32 Degrees: Meet Alice McKennis
(This article appears in the Fall 2021 Issue of 32 Degrees; for other great stories you can read the full issue online.)
A former World Cup alpine racer specializing in downhill and Super-G, Alice McKennis likes to go fast. Her career took her around the globe, including the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Despite numerous injuries and setbacks, including a fracture to her left tibial plateau in 2011, she pushed through to win her first World Cup victory on January 13, 2013, at St. Anton, Austria.
In 2015, Alice participated in a PSIA training and certification event designed to help train members of the U.S. Ski team, where she earned her Alpine Level III certification. Now, Alice works as a ski coach for Ski Club Vail, a training program for young athletes.
Here, PSIA Alpine Team member Robin Barnes interviews Alice to get her perspective on skiing, training, and overcoming injuries to get back into the competition.
When did you know you wanted to be a professional athlete?
It must have been when I was 13 years old, watching the 2002 Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City. The idea of representing my country in an international competition was something I dreamed of from that point forward! Of course, at the time I had no idea what it would take, but the necessary steps became clearer to me as my career progressed.
What is the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Injuries. I experienced several significant injuries in my career. The most devastating was when I broke my tibia and fibula in 2018, just three months after placing fifth in the Olympic Downhill and finishing on the World Cup podium in Are, Sweden.
Before my injury, I felt I had a lot of momentum behind me, and this was at a time when I hadn’t had great results for a few years. I was really looking forward to the next season because I felt I could have been a contender for the World Cup Downhill title.
Unfortunately, the injury was quite complicated and required five surgeries. For a few months during my recovery, I was in incredible pain. Even walking was painful, and I seriously questioned whether I would ski again, let alone ski race. I’m incredibly proud to have worked past that injury with the correct treatment, and then to race competitively again on the World Cup circuit.
What is the coolest race you’ve ever skied? Why?
Competing in the Olympics is unlike any other race – it’s an intense feeling. The excitement to represent the U.S., knowing the country is supporting and believing in you, is incredibly powerful and inspiring. It was also special to accomplish my childhood goal of participating in the Olympics.
How did earning your Alpine Level III certification inform your skiing and/or learning?
The certification process helped me analyze my skiing and skills. I was “coached” my entire career, but I honestly hadn’t put much thought into the “why” of doing certain skills. Yes, I knew skills were critical, but previously I didn’t consider what the skills actually did with my skiing. Learning how to teach others helped me gain a better overall understanding of skiing.