Just as Ted Ligety was about to soar over the edge of a colossal cliff, his ski hit a rock jutting out of the snow.
Not enough to knock him down, yet enough to throw him off balance as he went over the side.
What happened next, well, the camera attached to Ligety’s helmet captured the stylishness of his spill: The three-time World Cup giant slalom champion frantically waving his arms in midair as he plummeted over the cliff.
The thud into the powdery snow below. The tips of his skis popping in and out of the video frame as he somersaulted down the slope.
Finally, a gloved hand wiping the snow from the lens after he came to a rest at the feet of his friends.
Nothing hurt, though. Nothing bruised, either, and especially not his ego. See, this was a wipeout he was quite proud of, even posting it on YouTube.
“A pretty funny fall,” he said.
This spring, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist has taken his skiing to new heights and extremes.
He spent a few weeks in the mountains of Alaska filming footage for the latest Warren Miller ski movie. Time and again, he was dropped into unfamiliar terrain by a helicopter, skiing around and over obstacles, including cliffs with 40-foot drops. There was no chance to inspect a run, something Ligety would typically do before a World Cup race.
That led to a feeling he rarely experiences on skis — angst.
“It was definitely scary and outside my normal comfortable zone,” Ligety said. “But it was a really cool. I hope the film turns out well. This was definitely off the beaten path from what I normally do.”
But now it’s back to the task at hand: Growing more accustomed to new giant slalom skis in light of changes set forth by the governing body of the sport and trying to win back his giant slalom title after Marcel Hirscher of Austria ended his two-year reign.
Ligety is getting an early jump, too, training last week at Mammoth Mountain in California.
The biggest challenge at the moment is dialing in those new GS skis. To make the discipline safer, the International Ski Federation altered the hourglass shape of the skis, much to the disapproval of Ligety.
But he’s putting his beef on the back burner.
Like it or not, the new rule is just that — the new rule.
Frankly, the alterations actually could benefit skiers such as Ligety and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, bigger guys who can generate more pressure on the skis.
Hirscher turned in quite a season in the giant slalom, compiling 705 points — the most in the discipline since Michael Von Gruenigen of Switzerland amassed 738 in 1996.
“Marcel had a truly unbelievable year, and I think that’s going to be hard to repeat,” the 27-year-old Ligety said. “I might be projecting this a little bit, but I think (the new skis) are going to be difficult for guys like Hirscher who use a lot of the punch out of the turn and get kind of light in between the transitions and skate part of the turn. You’re not going to have the side-cut and springiness like before.
“In a lot of ways, the skis help me.”
So does this: Squeezing in as many runs on them as possible between now and the start of the season, which is a scant five months away. That’s why he showed up at Mammoth, skiing in warm weather and on slushy snow — hey, it is May after all — that was piled high for them.
He had plenty of company, too, as a bunch of the U.S. Ski Team members slipped in some late spring training runs. Junior world champion Ryan Cochran-Siegle was in attendance and so was Steven Nyman, who’s returning to the slopes after missing last season with a torn Achilles.
On the women’s side, Stacey Cook, Leanne Smith, Mikaela Shiffrin and Laurenne Ross were among the skiers who tried out a course that was specially designed by speed coach Chip White.
The skiers had the mountain to themselves for nearly 2½ hours in the morning, on terrain groomed vertically to create ridges and waves in the surface.
This was important because it’s the way the slopes will look and feel at Schladming, Austria, for the world championships in February, and again at the site for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“We’re trying to simulate those situations to where we become better at it as a team,” said White, who was recently named the U.S. Ski Team’s top coach as well as the international Alpine coach of the year. “Hopefully, the results show because of it.”
White and his squad are coming off a sensational season in which the women won the downhill standings by a whopping 636 points over Austria. Not only that, but Lindsey Vonn recaptured the overall title and nearly reached the 2,000-point plateau, while Julia Mancuso finished in the top five.
“A tough act to follow,” White said. “We’re going to do everything we can to put pressure on the rest of the world, because we know they’re coming after us.”
As for Vonn, White thinks she could eclipse 2,000 points.
“Very achievable for someone of her caliber,” he said. “She’s proven she is No. 1 in the world and that there’s no doubt about it, either.”
Ligety is trying to get back to that level as well, where he’s No. 1 in the GS again — without a doubt.
“Marcel had an unreal season,” Ligety said. “It definitely gives me motivation.”