Hailey Duke and Megan McJames never expected to be cut from the U.S. Ski Team last spring. At 27 and 25, respectively, both have top-15 World Cup finishes to their credit and have secured spots on the circuit for this coming season. It was an unpredicted turn, but the two women didn’t miss a step. They formed their own team: Independent Ski Racing.
Joining McJames and Duke on the squad are Katie Hartman and Lena Andrews. Hartman, 24, is an NCAA Division 1 All American and the current World University Games Super G champ. Andrews, 18, is the youngest, and was a US Ski Team invitee last season. She’s positioned near the top of her age rank in multiple disciplines.
Team manager Pat Andrews believes his squad has what it takes to be successful on the World Cup circuit. “This is a great group with so much potential,” he says. “The athletes’ focus and attention to every detail of their training is incredible.”
It's not the first time World Cup racers have attempted to go it alone. After years of feuding with U.S. Ski Team managment, Bode Miller left the Team after the 2007 World Cup season and formed his own one-man squad called Team America. He has since returned to the U.S. team.
Mr. Andrews knew he'd have to find experienced coaches motivated to take on such a task, and he's excited about head coach Helmut Krug and assistant coach Jonas Lind. "We knew we wanted coaches with both European and World Cup experience," he says. “Fortunately were able to sign them both.”
Krug, a 20-year World Cup coaching veteran, has worked with Austrian, German, and Swedish World Cup teams. Lind was former coach of Sweden’s junior national and World Cup teams.
"I believe in letting the athletes guide themselves," Krug says. "You get the feel for each racer and make the training fit. It’s all about doing the right thing at the right time.”
And the athletes’ motivation seems in sync with Krug’s philosophy. "I believe the customized program we’ve put together is going to allow me to build on my success to this point and achieve my ultimate goals,” says McJames. Duke agrees. "I set out on this journey to prove to myself that I can ski beyond my own expectations."
ISR is based out of Aspen, Colorado, where they've teamed up with the Aspen Valley Ski Club. "Aspen hosts the only U.S.-based World Cup tech event for women,” says Mr. Andrews. “They provide some of the best hills in the nation to train on—not to mention fantastic snowmaking.”
The team is currently training on Austria's Stubai Glacier in preparation for the World Cup opener in Sölden, Austria, at the end of October. And though the racing season has yet to begin, Mr. Andrews sees a future for maverick programs like ISR.
“We believe there will be more teams like this popping up in the future due to the financial constraints of the U.S. Ski Team. We are looking at ISR to be a long-term project.”
[Editor’s note: Independent Ski Racing is accepting donations through its fundraising wing, The Athlete Project. All funds go directly toward the team’s training, traveling, and racing expenses. The team would also like to thank its sponsors: Rossignol USA, Head USA, Fischer USA, Ski Racing Development, POC, Shred, and Swix.]