Competing against the best

  • By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 6, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

LAKE STEVENS — As a younger skier, Colby Granstrom was almost in awe of Olympic gold medalists and world champions Bode Miller and Ted Ligety, stars of the United States national ski team.

Now, a few years later, they are teammates.

Coming off a stellar 2010-11 season, which included a slalom victory at the U.S. Championships in April, the 20-year-old Granstrom — he turns 21 next month — is preparing for his first full season on the World Cup circuit. The coming winter months will find him racing at internationally renowned ski resorts like Kitzbuehel, Austria; Val d’Isere, France and St. Moritz, Switzerland, and in the company of Miller, Ligety and other top American skiers.

“(Miller and Ligety) were guys I looked up to,” said Granstrom, who lives in Lake Stevens. “Guys I watched as a fan and not as a peer.” And in his occasional pinch-me moments, he still wonders, “Am I really doing this? Is this really happening?”

Of course, in the next moment he remembers winning at the U.S. Championships and is reminded that, yes, he belongs.

“It’s going to be a busy schedule and a long winter,” said Granstrom, who will head to Europe in October to begin snow training. “But I’m looking forward to being on the tour. I have high expectations, but I also feel like I’ve backed that up by training real hard. And I’m looking forward to being on the World Cup and competing at the highest level.

“I’m on the upper tier now,” he said. “Slowly but surely, and hopefully, I’m working my way to the top.”

Granstrom started skiing with his parents at Stevens Pass when he was just 2. He was barely in school when he began winning races against older kids, and at age 12 he won two gold medals at the Whistler Cup in Whistler, B.C., against elite young skiers from around the world. Four years later he was named to the U.S. national development team in his first year of eligibility.

Last season he divided his schedule between Europe and North America, and with mixed results. But he finished with a flourish, skiing well at Whistler’s Nor-Am Cup in March and then posting three top-12 finishes at the U.S. Championships at Winter Park, Colo., highlighted by his title in the slalom.

That victory, he said, “was one of the more special moments in my career.”

The U.S. national team is divided into four levels — A, B, C, and D or development. After spending 2010-11 on the C team, Granstrom was promoted to the B team, which guarantees him a full slate of World Cup events this season.

In skiing, Granstrom said, there is no greater experience than the World Cup. Contested mostly in Europe, the events draw large, knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowds, like the gathering of some 60,000 spectators that showed up for a nighttime slalom race in Schladming, Austria.

“I’d never been part of an event of that magnitude,” said Granstrom, who admits being a bit wide-eyed that night. “The whole (World Cup) experience by itself was a new thing to me, and it was a great experience.

“It’s pretty incredible how big skiing is in Europe, and how many people know the stars and know the Americans,” he said.

Granstrom will be one of the younger skiers on this season’s World Cup, so there is plenty yet to learn. He is still improving as a skier, of course, but he is also learning about money, which comes primarily from sponsorship contracts. He has three so far, and that number will increase — not to mention the dollar values of those contracts — as he continues to progress.

“To make my money,” he said with a smile, “I have to ski fast.”

In his early years on the national team, he went on, “it was about skiing and training for me. It was just so pure. I didn’t have to focus on contracts or (media) or fans or any of that stuff. But now that’s all part of it, though it’s also kind of how you keep your dream alive.”

And for Granstrom the dream is a chance to excel on the World Cup and then, perhaps someday, to stand on a podium and receive an Olympic medal.

“I definitely feel confident that I have a good chance of getting there,” he said. “(An Olympic medal) has always been my dream, and I see that possibility getting closer every year. I don’t know when it will happen or if it will happen, but it’s what keeps me training at a high level.”

Being a professional skier means a lot of travel because every race is on the road. For all the time Granstrom spends on the slopes, he spends almost as much time in airports, on planes, or checking into or out of hotels.

“It’s tough living out of a suitcase, and it’s tough always being in a rush as you go from place to place with the long flights and the time changes,” he said. “But at the same time, this is what I figured out I wanted to do when I was 17. I love it, and it’s not just the skiing. It’s the lifestyle, too.

“There’ll be a time (in the future)to be home and have a normal life, a normal job and be a normal guy. But right now I’m definitely where I want to be.”

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