Aspen local and ski team coach Ben Black returns to home base for World Cup races on Ajax
For longtime Aspen local and U.S. Ski Team coach Ben Black, this weekend’s Audi F.I.S. World Cup ski races at Aspen Mountain are a homecoming of sorts.
Black got his coaching start almost two decades ago at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and now works as an on-hill coach who helps with strength and conditioning for some of America’s fastest alpine racers.
Reporter Kaya Williams spoke with Black about this weekend’s men’s downhill and super-G races and the legacy of ski racing in Aspen.
The competition kicks off Friday with a downhill race scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. There’s another men’s downhill Saturday at 11 a.m. and a super-G on Sunday at 10 a.m.
Aspen Public Radio will live broadcast Friday’s races on 91.5FM/88.9FM and online at aspenpublicradio.org.
Kaya Williams: You've seen your fair share of World Cup races not only internationally, but here in Aspen. How does it feel to be kind of coming back to home base?
Ben Black: It's super exciting. I mean, we're all very fired up to be back here in Aspen, not just our team, not just the U.S. team, but I think the entirety of the field, all the nations. Everyone's been really looking forward to this event this year, so we're happy that it's back here, we're happy that it's just a kind of a regular season stop on the tour as well, not just a special event like World Cup Finals in 2017, but an actual normal season race here in Aspen. So we're very excited, very happy to be here.
Williams: Awesome. And how does this course compare to other courses that these athletes are skiing on throughout the season?
Black: I think the cool thing about this track is [that] it's got some definitely some technical challenges to it. The bottom section, especially from Aztec down, is quite challenging. It's got some good steep terrain, there's very high speed in that section. There's some good jumps, so I think it pulls from components of all the races we see throughout the entire year. [It has a] good gliding section on the top, and like I said, good, fast technical sections on the bottom. So it's got a little bit of everything, which I think the guys enjoy as well.
Williams: Now, I know this might be like having to choose your favorite kid. But are there any particular athletes from the U.S. team or just in general that we should be keeping an eye on at these races?
Black: I think all of our guys are in a good position here. Any time we get to race on home soil, in front of a home crowd, I think it brings the level of execution up for all these guys. They're all fired up to charge hard. Any of our guys at any given point can be in contention and be on the podium. A lot of our guys have had a lot of success throughout their careers in the last couple years in the World Cup circuit. And we're just hoping that they can all do well, and hopefully, one or two of them can find the podium as well.
Williams: How would you describe the Aspen community reception to these athletes? What's the overall community vibe this week?
Black: I'm gonna think it's been great. I mean, Aspen has such deep-seated roots in ski racing. Everyone is so excited for ski racing to be back in Aspen, and for us to be here. You know, some of the guys were telling me the other day, they went into the Big Wrap to grab lunch, and then everybody was so excited that those guys came in for lunch and recognized them, and were telling them “good luck” and supporting them. So it's cool. It's nice to be back on home soil and in a small hometown where everybody gets ski racing. Everybody understands ski racing. And everybody is extremely excited to be here as we are to be here as well.
Williams: What do you think that the legacy or the impact is of World Cup [racing] coming to Aspen again, after this long hiatus?
Black: I think it's great. I mean, so much of our season is so Eurocentric, everything happens in Central Europe, and we spent so much time over there. I think we're at a bit of a disadvantage because we're away from home for so much of the season. And the European nations, they've got this opportunity to go home on Sunday night and sleep in their own bed and maybe have their significant others or their parents cook them a nice warm meal before they have to get back on the road and go to their next venue to get set up for racing. And we just don't have that advantage.
We head over there in the middle of December or shortly after the Beaver Creek World Cup, and we post up in Europe and we are there for the entirety of the season. Occasionally we get to come home for a small break at Christmas. But other than that, it's a grind. It's living out of your suitcase. It's eating hotel food. It's spending a lot of time with your teammates, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing sometimes.
So I think for us to be back at home where we feel a little bit more at home and comfortable, and in our home timezone, it's a great experience for us. It kind of breaks up the monotony of the season of being in Europe for months on end. And just — yeah, it's nice to be home.