Ted Ligety Is “On” During the Off-season

What summer looks like for a World Cup and Olympic champion skier

“Mr. GS” can also point them downhill with a career record of four podiums and 15 top ten finishes in Super G. PHOTO: Cody Downard/U.S. Ski Team

At the World Cup level, ski racing is more than a sport. It’s a job. Granted, it’s a great job—if you overlook the pay—and one most skiers can only dream about. As with any profession, the athletes traveling with the White Circus require a unique skill set, one necessary to harness the forces of gravity, acceleration, and torque, all in an effort to beat their competition, often only by hundredths of a second. That pursuit takes preparation, passion, and lots of hard work to fortify the body and strengthen the mind—and this grueling schedule doesn’t end when the snow stops falling.

To gain an insider’s perspective, POWDER sat down with five-time World Cup Champion and two-time gold medal Olympian Ted Ligety during a break in his workout at The Center of Excellence, the USSA’s world-class training facility in Ligety’s native Park City, Utah. Already he is preparing for his first World Cup GS race is in Sölden, Austria, on October 23.

Ligety spends six days a week in the gym at the Center of Excellence in Park City. PHOTO: Sarah Brunson/USSA
Ligety spends six days a week in the gym at the Center of Excellence in Park City. PHOTOS: Sarah Brunson/USSA

Dave: What’s your typical off-season training week look like?

Ted: I generally work out six days a week. Usually, three hours a day in the gym, alternating days between lifting—focusing on lower body—and working on core strength and agility training. Additionally, I do a lot of my aerobic training mountain biking—depending on how I ride, two hours a day, six days a week. I’ll go on short, high-intensity rides, like five-minute interval training, take an easier long-distance ride, or do a couple of 40-minute, moderately hard push-climb rides.

Given last season’s knee injury, are there any significant changes to your current off-season training?

Yes, I’ve really changed up a lot of my training this year. Partially because of the knee and partially because of some back issues I’ve been having the past couple of years—from training at a super-high intensity level 100 percent of the time. That, along with the new skis (2013 FIS design rule changes made GS skis harder to turn) caused the back issues. In the past, I was trying to get as much gain as quickly as I could. This summer, I wanted to train in a way that helped alleviate some of the weight and stress on the spine.

What are some of the changes you made?

My physical trainer is Per Lundstrom, who was also a U.S. Ski Team coach. He understands ski racing and the stresses put on the racer. He’s super creative and comes up with a lot of different exercises for my knee and back. We’ve also been doing PRI [Postural Restoration] exercises working the little muscles inside the core, the stabilizers that help support the back area, and improved my spinal mobility and thoracic strength. This approach has lowered the intensity but increased the efficiency of my workouts.

Cross-training is key for Ligety, who plays basketball, soccer, and mountain bikes to stay in shape. PHOTO: Jonathan Selkowitz/U.S. Ski Team
Cross-training is key for Ligety, who includes basketball, soccer, and mountain biking to stay in shape. PHOTOS: Jonathan Selkowitz

Cross-training can benefit an athlete’s primary sport. Are there other sports you use to help keep your skiing sharp?

I like mountain biking, mostly because it’s fun. But when riding downhill, the vision, thinking, and looking ahead is complementary to ski racing. Other cross-training sports that we use are basketball, volleyball, and tennis. But growing up in Park City, where the mountain biking is amazing, it’s hard not to go out there and ride these trails. I mountain-bike raced as a kid, from 9-13 years old. From an aerobics standpoint, it’s so much more fun than getting on a road bike or a stationary bike. It keeps you more motivated. In the middle of the winter, I’m looking forward to mountain biking. I have a big passion for it.

Is there anything you do to train the mental side and build confidence?

I think confidence comes from having good preparation, knowing you’re strong; knowing you’re skiing is in a good place, which comes from getting in a lot of miles. Working on various things like basic skills, your turns will get better. For me, knowing that I’ve done all the work necessary to be prepared is what builds confidence.

Do you ever take break from this intense schedule?

I took some vacation time with my wife. We went to Bali. I was hoping to get in some surfing but I wasn’t able to due to the knee recovery. I travel so much, it’s just nice to be home in Park City. I’m only here 60-70 days a year so just hanging out with family and friends is a break for me.

Any advice for us regular skiers on how to prep for the upcoming season?

Getting the core strong is really necessary and a big part of overall stability and strength. A strong core will help you through all your turns and keep you going longer throughout the day. Also, try to find exercises to get the legs strong enough to take all the forces in skiing. There’s nothing quit like skiing, so developing strength in the legs is important, whether that’s through lifting or running, doing plyos, or exercise classes. There are so many things you can do and varying degrees of seriousness. Just get out there and play other sports, whether it’s mountain biking or tennis, anything to get the body going is good.

Dave Brennan is a ski industry veteran who worked in product development, testing and marketing for several major equipment brands and currently is a technical advisor to USSA. Living and training in Park City, Utah, he’s an active Masters alpine racer with more than 35 podiums and multiple National Championships.