Women's Alpine Speed Team Wraps Camp in Portillo
It’s been three years since the women’s speed team has traveled to longtime U.S. Ski & Snowboard training site nestled in the Andes, at Ski Portillo, Chile. Though snowfall in recent years has been a challenge, the women’s speed team were excited to travel back to the oldest ski area in South America. Two athletes in particular - Alice Mckennis (New Castle, Colo.) and Jackie Wiles (Portland, Ore.) - were looking forward to strapping on the downhill boards and getting back into speed action.
Due to a lack of snowfall that caused many ski areas surrounding northern Chile to close early, the men’s speed team relocated to La Parva, Chile and then further south to Nevados de Chillán, Chile. However, since Portillo upgraded their snowmaking system, head women’s alpine coach Chip White decided to give it a shot. And, “in hindsight,” White reflected, “we definitely made the right decision, and it was the perfect place for Alice McKennis and Jackie Wiles to do their return to gate training. The snow was clean, no rocks, and hard like winter snow.” Portillo did not disappoint.
Joining McKennis and Wiles in return to gate training was tech teammate Galena Wardle (Aspen, Colo.), and a healthy and stronger-than-ever Alice Merryweather (Hingham, Mass.) rounded out the squad. “We started out slowly with a skills and drills, then graduated to brush gates doing a GS progression,” White explained. “The progress was so positive and the return to training athletes felt so good we were able to graduate into limited full gates. The coaches and the new team physio, Torey Anderson, monitored the volume closely, and were able to put together a solid plan that allowed the group to exceed their expectations.
“With Alice (McKennis) and Jackie not skiing or training for such a long time this was extremely exciting for the athletes and staff,” White exclaimed. “With calculated rest days and limited volume to start, the ladies were chomping at the bit for more. This was extremely motivating for the staff, knowing that U.S. women’s speed was coming back! We had to hold them back a bit but that is what you want in true thoroughbreds. As the camp continued we were able to start running some super-G also with progression in mind, again we were all amazed as to how well the girls responded and did. Thanks to constant feedback from our new PT, Torey, the ladies were handling the load and progression well - so well in fact that by the end of the camp we had Alice and Jackie running short length super-G courses on downhill skis. This was a very uplifting camp for the Alice and Jackie’s return to training”
Although McKennis felt uncertain the first few days in brush gates, she quickly realized she was able to really try to send it and push hard in super-G/downhill the last few days of their two-week camp in Portillo. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the progress I made in Portillo!” McKennis reflected. “I truly feel like I have shot at this sport again and the ability to be successful, which was something I doubted for a long time.” The confidence both McKennis and Wiles gained in Portillo will allow them to push even harder and look for more speed in their second Chile camp, in Corralco, Chile in early-mid October.
“My body feels really good, better than I expected and I’m very grateful for that,” noted McKennis. “Getting to this point where you feel like you really have a chance again reminds me of how much work it took not only from myself by from so many of those around me - doctors, physical therapists, coaches, family and friends so I want to say thank you to them for all the support through this process. I’m not “there” yet but am confident by the time Lake Louise rolls around I’ll be feeling sassy, confident and ready to get sendy!”
Wiles, who tore her ACL, MCL, LCL, POL, lateral Meniscus, tib/fib joint, and broke her fibula with perennial nerve damage in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany prior to the Olympics in 2018, wrote on Instagram, "Finally back on DH skis 17 months later and starting to feel like a racer again! Thanks Ski Portillo for the incredible training!" It's natural for injured athletes to to have some uncertainty returning after such a long time away, but Wiles took it all in stride.
"Getting back on snow has been the most amazing feeling in the world," Wiles commented. "I had some uncertainty returning after such a long time away from the sport especially with a totally new reconstructed knee. Once I took my first run, immediately I was back in my happy place and all the hard word had paid off. I still have a couple markers to hit but I’m on my way to be back racing next season and I can’t wait!"
Additionally, White noted that Wardle is returning to snow and made great gains in slalom and giant slalom both, and Merryweather’s early season training has been nothing short of impressive. “One of the bright stars was Alice Merryweather’s constant drive to rise to the next level when she starts the WC season,” said White. “She’s stronger than ever and skiing very confident and fast. If Thin Lizzy were to write another song it might be titled ‘The Girls are Back in Town.’ We can’t wait for the return of Breezy Johnson (Jackson Hole, Wyo.) and Laurenne Ross (Bend, Ore.), when that happens, WATCH OUT, WORLD!”
Up next for the women’s speed team is a two-week training camp down in Corralco, Chile, followed by their final prep period camp at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain, Colorado in mid-late November before the FIS Ski World Cup speed opener at Lake Louise, Canada on December 6-8.