For Colorado couple, years of Olympic work come to a speedy end

JEONGSEONG, South Korea — The Olympic competitions ended here Thursday with two Vail Valley women, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, charging down the course in the alpine combined.

For Geoff "Salty" and Allison Kohn Marriner, of Eagle, it was a 27-month journey to get to the finish line.

Geoff Marriner arrived at Jeongseon Alpine Centre, in one of the most rural parts of South Korea, in November of 2015, to take a job as mountain operations manager.

The ski area was built from scratch expressly for the fastest skiers on Earth. The fastest skiers on Earth have responded with rave reviews.

"This slope today on the downhill track, the guys did an amazing job," said U.S. ski racer Bryce Bennett about Jeongseon, the venue for the Olympic speed events, after downhill training Feb. 8. "I know they've been here for months working their tails off, and it turned out perfect. That was one of the funner runs of downhill I've had. … They have the skills — all the guys in the cats and on the snowmaking crews. They know exactly what they're doing, and they showed that."

Much of that credit goes to Tom Johnston, the Wyoming cowboy who serves as chief of race here and also at the Birds of Prey races at Beaver Creek, as well as Olympic races at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Sochi in 2014.

But Geoff Marriner — who oversees snowmaking, grooming, lifts and ski patrol — helped build the foundation for Johnston to sculpt this gem of a race course.

So did Allison Kohn Marriner, who is one of the winch cat operators who prepared the track. She has spent the last three winters at Jeongseon.

"It's been awesome," Geoff Marriner said. "Everyone's been super stoked on the preparation."

It's not easy to get to — Jeongseon Alpine Centre is 45 minutes away from the nearest Olympic venue through a winding valley dotted with isolated homes. The entire ski area is not much more than Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey alone, along with three chairlifts and a newly built lodge and hotel at the bottom. The course starts at 4,495 feet in altitude, ends at 1,788 feet and is 1.78 miles long.

It shares common DNA with Beaver Creek. Bernhard Russi, the two-time Olympic downhill medalist who designed Birds of Prey, also designed this course. And Johnston brings his same masterful touch to this course as he does in Beaver Creek.

The Beaver Creek connection extends to the Marriners.

Geoff Marriner spent 18 years in different stints at Beaver Creek. He served in the grooming department as shift supervisor and assistant manager. In the summers, he worked on the preparation for the 2015 World Championships, helping construct the women's Raptor course.

As a winch cat driver, Allison Kohn Marriner has helped build the tracks for Birds of Prey World Cups and the World Championships.

They are both graduates of the Colorado Mountain College-Leadville Ski Area Operations program.

After 2015 World Championships, Geoff was promoted to running the whole grooming department. But he heard about the opportunity in South Korea, applied and got the job.

When he arrived at Jeongseon in November 2015, there was little more than a couple offices at the base. The gondola wasn't done, and all the necessary snowmaking wasn't installed. There was some doubt whether the course would be ready for the first test event in 2016. But they got the work done in time, and results exceeded expectations.

"For the month and a half, two months leading up to test event, all the press in Europe was nothing but negative and bad, saying we were going to fail and it was going to suck," Geoff Marriner said. "Then when everyone showed up, we had a friggin' kick-ass course. It blew their minds."

The run-up to the Olympic races has been intense — the crews have been working 12-hour days during the Games. Geoff Marriner said he hasn't had a day off since late January.

The Marriners have been living in the nearby town of Jinbu, experiencing day-to-day life of South Korea — working to navigate everyday tasks that are a bit tougher in a foreign country, from supermarket visits to dentist's appointments.

The couple is actually not quite at the finish line yet — they'll get a short break, and then will be back to work, shaping the course for the Paralympics.

In March, they'll finally head home for some rest and relaxation, celebrating the success.

"Cigars and drinking manhattans on the back porch probably for a good week or so," Allison Kohn Marriner said.

With gold and silver, Mikaela Shiffrin savors the ‘incredibly sweet’ moment

JEONGSEON, South Korea — Mikaela Shiffrin had once hoped to win five gold medals at these Olympics.

A perfectly arranged schedule — her strongest events, the giant slalom and slalom, followed by speed events, with rest days spaced in between — made three or four or five medals look like a possibility.

But bad weather intervened, scrambling the schedule more and more. The women ended up racing three days in a row, followed by back-to-back races the following week — a grueling schedule for anyone seeking to race all of them.

She'll end up with a gold and a silver, and she's very happy with that outcome.

"To come away from this Olympics with two medals is insane, especially after the schedule changes," she said. "It was like someone was playing a game of ping-pong in my brain."

Lindsey Vonn is the greatest, but Shiffrin is the now and the future. At just 22 years old, Shiffrin already has more than half — 41 — of Vonn's record 81 World Cup wins.

On Thursday, Vonn, 33, made a desperate attempt to medal in likely her last Olympic race, the alpine combined. Holding the lead, she "risked everything" on her slalom run — a discipline in which she barely even trains — and missed a gate within seconds of leaving the start gate.

But it was Shiffrin, skiing conservatively in the downhill and then with supreme confidence in her strongest discipline, the slalom, who stood on the podium with a silver medal.

"It's incredible what she's able to accomplish," Vonn said. "She's so young, and she approaches ski racing much differently than pretty much anyone else. I think she had potential to do a lot more these games. But at the same time, same as me, you can't expect everything all the time."

Vonn will leave Pyeongchang with a bronze medal. She said she wanted gold, but, taken in perspective — she has battled back from five years of near-constant injuries — it was a victory to achieve that much.

"I'm usually not satisfied with the bronze," she said "But in this situation, I think I can be very happy with what I accomplished."

Shiffrin, 22, is pleased with her own journey to these Games, and is optimistic about what's ahead.

Four years ago in Sochi, she was a slalom specialist, winning gold in that event and not seen as a favorite in any other. This time around, she was an all-around threat, winning medals in the giant slalom and the alpine combined.

"Yeah, I talked about winning five golds," she said. "It was more just the idea of improving my skiing enough in all events that I could contend for multiple medals. So to be in this position now is incredibly sweet. Moving forward, I know what to do to get better."

Vonn — who won gold and bronze in Vancouver as a dominant skier at age 25, only to see her hopes to return four years later dashed by injuries — agreed that Shiffrin is capable of much more, but for now, it was time for Shiffrin to savor her success.

"I think she could ski for another 10 years and have a lot more medals and a lot more World Cups," Vonn said. "But as I saw in my career, things change quite quickly. You never know what's going to happen. That's why you appreciate every moment that you have."

Baited by a reporter to make another four-years-from-now medal prediction, Shiffrin didn't fall for it.

"Four years — it looks good, but anything can happen," she said.

Lindsey Vonn’s bronze medal is as sweet as her gold

JEONGSEON, South Korea — For Lindsey Vonn, bronze in 2018 is as bright as her gold in 2010.

Not better or worse, just different.

When she won her gold in Vancouver, she was 25 years old — young, healthy and with most of her success in front of her.

Since then, there have been a lot of ups and downs. Since 2013, especially, a lot of downs.

The devastating right knee injury at World Championships that ended her 2012-13 season.

The continuing problems with that knee, which squashed her comeback for the 2014 Olympics.

The multiple fractures in her left knee that cut her season short in 2016.

The 2016 right forearm injury that, for a time, left her with no feeling in her arm and forced her to duct tape her pole to her glove.

"When you're young, you just ski, and you win, and you don't appreciate things," she said.

This bronze is not gold, but it is fully appreciated. She didn't just ski and win. It was earned the hard way — with a full roster of doctors, months of physical therapy, hours upon hours of dryland training. She got a divorce and lost her grandfather.

"I was on top of the world then, and I still feel like I'm on top of the world right now, because I'm out here doing what I love to do," she said. "I just have a different understanding for life."

Since crashing out of the Lake Louise downhill season opener, coach Chris Knight and the rest of Vonn's team have been focused on just getting her to the Olympics in one piece — skipping several races due to injury or for rest.

"We definitely got her here at the Olympics in prime condition," he said.

Her sisters Karin and Laura spoke of the singular focus, not just over the past few months, but the last two years — even the last eight years.

"Every single meal she's eaten for the last two years is to build up to this moment," Karin said.

"Every gym workout," Laura said.

"Every single day," Karin said. "Every single thing she's done every day for the last eight years has been for this day and that two minutes."

She becomes the oldest Olympic alpine skiing medalist of all time. She's already the winningest female skier on the World Cup tour.

Gold medalist Sofia Goggia, the other big favorite in the race going into the race, seemed to think she was barely even worthy of trying to describe Vonn's stature.

"Really?" she asked reporters. "Are you asking me to commentate on the greatest skier? It speaks for herself. She has 140 podiums. Me, I have 20. She has 81 victories. I have four — five with this. She's unbelievable. She's the greatest.

Vonn had said she wanted to win the race for her grandfather, Don Kildow, who died in November. After she finished the race, she pointed to the sky.

"I won a bronze," she said. "I think he would still be proud of me."

Vonn was set to race again in the alpine combined on Thursday, but she admitted that she only has one day of slalom training since Christmas — it's too tough on her knees.

Her coach, Knight, said Vonn has an amazing ability to block out pain. Perhaps, after Wednesday's downhill, the pain had finally caught up with her. She kept saying her body hurts.

The more she talked Wednesday, the more she seemed to be saying goodbye to the Olympics. Since she had arrived at the Olympics, she repeatedly said this would "likely" or "probably" be her last Olympics. By the end of the day Wednesday, she had dropped those qualifiers.

"I love racing in the Olympics," she said. "I love racing. I love being in the starting gate with so much pressure you feel suffocated. But, somehow, you will yourself to give everything you have, and you throw yourself down the mountain in hopes of a medal. And I'm absolutely going to miss it.

"I wish I could keep skiing, you know," she continued. "I wish that my body didn't hurt as bad as it does. But I feel very lucky that I was able to ski my best today and I was able to get on a podium in my last Olympic downhill — that's something really special."

Lindsey Vonn takes bronze in Olympic downhill; Alice McKennis 5th

JEONGSEON, South Korea — Lindsey Vonn, competing in what will likely be her final Olympic downhill, won bronze Wednesday at the Jeongseon Alpine Center.

"It is so difficult to be on the podium in the Olympics, and I'm really proud to have another medal and to be on the podium with the next generation of the sport," she said.

Vonn got emotional in the finish area surrounded by her coaches and teammates, and again as she spoke to the press.

"I wish I could keep going," she said. "I wish this wasn't my last Olympics but it is, so I'm trying to accept that and deal with the emotions of that and enjoy the ride to the finish."

Vonn, 33, becomes the oldest female medalist in Olympic alpine skiing history.

She had wanted to win the race in honor of her grandfather, Alan Kildow, who passed away in November. She said Kildow had ignited the passion for ski racing in their family.

"I wanted desperately to win for him today and I didn't do that," she said.

Sofia Goggia, of Italy, took the gold by 0.09 seconds. Ragnhild Mowinckel, of Norway, got the silver.

Vonn said she skied a clean run, executing the exact line that she wanted to. But it wasn't enough.

"Maybe I just was a little bit too clean," she said. "A little bit too precise with the line. Maybe I should have let the skis run a little bit more."

Alice McKennis, of New Castle, finished in fifth place, her best result since winning a World Cup downhill in 2013 at St. Anton in Austria.

"I'm happy with my run," she said on Wednesday. "I wanted to ski for myself and ski my run, and I'm really proud of the way I performed. It's such an intense situation and such a big day."

McKennis suffered a left tibial plateau fracture in 2011, then shattered her right tibial plateau into 30 pieces in 2013 in a devastating injury during a downhill at Garmisch in Germany. Doctors put 11 screws and a metal plate in her leg, and she has an 11-inch scar that she nicknamed "The Shark."

"It's been a journey since then, a lot of ups and downs and injuries even since my knee injury, so it's amazing," she said. "Having made it back to even the Olympics and to do well on the downhill is incredible."

Vonn is the winningest all-time World Cup skier on the women's circuit, with 81 victories. The Vail resident failed to medal in Saturday's super-G, finishing in a tie for sixth.

She'll have one more Olympic race, the alpine combined, set for Thursday (Wednesday night Colorado time). Vonn said she's trained one day of slalom since Dec. 22.

"I'm better off relying on my muscle memory from way back in the day when I used to win slaloms than try to train and potentially make my knees sore and just expel unnecessary energy," she said.

Vonn won the gold in the downhill and the bronze in the super-G in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but missed 2014 in Sochi due to a right knee injury. She injured the same knee in a devastating crash in 2013, with compete tears to her ACL and MCL as well as a fractured tibial plateau.

Since Sochi, Vonn has suffered:

• Multiple fractures to her left knee that caused her to cut short her 2015-16 World Cup season.

• A severely fractured right arm in a training crash at Copper Mountain in 2016.

• A back injury after the super-G on Dec. 9, which forced her to skip the next day's race.

Familiar face helps Aspen skiers tackle Olympic halfpipe

BONGPYEONG, South Korea — Elana Chase met both Torin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira when they were about 8 years old, when she was a coach as Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Ferreira was a impeccably polite boy who walked up and introduced himself. The kid couldn't get enough of the trampoline.

She met Yater-Wallace on a chairlift. He was already a confident free-rider who "skied with purpose." When she pictures Yater-Wallace as a kid, she pictures him with a cast on his hand — it seemed like he was always breaking something.

The common denominator was that they loved to ski. And they always showed up to training — for park, for powder, for whatever — because they loved to ski.

"They showed up and showed up and showed up," said Chase, who now lives in Vail and is director of the freeski program at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

That work ethic continues 15 years later, as Yater-Wallace and Ferreira are competing together at the Olympics — Yater-Wallace's second and Ferreira's first.

Chase remains their coach, and she is here at the Olympics, at the top of the pipe for the competitions, to provide support to the young men, who are both favorites to medal.

"She's the person that I find gives me the best advice and knows me well because we've worked so long together," Yater-Wallace said. "Where, say, somebody else, maybe a coach, comes up to you to try and give you advice, she kind of knows the way I work where I go up to her to get advice."

With Aaron Blunck (who attended Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy and was previously coached by Chase), Ferreira and Yater-Wallace going 1-2-3 in Tuesday's qualifying, Chase's coaching fingerprints are all over this ski halfpipe competition.

Chase works in concert with the coaches on the U.S. team.

"She's obviously an amazing coach. She obviously is good at what she does and those guys see something special and get get good results with her," said U.S. Ski Team halfpipe coach Ben Verge, adding that they let Yater-Wallace and Ferreira "drive that ship and do what works best for them."

Chase has been coaching Yater-Wallace for so long, he struggled to even recall the number of years. Yater-Wallace noted that the U.S. Ski Team has its own coaches and camps, but having the familiar presence of Chase adds an element of familiarity.

"Just having that person that you've been sitting with your whole life," he said. "It's a little bit of a safe zone."

Chase, who grew up in Connecticut and Vermont, now has nearly 20 years of coaching experience at Okemo Mountain School, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. A former alpine skier at Montana State and moguls competitor with the U.S. Freestyle Development Team, Chase perhaps doesn't fit the mold of a freeski role model for young kids.

"I don't look freeski," she said. "I don't look the part, at all."

But the kids who look past those superficialities tend to be the most coachable and the best fit for Chase.

"The kids I work with generally just want to get better," she said. "If you've got the information and the goods, they're going to take it."

Ferreira is one of those kids. Chase calls him a voracious listener and reader, sucking in all the information that makes him a better skier and person.

In the last 10 months, Ferreira has been on fire, with wins at Tignes, France; Cardrona, New Zealand; and Dew Tour in Breckenridge. He has landed on the podium at X Games in Aspen, Mammoth and Snowmass.

"He's a really fun and easy going guy, but he's very calculated in the way he's approached the last 12 months," she said. "Every minute of the day he know what he's doing. It's all focus."

Yater-Wallace failed to qualify for finals in Sochi, struggling with a collapsed lung and broken ribs. In 2015, he nearly died due to a rare bacterial infection, spending 10 days in a medically induced coma, but was able to come back and win Oslo X Games two months after being released from the hospital. His personal and professional challenges were recently documented in the film "Back to Life."

Chase sees Yater-Wallace as a steely competitor who can look inside himself and bring out the best performances.

"I think what sets him apart and why all the competitors respect him is just how incredibly good he is under pressure," she said. "How he's able to continually pull out performances year after year after year with adversities, or coming back from injuries, or whatever's going on."

Fifteen years after she met them, Chase will be at the top of the halfpipe on Wednesday helping Yater-Wallace and Ferreira reach their dreams of an Olympic medal.

No matter what happens, she won't linger here at the Olympics, the pinnacle of the sport. By Saturday, she aims to be back in Vail, coaching her freeski kids, who are as young as 12, at the beginning of the journey.

"It helps you tell the story to the next kid and get them stoked," she said.