U.S. Skiers Finding Comfort Level in Europe

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March 10, 2005

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Bode Miller stays in an RV. Daron Rahlves has his rock star bus. Lindsey Kildow and traveling pal Resi Stiegler have been known to gain the attention of European police for their high-speed escapades on the autobahn.

When they're not moving around, the Americans relax at their in-season apartments in Austria.

After years of traipsing around the Alps en masse from one hotel to another, the U.S. ski team has established a new comfort level in Europe by giving its members more freedom and a permanent place to go between events.

``We've tried to make them feel more at home in Europe,'' men's coach Phil McNichol said. ``We've allowed and facilitated more of them to have their own vehicles. All of a sudden you start to have more freedom, you can start to do things, more than 'OK, on the bus, out of the bus, into the hotel, onto the race hill.'

``At the end of the day it really makes it much easier to enjoy yourself and move around and be comfortable in Europe.''

For years, U.S. skiers grew so tired of traveling around Europe that they quit skiing far before the sport's average retirement age.

``Between 1989 and 1999, the average departure age was 25 on the men's side,'' McNichol said of the U.S. team, adding that the average age for the world's top skiers is 28.

Tommy Moe, the 1994 Olympic downhill gold medalist, and A.J. Kitt are prominent American skiers who retired while still competitive. Moe was 28 when he quit, Kitt was 29.

Twins Phil and Steve Mahre both retired at 26.

The 27-year-old Miller is attempting this week to become the first American man since Phil Mahre in 1983 to win the overall World Cup title. The six-month season concludes Sunday.

The U.S. team should have its best result in the overall Nation's Cup standings _ which include men and women _ by placing second behind Austria.

``Retaining our athletes has really helped,'' said McNichol, who's done extensive research into alternative ways of improving the team. ``Guys were not well acclimated to Europe and therefore it was hard to be over here, being homesick.''

Miller began using an RV last season, bringing over his friend Jake Sereno to drive the vehicle around and cook for him.

``I don't mind traveling so much, but I don't like the lifestyle,'' Miller said.

While Sereno navigates the RV over mountain passes, Miller zips around in his personalized red sports car, which has his name printed on the fenders next to an American flag decal.

Rahlves has the same setup as Miller, only his sports car is gray. He also has a driver for his bus, provided by an Austrian sponsor.

``(Hannes) comes with the package,'' Rahlves said of his driver. ``He keeps it clean. Always asks if I need something. He'll go shopping for me.

``I really liked (Bode's) setup, but it was a little too confined. (Mine) is a little extravagant. I laugh when I walk in there, but if you're going to do something, it's good to go all the way.''

Kildow, 20, joined the World Cup elite this season. She has her own car in Europe _ without her name on the side.

``I'm not that cool yet. I want my name on the side, though,'' she said. ``Next year, maybe. I'm labeled a reckless driver because I'm too fast; at least that's what the coaches say.''

Kildow has embraced the European experience more than most Americans. She is studying German and is close friends with German skier Maria Riesch. Kildow has visited Riesch's home and Riesch traveled to Minnesota to see Kildow last summer.

When she has nowhere else to go in Europe, Kildow relaxes at the women's team apartments in Kirchberg, Austria, near Kitzbuehel.

``It's really important. Being over here for soooo long, you need a place where you can say, 'I'm going to go to my favorite restaurant, I'm going to sleep a long time in a comfortabble bed I'm used to,' `` Kildow said. ``It's so much more relaxing and you feel like you're not away from something and you have something to go back to.''

Julia Mancuso, 20, won two bronze medals at the world championships last month. She has an apartment near Salzburg.

``I like going to eat dinner at my friend's house and I love having a car because I always have the freedom to do that,'' said Mancuso. ``It's nice to have a place where I can spread out and put my stuff everywhere.

Miller and teammate Erik Schlopy founded the men's base in Patsch, Austria, outside Innsbruck.

``It's a little apartment house,'' McNichol said. ``We have guys coming and going. Right now our technical team is there. We train in the Innsbruck area.

``It's been a great program. However, when you really think about it, if I spend 10 days in Patsch all season, I'm lucky. There's just not a lot of free time.''

AP Sports Writer Erica Bulman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press