U.S. Ski Team’s Luke Winters is currently the most successful male American World Cup SL skier. Winters, a quiet man, is talented, but his success has come one step at a time.
This season Winters broke the U.S. men’s five-season slalom World Cup finals drought when in the last regular-season slalom, Winters finished seventh, earning him his first finals invitation. Previously, the most recent male U.S. athlete to qualify was the retired David Chodounsky in 2016.
Winters’ story begins in Portland, Oregon. Like many, the 25-year-old started skiing young at age three, with his first experience in the spring at the Summit in Government Camp on Mount Hood. However, as a kid, Winters loved other sports as well.
Winters says, “Baseball and football were the dominant sports in my schools, but I also enjoyed skiing. In my mind, all sports were on an equal playing field. When ski season was over, it was baseball season, then football, and I loved baseball and football just as much as skiing. I played multiple sports for seven or eight years, and it was great.”
Living near Mount Hood, it was surprising to hear that Winters doesn’t feel like he did more than a camp or two per season. He says, “I wouldn’t say I skied any more than anyone else in the country. Everyone came for at least one ski camp a year at Mount Hood. I remember driving from ski camp down to Portland, pitching in at a baseball game, then driving back up to Government Camp and skiing the next morning.”
When asked when he became a full-time skier, Winters responded, “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 at Sugar Bowl Academy, my sophomore year, I returned to my Portland school 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 came for the entire year. I am glad they did 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 Sugar Bowl Academy, Winters entered the U.S. Ski Team system as a member of the National Training Group for the 2015/16 season. It was an exciting change, but that season in January, he experienced an ACL injury that would take him off of snow until August.
Winters remarks, “I did my return to snow with Ted Ligety because we injured our knees on the same day. We both went to New Zealand for our back to snow. It was six months out from surgery, and we joined Jared Goldberg coming back from an Achilles injury. It was cool to do that with Ted. Then it was a few more years before I had success on the NorAm circuit.”
In the 2018 season, Winters finished third in the NorAm SL standings. During the following 2019 season, while splitting time between the World Cup and the NorAm series, he finished second in the NorAm SL standings and earned a full-time World Cup start position for 2020.
Things went well for Winters in his first complete World Cup season, scoring three top 30 results. However, there were plenty of struggles, and Winters knew he had speed, but he realized how much learning was to come.
Winters: “I think many people, after those reveling races, believed that I would go straight to the top. But watching my skiing, I could see issues, and I knew that it wouldn’t be that easy. I knew that I still needed to change things in my skiing to have speed consistently. I struggled for the remainder of that year. I didn’t score after the Adelboden race. I didn’t even qualify for a second run. At the end of the season, I asked myself what I needed to do. I was trying to change my skiing to be better for the 2021 season, but I never really found the rhythm.”
Winters’ best race during the 2021 season race came on warm snow in Chamonix. “When it’s rainy and salted, it is not that my skiing is any better, but I enjoy it. I grew up skiing in the rain three days a week, which helps. I think everyone else brings themselves down, and I can overcome that.”
When asked what he did to rise to a new level this season, Winters responded, “After the 2021 season, I sat down and wrote down things that I knew needed to change. I watched videos and picked out a few things in the top skier’s skiing that I didn’t see in mine. I met with the coaches and said this is what I will 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 everything right. Equipment is one of the essential things, and I also figured out some things in my setup that helped. Once I could ski freely and be athletic, the confidence took over, and I was consistently fast. Before this year, I would ski well one day and poorly the next. Now I am solid most days.”
Winters just completed his seventh season in the USST program. I asked him about his thoughts. “I think everybody’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 get the time on snow. I wanted the opportunities and the resources that the U.S. Ski Team provided. Also, having the U.S. Ski Team’s resources in the summer is a valuable asset. Spending time in Park City at the Center of Excellence proved valuable.”
When asked if he could see himself doing anything else, Winters responded, “No, I feel like I’m the closest I’ve been to my potential. I am top 30 now, my inner drive is strong, and I am motivated to step forward. So, no, I’m fully focused on skiing. I enjoy many other things in life. I do think about life after ski racing. I have experience in construction, and that interests me. But now I’m skiing because I love it.”
Yes, Winters is talented, but his success has come one step at a time.