U.S. downhiller Ganong retires, plans include even more skiing

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As a kid, American downhill racer Travis Ganong had an enchanting view of the mountains from his bedroom window.

So it’s really no surprise the snow-covered hills cast such a powerful spell over him. The mountains, his playground only steps from his home in Alpine Meadows, California, became the pathway for his passion. His ticket to travel the world. To wins. To medals. To finding his true love (he met his fiancée through skiing and tater tots).

Ganong announced Thursday his journey on ski racing’s World Cup carousel ends after this season.

Big plans await in retirement: More skiing. The mountains will still be his wonderland, just without a clock.

“I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do on the hill. It’s given me so much,” said the 34-year-old Ganong, who will compete in two downhill races this weekend in Aspen, Colorado – he’s skipping the super-G – and another at the World Cup Finals in Andorra later this month. “I’ve had so much fun.”

It didn’t matter if it was sledding or any version of skiing – backcountry, big-mountain, cross-country or racing – Ganong was always game. This was a kid who woke his parents up even in a blizzard to get to the slopes early. Or he would hike up a ridge near his house to get to the ski area.

PHOTOS: US downhiller Ganong retires, plans include even more skiing

“Whether he was skiing in it or shoveling it off the driveway, he just loved snow,” his father, Rick, said. “He revels in it.”

His father caught a glimpse of that talent when Ganong was just 10. They were skiing one day when Ganong decided to tackle a run filled with tree stumps and bumps. From below, they just watched in amazement.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow. Now that’s a skier,’” his father recalled.

For a racer who craved speed, Ganong took his time to get to the top. He was a tactician who honed one area before moving to the next. The thing that stood out – developed from exploring all around Palisades Tahoe – was what his coaches called his “magic feet.” It describes his deft touch on any surface of snow.

He made his World Cup debut in 2009 with a “DNF” – did not finish – during a downhill race at Lake Louise, Alberta. Since then, he’s appeared on six World Cup podiums, including two downhill wins (Santa Caterina, Italy, in 2014, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2017). He also earned a silver medal in the downhill at the 2015 world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

“His mountain skiing actually crossed over into downhill racing for him,” U.S. ski team men’s speed coach Scotty Veenis said. “All those skills that he acquired skiing in Palisades and what he learned there gave him that instinctual ability to be a great downhiller.”

There was a time early in his career where he was struggling and in danger of losing a spot on the team. A defining moment: Racing in New Zealand one offseason to solidify his spot. He won a super-G race and finished second in another.

For that turnaround, he credits a change of skis (he switched to Atomic) and a chance encounter that blossomed into love.

At a NorAm race – ski racing’s equivalent of the minor leagues – he met Canadian ski racer Marie-Michele Gagnon. Feeling confident that day – he had a good race – he struck up a conversation by asking for one of her tater tots.

It was the start of their long – and often long-distance – relationship.

Gagnon competed on the women’s circuit and he on the men’s side. When they were in the same vicinity (say, Europe) they would travel to each other’s races.

In the fall of 2021, on a foggy and raining hike in Switzerland, with the Matterhorn looming in the distance, he proposed.

She said yes.

Earlier this season, Gagnon, a two-time winner on the World Cup circuit, made the decision to retire. Ganong, though, remained on the fence. He was still skiing fast.

In November, at the races in Lake Louise, taking in the view of the peaks, he made a final decision.

“I was thinking, ‘I wish I had time to go explore them,’” said Ganong, who competed at two Winter Olympics, with his top finish a fifth-place downhill showing at the 2014 Sochi Games. “I knew right then that I really wanted to transition away from racing after this season. It actually gave me a unique opportunity to enjoy my last season.”

One final goal – earn a podium spot during the famed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He achieved it, too, taking third in the downhill on Jan. 21.

“I was so proud of him,” Gagnon said. “He was able to have his fairytale ending.”

Mom and dad were on cloud nine, too. They were flying to New Zealand and tracking the race through a live feed on the plane’s spotty internet.

“We just sat there smiling,” his father recounted. “We’ve had a fun ride with all of this.”

Ganong concluded his retirement statement on social media with, “Now let’s go skiing!”

It’s precisely what he plans to do. Ganong and Gagnon hope to take a camper van around this fall to ski the volcanoes in southern Chile.

“I’ve lived my dream all these years,” Ganong said. “I’m so fired up for the next chapter.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

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