America ... the place where dreams are made?

30 November 2009 23:00

Racing in the United States offers a different experience for World Cup racers. For better or for worse, ski racing is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in Europe, and while that may mean that racers don't get the celebrity treatment they're used to on most of the circuit, most find it to be a refreshing change.

"I love racing her because it's more relaxing," said Maria Riesch. "In Austria or in Europe, it's always that you have to fight to go out of the finish area. It's much more relaxed for us here. Also the training is very good. Every year I'm looking forward to coming here for training and racing."

In Aspen, where the crowd is small but enthusiastic, European stars like Tanja Poutianen, who are constantly recognized and asked for autographs on most of the World Cup stops, go virtually unnoticed.

"It's really relaxed here. I'm not so well-known here as I am in Europe, so for me, it's relaxing," Poutiainen said "People who come to watch are really into it. They want to see good skiing. They cheer for everybody."

Of course, for racers like Lindsey Vonn, racing in the United States, even if it comes with less attention than she's used to, has extra significance.

"In Europe, there's constantly people," she said. "They know who I am. I get stopped on the street. It's really difficult, actually, exiting from a World Cup race sometimes. In Bansko [Bulgaria] last year I felt afraid. I had five people surrounding me - body guards trying to protect me. We couldn't move. There were so many people grabbing at me, grabbing at my hat, grabbing at my clothes ... it was pretty scary. But that's not what normally happens. Normally I have one or two people helping me get through the crowd and normally we're fine. In the U.S. at the Aspen World Cup, there's not many people there, but at the same time, it's more my family and friends. That's really special."

The U.S. provides refuge to American racers subject to customs and demands that are a part of being a participant in one of Europe's most popular sports.

"Europe was a very intimidating experience for me at first," said American Stacey Cook. "The people there are very demanding. They don't say please and thank you for an autograph, they just shove a pen and paper into your face."

On the other hand, European racers struggle with the distance and cultural nuances that come with the annual trip to the U.S.

"It's a big travel up here. Fifty percent of the people here don't know there's a race on today," said Anja Paerson at Saturday's GS in Aspen. "That's the way it is out here. Alpine skiing is not a big sport. Also, we have problems with the food when we're in the U.S. It doesn't taste like anything. But in Aspen, I always go to one place here to eat pancakes. And, it may not be a big crowd, but it's noisy and a good atmosphere."

To some racers, the United States is still thought to be the land where dreams are made.

"For me, America is still the land of possibilities," says Swiss racer Andrea Dettling. "I feel like everything is possible for me here. In all aspects of life, especially on the ski hill. I really enjoy coming here, I like the country a lot. I like the people. They're all really friendly and relaxed."