Alice McKennis, born in Glenwood Springs and raised on a ranch near New Castle, returned with a vengeance to the World Cup circuit Tuesday, finishing fourth in a downhill training run at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
McKennis, like her more renowned American teammate Lindsey Vonn, is returning from a devastating injury in 2013 that derailed most of her 2013-14 Winter Olympic season. She seemed somewhat blown away by the speed she carried Tuesday in training ahead of World Cup action this weekend.
“I didn’t really believe my run,” McKennis said. “I’m still not really sure that was my time or not. It was pretty shocking and I think I had more emotions than most of the other racers out here. For race day, I just need to keep the same focus and be relaxed—just enjoy it and have fun out there.”
McKennis, 25, first fractured her left tibial plateau in 2011 but fought her way back to win her first and only World Cup downhill at St. Anton in early 2013. Later that season she fractured her right tibial plateau in a crash at a World Cup race at Garmisch.
“It’s been so much work to get here and it’s taken me so long to get to this point where I’m back on the World Cup,” McKennis said after Tuesday’s remarkable run. “It’s definitely a little emotional for me. I was nervous in the start — you’re always nervous the first training run of the year — and doubly for me because I hadn’t done it in a long time. I was feeling it in the start.”
McKennis grew up first skiing tiny Ski Sunlight near Glenwood Springs and trained for a time with the older Vonn at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail before later winding up with the Aspen Valley Ski Club.
Vail’s Vonn was also back in action training at her favorite venue Tuesday, cruising to 18th in training.
Vonn, 30, is also on a long and arduous comeback trail after a crash and knee injury at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, in February of 2013. Her bid to return to action for the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year came up short when she reinjured her knee and tried to race without an ACL at Lake Louise last year, pulling off a miraculous 5th-place finish.
Ultimately, though, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion pulled the plug on her season and opted for a second surgery in January.
“I just have more confidence than last year,” Vonn said Tuesday after her training run. “I don’t really feel like the underdog; I feel like I’m just doing my best to have good runs and progress every day. I haven’t had a lot of training, so I’m using these training runs to try and work my way back into it. I feel confident. I hope to be on the podium, but I have to see how I stand.”
Vonn has won a record 14 times in the speed events (downhill and super-G) at Lake Louise, which some have dubbed “Lake Lindsey.” That total represents nearly 9 percent of her American record 59 career World Cup wins. She’s just four wins shy of surpassing Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proell’s all-time career victory mark of 62.
“I feel very strong, on par with my top years,” Vonn said Tuesday. “The difference is that I’ve obviously had two surgeries. I’m wearing a brace; things are different. I just have to trust my body at this point.
“I’m more aware of what’s going on in terms of the snow conditions and in training. If the snow isn’t good, I won’t run the course. I’m not taking excess risk. I’m going to save it all for the races and take it easier when training.”
The women race downhills on Friday and Saturday, followed by a super-G on Sunday. The men, including Aspen’s Wiley Maple, will be in Beaver Creek for the Birds of Prey downhill on Friday, followed by a super-G on Saturday and a giant slalom on Sunday.
Aspen’s Wiley Maple was 29th in downhill training at Beaver Creek on Tuesday.
Vonn, a two-time World Championships gold medalist in 2009, is hoping to be back in top form for the 2015 World Championships at Beaver Creek Feb. 2-15. One of Vonn’s World Cup wins came in a makeup super-G race on the men’s course at Beaver Creek in 2011.
Vonn said her giant slalom skiing is in surprisingly good shape after early-season training at Copper Mountain.
“I’m surprised about my GS skiing,” Vonn said. “I thought it would take longer to come back, but I was skiing GS really, really fast in Copper. I was teetering on the border of racing in Aspen, but I needed to really focus on speed because we didn’t get much training as we hoped because there was so much snow in Colorado.”
Aspen staged a women’s World Cup last weekend, with Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin finishing 6th and 5th respectively in GS and slalom races.