazing. What they've instilled in me is just belief."

This weekend, Radamus has high hopes for the Alta Badia giant slalom on the renowned Gran Risa slope where he scored his first World Cup points almost exactly two years ago.

"I love that track. That is the GS for me. It's just a very dynamic course and...that's something I excel in.

"I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform there because I just love that hill so much. And I think it raises my game to another level whenever I show up there."

River Radamus finished 24th at the World Cup Giant Slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, on 16/12/2018. (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Olympic Channel: How different is this World Cup season compared to the previous ones?

River Radamus: I mean, it's definitely been strange. I spent, I don't know, probably two months at home, which is probably the most I've spent time at home in five years. So it was a very strange summer, for sure.

We didn't get to go to Europe to train or to New Zealand. But we spent a lot more time in the gym and spent a lot more time with our families. So it's a bit of a give and take, you know. But we're still definitely in the process of ramping up and feeling our skiing out again. So that time frame sort of gets shrunk down this year. You know, we don't have a lot of time to test equipment and test gear in real winter-like conditions.

I don't think that we're complaining that we got much less than the Europeans. They obviously had a little bit more access to, you know, the glaciers in Italy and in Switzerland. But it is what it is. Everybody had a weird summer. So we're just glad to be here now.

OC: What qualities are going to be crucial in order to perform this year?

RR: I think this season especially just because of the interesting circumstances... someone who can be adaptable and always change with the circumstances is going to thrive. Everybody's had a lot less training coming into the season so it's very much who can prepare the best, the quickest, basically, and who can be the most adaptable.

I think the way the schedule looks, it's going to be much more compacted and there's going to be a lot more races in sequence and then a lot more time off. And so, you know, the people that are the freshest, the fittest and the most ready to show up every day of the week are going to be the ones that are going to thrive this year, for sure.

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OC: How do you assess your first seasons in World Cup?

RR: When I was younger, I always had a vision for my career that it would just go in a straight trajectory straight up, you know, and I would just knock off the steps, get through and go to the next step and just continue to progress evenly and quickly through the ranks. But in reality that's not how any sport works, and so I've had setbacks. I've had failures. I've had struggles and successes that just come in waves and spurts.

But the reality is that's how it happens to everybody. And every time I keep getting knocked down, it's just another learning experience. And that's how I've treated these last couple of years, as you know, "OK, what can I learn to do better from there? How do I make sure that doesn't happen next time?" And even though the failures are hard to accept, they're still part of the process, regardless of how long the process is.

I've learned to enjoy it more and to embrace the fight and the struggle to get to where I want to be. And I know that it's close and and it feels good in training. And so I just need to continue to chip away and focus on the things I need to do to get better and not worry about the results as of yet, you know, because if they don't come then they weren't meant to come yet. But I'll keep chipping away until I get there.

OC: Why is it so difficult for youngsters to climb through the ranks in this sport?

RR: I think that there's a lot of factors. One of them is just the level of the arenas that we compete in. You know, the Europa Cups and Nor-Ams are great feeder programs and they're good at picking out who's the best in those age groups. But then World Cup circuit is a completely different level. The conditions and the hills and the slopes and all of it is just a different level.

On top of that, not just do you have to be a tremendous skier to perform on those, but also you have to be a very knowledgeable skier because a lot of it comes from experience on these slopes, you know, to know how to ski them. You can know how to ski in general, but if you don't know where to give room on this turn on this slope or whatever... that just comes with time. And so I think that's another step.

And then also, I mean, it's always tough racing if you jump into a World Cup from the junior levels and you're starting 40th to 60th of the best skiers in the world. It's a hard fight. And the people that make it into second runs on World Cup rarely start later than 40, just because of the course conditions and everybody there is fighting for hundredths of seconds. So it's important to have the starting position and, you know, have the knowledge and the preparation to perform at the World Cup level.

OC: What have you learned so far?

RR: There a lot of things that I looked at when last season ended, you know, where I fell short or what went wrong. And the weaknesses I found were: one, mental. You know, the people that are at the top believe that they should be at the top. And when you're fighting to break through, your mental state changes. You're thinking, "OK, I just need to make it into the top 30 and then I can flip and go." Whereas in reality I should be thinking, "I want to win this race. I'm going to give everything I can to win this race, you know, give it all out there." And then maybe you can sneak into the top 30 just because of how competitive it is.

But, you know, racing for 30 or racing for a flip is is not the right way to go about it, I think for me. And then also the people that are at the top right now are insanely fit. They're elite athletes on top of elite ski racers. And so my feel on skis has been good, but, you know, in some long courses or technical courses or when I start late in the ruts, I felt like I was being outperformed by worse skiers but fitter athletes. So I was really motivated the summer to bury myself in the gym and get everything I could out of my conditioning so that I have no question about that in my head when I get in the start gate. I go in knowing that I've done everything I can to prepare and... owning the course instead of, you know, hoping that I've done everything and trying to execute.

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OC: How's important to have Ted Ligety and Tommy Ford as team-mates?

RR: I think it's been awesome to be around them. Of course, they are two giants in our sport for different reasons. Tommy was at the very pinnacle of his game last year, you know, and everything was working right for him, which is awesome to see as I've trained with him a long time and, being able to see that progression, and that swelling to a pinnacle for him. And he's still skiing great. But being able to see that happen, you know, because Tommy has been a very, very good skier for a long time and everybody has believed in him. But for him to finally break through and hit two podiums last year was amazing.

And so to see that sort of path and watch him, you know, have his struggles, have his defeats and keep believing and keep performing and keep training and be able to reach it later in his career is pretty amazing. And what they've instilled in me is just belief, because they see me in training and I'm right alongside them there. And I work really hard. And they say that they see the talent in me. It's tough to sometimes find that confidence in yourself, you know, when things don't go right. So having them in my ear telling me, "You know, you got this. Just keep going, keep doing everything you can," it finds the confidence for me when I don't have it in myself.

OC: What's your mental approach going forward?

RR: I don't know if you can see this, but my [mobile phone's] home screen is from Adebolden last year. I ended up 31st by 0.02 sec. And after that race, I took a photo of that and I put it on my home screen and I thought, "That's what I'm working for. That's what my goal is now." because two hundredths can make or break a race. It can turn a great day into a terrible day. So I know that I'm working in the fine, fine margins here and if I want to make the next step, I don't have to change anything drastic but I have to do all the little things right so that I can perform on race day and find those two hundredths or find the tenth (of a second) or whatever it is.

The mentality is, like, I have to do absolutely everything I can at the pinnacle so that I can perform on race day. And I always have that in the back of my mind because all my motivation right now, all I'm working for, is to break in there and perform on race day.

River Radamus in action during the giant slalom in Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy, on 7 December 2020. (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

OC: How did you feel when someone your age like Luke Winters finished in the top 10 in the Val d'Isere slalom last season?

RR: I couldn't be more thrilled. I had tears in my eyes at the finish there as Luke came down in the second run because he has earned that, absolutely. You know, he works day in, day out. Our development team, the guys my age, Luke and me and Bridger Gile who raced in Soelden this year and a lot of the other guys that are coming through now, we've sort of formed a brotherhood the last few years where we're trying to, you know, re-instill like the team bonding and the team building of years past that we felt fell by the wayside for a few years.

We've taken a lot from the Norwegian team who we think really does that well. Something that's really stuck with me all the time is one of the Norwegians said that they work together as a team and hold each other accountable to what they think is their standard, because they know that not every day can be their day but if they as a team work together and hold each other accountable to their absolute best, every day could be someone's day. That's something I think about a lot.

Luke getting second on the run and getting those flips last run doesn't take anything away from me. But it proves that we as a team are going in the right direction. So I totally relish his success as my own, just as I assume he would mine. And I think that we've got a lot of good energy behind us with the slalom team, with Luke and Ben Ritchie, and we've got a couple of good young GS skiers coming up as well. So I think that this team is finally moving in the right direction culturally. And and we've got some good momentum behind us coming in this year.

OC: What makes the US team different from the rest?

RR: I'm not an expert on any other national team's development pipeline or anything like this. But I think that we do it in a very different direction than most, where when we're younger as athletes, we are just told to go out and ski as much as we can. And we're wild and we go off jumps and we're... we go fast, but not in a very structured way. And then when we hit higher levels and make regional teams then national teams, we find our fundamentals more.

When I watch an Austrian team or a Swiss team, it looks like many of their skiers ski very similar, where it seems like through their pipeline they learned their fundamentals and learned to ski fast that way. And we do it almost opposite, we learn to ski fast and then try to find the fundamentals which is... I'm not saying one way is right or wrong but it leads to our team having much more varied styles and being a little bit wilder. You know, like Bode Miller or what have you. But I like it that way. We're more cavalier, you know, and you don't really know what's going to happen next with an American skier.

River Radamus celebrates with his teammates after Tommy Ford won his first World Cup race last year in Beaver Creek, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

OC: What made you all bond during these challenging times?

RR: I think the world feels a little bit more close together right now, just because everybody has to find a way through the same thing right now. Everybody is struggling, everybody is hurting. The national team has done a really good job there. You know, they're finding ways still help us fulfil our dreams here, you know, be able to come to Europe and complete a full World Cup season. So we're very grateful. And I think they have done a tremendous job of making sure that we're provided for and making sure that we can make a lot with little.

I think we feel united right now. And we also feel an obligation given how hard the organisation has worked for us to return the favour, you know, and pay back in kind of performance this year. We really want to do the team proud, especially in such a tough year.

OC: US Ski and Snowboard team launched a campaign to support the dreams of their athletes through the 'Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund'. What's resiliency for you?

RR: I would say the last few years have been resiliency for me. You know, I came into racing World Cup with maybe too high of expectations. I thought it was going to be easy after having success at junior levels. That's never true, of course. And I've been kicked in the teeth a couple of times now. It's required almost, you know, unless you're Henrik Kristoffersen or someone... But everyone takes their lumps, everybody has bad days and has levels that they need to learn from and progress through again.

For me, these last few years have been just about learning to love that process and to make sure that I keep my love for the sport even when the success doesn't come. And being able to separate enjoying success and enjoying skiing because they're two very different things. You can't judge yourself on how you did compared to someone else because maybe it was their day. You can only judge yourself on how you executed compared to your expectations and if you did everything you could to prepare. That's been a very big learning process for me. And I'm still here fighting.

OC: What does Mikaela Shiffrin represent for you and your team?

RR: She's absolutely the star of our team. You know, she has performed greater than any female or male ski racer ever at her age. She is just a complete star and a hero, so we love and respect her as a team-mate. And we're trying to make sure that the men's team can help her carry the load, as it were. She's been carrying our podium load for a while, and we want to share the success with her.

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