When he was younger, River Radamus always looked forward to this school field trip — attending the ski races in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Growing up in nearby Edwards, his class would routinely head to the course for the World Cup stop. Some of the 23-year-old racer’s fondest memories include watching Ted Ligety shine on the demanding Birds of Prey course and chasing Bode Miller around town for an autograph.
So of course doing well on this hill over the weekend, with neighbors, friends and family watching, would mean a great deal to Radamus. Because seeing all those elite racers in action year after year helped put him in motion to reach where he is today — an Olympic hopeful for the Beijing Games later this winter.
And of course this didn’t hurt, either: Both his parents happen to be decorated ski coaches.
“So I didn’t have much choice,” Radamus cracked.
He was only kidding, but his mom and dad did put him on skis when he was tiny so they could push him instead of carry him as they coached.
River — named to stand out — is brimming with confidence heading into Beaver Creek, which will hold super-G events on Thursday and Friday, along with downhill events Saturday and Sunday (the second downhill is a replacement for a race scrubbed last weekend in Lake Louise).
His resolve stems from a World Cup career-best sixth-place showing at the season-opening giant slalom in Sölden, Austria, on Oct. 24. Radamus certainly stood out that day — for his skiing, but also his hair dyed into a snow-leopard pattern. It was an ode to longtime ski racer Chad Fleischer, who once had that sort of look.
Radamus went with that look for a reason: “To remind myself it’s a game,” said Radamus, who made his World Cup debut in 2017 at Beaver Creek. “I can’t take myself too seriously.”
Now, he’s eager to add his own chapter to the storied history at Birds of Prey. It’s a race he not only watched as a kid, but he later assisted at the race by slipping the course. He also tested out Beaver Creek as a forerunner at the 2015 world championships.
His priority remains the giant slalom. To get faster, he’s spent time watching the best of the best and attempting to mimic what they do so well:
— From retired two-time Olympic champion Ligety, Radamus strives to emulate power and high-edge angle.
“That’s probably who I ski like the most right now,” said Radamus, a three-time Youth Olympic Winter Games gold medalist in 2016. “But I’m trying to sort of taper that back a little bit, just because I don’t want to become a bad impersonation of Ted. I want to become my own (racer).”
— From retired Austrian great Marcel Hirscher, he tries to incorporate an attack based approach.
“He would make mistakes but he would make such incredible recoveries and keep pushing and that’s why he was so fast in my eyes,” Radamus said. “Obviously, he was insanely strong. So that’s a piece I need to find to be able to ski like him.”
— From Mikaela Shiffrin, he hopes to replicate that perfectly flowing rhythm which has helped her win 71 World Cup races and two Olympic gold medals.
“So talented in how graceful she makes it look, and how easy she makes it look,” said Radamus, who grew up in the same area as Shiffrin. “I don’t ski like Mikaela, but I can take little pieces.
“I’m always trying to learn and grow.”
He’s also been working with a sports psychologist. It’s just a way to ensure his race days better reflect the work he’s putting in while training.
“I don’t have to be the strongest guy out there, or the most talented guy out there, as long as I believe that I am or I believe that I’m strong enough or talented enough,” Radamus said. “So when I stand in the starting gate, I just try to ask myself: Is this beyond my capabilities? And when I say, ‘No’ — because I’ve put in the work and I’ve done everything I need to prepare, and I’ve inspected a line that I know that I’m able to execute — it gives me so much confidence.
“It’s almost like I’ve released myself from the pressure.”
He feels no pressure this weekend in front of home fans. No pressure at the Beijing Games, either, should he be named to the roster. Just full speed ahead.
“You can live with a mistake as long as you know you were going for gold or going for glory,” Radamus said. “That’s a much better way to go out than straddling a gate because you’re nervous or anything like that. I’m going to try to approach it with that sort of freedom.”