American alpine skier Bryce Bennett has seen the best results of his career in recent months, recording three top-five finishes in downhill since the start of the World Cup season. The 26-year-old is currently seventh in the downhill rankings and is expected to be an outside contender in the world championship downhill on Saturday in Are, Sweden.
“I think people are surprised because it seems like [the results] came out of nowhere, but for me, there was a huge process behind where I am now that’s hard to see. It’s actually impossible to see if you’re not living it,” Bennett said in a phone interview at the end of last month.
Bennett’s ‘process’ began in his hometown of Squaw Valley, California, the host of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games. The region has produced a long lineage of talented American skiers, including Julia Mancuso and Travis Ganong. Bennett’s mother worked at Alpine Meadows Resort and his dad was a telemark racer. He was skiing by age two and quickly joined the ski program at Squaw Valley.
“Ski racing is about taking steps. You start out at your club near your home. And then you race kids around your region in California – and then against [kids in] the western part of the United States, and then against all of the United States. And each level you step up, you have to start from the beginning and figure out how to be competitive at that higher level.”
That step-by-step process has continued on the World Cup circuit. The discipline of downhill, in particular, requires experience to find success. Athletes typically spend several seasons competing on the World Cup circuit before making their breakthrough. Lindsey Vonn, who has won more World Cup downhill races than anyone in history, made her downhill debut on November 29, 2001, but 26 months would pass until she reached her first downhill podium. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who is retiring after Saturday’s downhill, spent over three-and-a-half years on the World Cup circuit before recording a downhill podium finish. He’ll conclude his career with 32 – in addition to two Olympic medals in the discipline.
Bennett, who made his World Cup debut just over four years ago, says the experience he has gained the past few seasons has played a large role in his recent success. “In the past, I’d show up to a venue and the first training run would be very daunting… and now with more experience, [I’m] ready to go. You can attack or bring intensity to the first training run and refine it from there.”
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