Super-G and Downhill
Winning the men’s 2020 World Cup super-G in Bormio, Italy
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, 16 athletes hailed from the state of Vermont, where the Green Mountains run up the middle of the second-least-populated state. Vermont-native Ryan Cochran-Siegle was among them, and if everything goes according to plan, he’ll be traveling to Asia once more to race in the Beijing Games.
Cochran-Siegle has a chance to put himself in the history books this year, but the name Cochran has been on the map since 1961 when his grandparents, Mickey and Ginny Cochran, constructed a rope tow on their property in Richmond, just outside of Burlington. Cochran’s Ski Area has survived as a family-run ski hill for 60 years, adding two more surface lifts and snowmaking in recent years. Their ingenuity paid off in a continuing lineage: Three of their children have represented the U.S. in the Olympics. Barbara Ann, Ryan’s mom, won a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and six grandchildren in the Cochran clan have made the U.S. Ski Team to date. Mickey credits it all to The Cochran Way; the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to work hard for a chance to excel in life.
Cochran-Siegle’s opportunity will come if he can clock nearly 100 mph in the downhill at Xiaohaituo Mountain, just outside of Beijing, as he tends to do on a speed track. With that, his childhood dream of winning a medal could be attainable. And while he’s earned his spot among the best racers in the world with his skiing, RCS, as he’s sometimes called, attributes a lot of his talent to his family’s legacy.
“Growing up, it seemed to me I had a normal childhood,” he says. “I’m just a Vermont kid, but I have family members who went to the Olympics and a mom who talked about winning [a gold medal]. It’s hard to grasp how monumental that is, but it’s a great example of why you should go out fighting, try your hardest, and reach for your dreams.”
In his mind, it was a privilege to grow up at Cochran’s because it developed his character and helped him become the skier he is today. Barbara Ann was an instructor at Cochran’s and brought Ryan with her to work. “When he was little, Ryan said, ‘Mom, come over to the racing trail because I want to show you something,’” recalls Barbara Ann. “There was a jump on a knoll, right next to the woods, and Ryan flew so high and far. I was glad that I didn’t know he was doing that, but I trusted that he was having a great time, loving what he was doing and gaining all these experiences.”
After a childhood spent skiing with his cousins and friends at Cochran’s, RCS grew interested in racing and attended Mt. Mansfield Academy in Stowe, Vt., where he was introduced to downhill racing at age 16. “You grow up and grow into skiing speed,” he says. “The surface we ski on feels more like ice than snow and we get comfortable skiing at speed on those surfaces. I like that limitless feeling of seeing how fast we can push it down the fall line.”
Aside from courage and natural talent, being a downhiller takes persistence and the willingness to learn. RCS speaks about racing with “we” statements and credits the older guys on the team or alumni with passing down wisdom. “Steven Nyman is still on our team and helps us see where we can push ourselves further,” says RCS. “Daron Rahlves is trying to get us back to being a fighting force as the American Downhillers. Everything Bode [Miller] shared was valuable, and Ted [Ligety] is inspiring with what he was able to do with his career.”
During his race commentary from the 2018 Olympics, it was Miller who foreshadowed Cochran-Siegle’s success, praising his talent and ability to compete at the highest level. Former teammate Ligety is also in RCS’ corner. “Ryan is the most hardworking and diligent athlete I know, always caring and selfless, while pushing you to be your best. He studies video for hours a day and raises everyone’s level in the gym and on the hill. He also has that rare ability to be on the podium in both tech and speed.”
Cochran’s career best came in Bormio, Italy in 2020, when he won the World Cup super-G, becoming the first U.S. man to win a super-G since Miller in 2006. “Bormio was outstanding,” says Barbara Ann. “The Val Gardena downhill for Ryan’s first podium (he placed 2nd) was amazing. Then he got hurt, and the bubble burst.”
In January of 2021, RCS crashed in the downhill at Kitzbühel on the infamous Hahnenkamm, careening through the safety nets and necessitating a transport off the hill by helicopter. “I’ve watched my crash tons of times and I know what mistakes I made that lead me to that injury, and now I will respect the hill where it demands,” he says.
“After his injury in Kitzbühel, he now approaches things in a unique way,” says Barbara Ann. “He said, ‘even though it was a broken neck, it was not the worst injury to recover from.’ He’s always looking at things in a positive way. That’s his biggest asset.”
After a spinal fusion to create more stability, RCS was back on snow for summer training, and back in the starting gate at Colo.’s Beaver Creek. He switched his equipment setup from Rossignol to Head, and with that contract gained Heinz Hämmerle, former technician for Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, and one of the most respected ski tuners on the World Cup circuit.
Going into an Olympic year, RCS’ mindset is not one of redemption, but respect. “Obviously I want to ski fast, but I want to appreciate being in the moment. Win or lose, it’s about being a part of that experience. When my equipment, my head, the game plan, the weather, and the snow are all in place, really good things can happen.” Sprinkle in some of the Cochran Way, and there might just be another Olympic medal to add to the family trophy room.