The Vail Valley has a long-standing reputation for being home to world-class ski resorts. Therefore, it is no surprise that generations of Olympians in the winter sports world have learned to ski and snowboard on the mountains of Vail and Beaver Creek. There are many gifted little rippers, but only a select few of them are able to go on to become Olympic medalists. So what’s the secret to producing so many champions from the Vail Valley over the years?
It takes more than raw talent to thrive as a top athlete - it also takes drive, passion, and plenty of discipline. A robust local culture in the area that is heavily based on winter recreation is bound to have the effect of creating an environment that excites passionate skiers and snowboarders from a very young age. Many kids who grow up in Eagle County are lucky enough to start on the slopes early, with plenty of opportunities for practice. Additionally, the close partnerships between schools and ski clubs in the area have allowed student athletes the flexibility needed to flourish in both their education and their sport.
The Vail Valley is fortunate to have top training facilities and a strong community support system for those who want to compete. The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy allows serious athletes to balance their athletic training without sacrificing their schooling. Rigorous scheduling platforms enable students to competitively train most days of the week. The VSSA works closely together with the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, whose competition programming has produced numerous Olympic medalists over the years. Its alumni are some of the most well-known athletes of our time. Here is how they got their start growing up in Vail.
There’s a new GOAT in alpine skiing. In the first two months of 2023, Mikaela Shiffrin made history twice as an alpine skier. In January, she beat Lindsey Vonn’s record to become the all-time most successful female FIS Alpine Ski World Cup racer with 85 victories. In February, she had another incredible performance. After securing a gold medal in the giant slalom, she became the most decorated skier in modern Alpine ski racing with 14 World Championship medals, including seven gold medals. These are monumental milestones for the 27-year-old athlete and three-time Olympian from Vail, Colorado.
Skiing was a prominent part of Mikaela’s childhood and she fell in love with the sport early on. Starting at 3 years old, her parents strapped on tiny skis and plastic boots and took her to the slopes. Mikaela and her older brother spent the weekends with their parents, both former ski racers, on Vail Mountain. Her parents, Eileen and Jeff, focused on improving their kids’ skills and having fun as a family. Most importantly, they fostered a lifelong love for skiing in their children.
While her parents never meant to raise a ski racer, they knew that talent alone wouldn’t be enough - Mikaela had to find the passion and drive within herself. Luckily, she was hooked on skiing and had an intense focus on becoming the best in her sport. At 7 years old, already too advanced for ski school, Mikaela enrolled in Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. From there, her skills and speed soared.
Tess Johnson, a freestyle mogul Olympian and resident athlete at The Inn at Riverwalk, was also introduced to skiing at a young age. Born and raised in the Vail Valley, Tess had skis on her feet at age 2. From the moment she cruised down the bunny hill at Beaver Creek with her family, skiing had become her biggest passion in life.
Once she learned the basics, Tess joined the BEAVO, The Beaver Creek Development Team, a youth ski program that teaches snow skills to kids as young as five. To create a fun environment and a passion for skiing, BEAVO groups often take advantage of the kids’ activity zones in Beaver Creek. These areas are perfect for building confidence to learn new skills in a safe area. Hitting the small jumps throughout the run brought Tess the most joy in her ski days as a kid. Thinking she would be a slopestyle skier, she competed in and won many local competitions at just nine years old. Even with numerous wins under her belt, however, she was still too young to join the slopestyle team.
Tess’ mom found what she thought was the next best thing: a “Bumps and Jumps” clinic on Vail Mountain. The group spent the day lapping Chair 10 and hitting up Highline–a long, steep, black diamond mogul run. Tess describes it as “one of the gnarliest bump runs I’ve ever skied.” She fell in love with mogul skiing on that day.
Once she became a competitive skier, Tess transferred to the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy to balance both her education and world-class training with the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. At 14, she joined the U.S. Olympic ski team and is the youngest American freestyle athlete to ever medal in a World Championships.
Ski Like a Pro
Inspired by these local athletes to improve your game? Consider signing up for ski school with a professional instructor. Whether you want to try out your first day on skis, conquer the moguls on Highline like Tess Johnson, or learn to navigate gladed terrain at Beaver Creek, a lesson with a ski or snowboard instructor will help improve your skills and boost your confidence. Group and private lessons are offered at Vail and Beaver Creek Mountains for all ages and ability levels.
For kids who want to commit to a season of ski instruction, BEAVO is a multi-session ski and snowboard youth program offered through the Beaver Creek Ski & Snowboard School. The program provides non-competitive ski or snowboard instruction and mountain awareness while instilling a passion for the sport. Kids commit to the same group and instructor for eight sessions, offered on Saturdays or Sundays throughout the ski season. BEAVO sells out quickly before the start of the season, so signing up early is recommended.
Stay & Play Like the Valley Locals
The Inn at Riverwalk is the only independent hotel located in the heart of Edwards, Mikaela Shiffrin’s hometown. The Inn is far enough away from the bustle of the resort villages, but close enough for daily complimentary shuttles to Beaver Creek. Guests seeking an authentic mountain experience love the modern amenities, peaceful vibe, and exclusive discounts at local businesses that The Inn offers year-round. Take advantage of the vibrant restaurant scene just steps from The Inn’s front doors and the Eagle River running through its backyard. Unwind at the end of the day by stretching at the on-site fitness facility, soaking in the riverside hot tub, and relaxing into plush bedding.
Become the Best, or Simply Become Your Best
Skiing’s greatest stars have achieved success by committing to their sport and refusing to let a bad day on the mountain throw them off. Let them inspire you to work on your skills and stay another day. With The Inn’s Stay and Save Program, guests receive discounts when booking more than one consecutive night. See you on the slopes!