Coaches Corner – Meet Alice Mckennis
Monthly interviews from our all-star female staff on their backgrounds and how they are empowering, inspiring, educating, and connecting girls in skiing.
Meet Alice Mckennis
Formerly coached by five-time Olympian Casey Puckett, Alice McKennis knows a thing or two about speed events. Her resume speaks for itself with a World Cup downhill win, multiple World Cup super G top 10’s, and a 20th in the World Cup DH standings as well as a spot on the 2010 Olympic Team during her rookie World Cup season.
After a March 2013 crash in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that shattered her right tibial plateau into about 30 pieces, McKennis came back strong in 2015 with eight finishes in the top 30 and three in the top 15. McKennis cemented her strong comeback from injury, finishing 13th on the same Kandahar piece she sustained injury in 2013, and capped the season with a strong 12th place finish at World Cup Finals in Meribel and her first U.S. Championship title, in super G at Sugarloaf, ME. In 2016, McKennis snagged four top 20 finishes, including a season-best 11th place finish at La Thuile. Keep an eye on this one—she’ll be gunning for the podium again in 2017.
McKennis grew up on a cattle ranch, but she lived close enough to the mountains for her future career path to make sense. Her father, Greg, took her to Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, CO before she had even turned two. She began racing at age five, following her older sister, Kendra, who later competed on the FIS (minor league) level for two seasons. When she was nine, McKennis joined Ski Club Vail, the club that was nurturing the all-around skills of Alpine star-in-the-making Lindsey Vonn. McKennis watched in awe and took some valuable mental notes as the U.S. Ski Team phenom, who was five years older than her, tore down the slopes. After several years of bouncing around different ski clubs in Colorado, McKennis landed with the Aspen Valley Ski Club.
OFF THE SNOW
McKennis was a competitive equestrian and competed in jumping, cross country riding and dressage until she was 15, hence her appreciation of country music. When she’s not skiing or riding, you can find her at the local fishing hole, ripping on her mountain bike or enjoying the view from a tent. Also, McKennis and her dad regularly float the Colorado as well as any other stream they can find with rapids.
Keely’s Camp: You are currently vying for a spot on the 2018 Alpine Olympic team and have already scored your best SG finish of your career this December in France. What is your everyday race routine and how do you handle so much pressure?
Alice McKennis: I focus on the things I can control and that keeps me relaxed and able to focus on the skiing. There are a lot of things about ski racing that can be stressful like the weather, course set, snow conditions, start numbers, other racers, qualification for events, but for the most part you cannot control any of that. What I can control is my preparation physically and mentally and by taking ownership of those things it has given me a lot of confidence that I am prepared for whatever the race day may bring. In the end it is the skiing that matters so I keep my focus on what I am working on in my skiing and that in itself brings the most enjoyment and fun for me!
KC: You have coached on and off for Keely’s Camp for the past couple of years. How has teaching your sport helped you become a better skier?
AM: Coaching has been hugely beneficial for me in my ski racing career. Most athletes at my level have a huge amount of ski racing knowledge, but not all are able to actually articulate and explain how to reach a certain feeling or sensation that can help you to be a better ski racer. Coaching has pushed me to dig deeper into what I know and explain it in various ways to young athletes, this in turn has helped me to understand ski racing and my skiing at a deeper level and helped me to understand how I can become better.
KC: Did you have a powerful female coach growing up? If so, tell us a story about how she impacted you.
AM: I had very few female coaches growing up, but one female coach that had a big impact on me was Anje Worrel. She coached me in my J3 (13-15yrs) years and she was the first coach that really looked me in the eye and told me she believed in me. That was so impactful for me at that age, to have someone that really knew I could be great and helped me to believe I could be as well.
KC: We are always evolving and growing as athletes, that being said, what is the greatest lesson you have learned while racing on the World Cup Speed tour?
AM: Details. It’s all in the details. This took me a long time to figure out, but I eventually came to realize that it’s not just about the big technical things that I need to improve in my skiing, but little things that need improvement as well. From learning to be faster at starts, rolling my elbows in my tuck, continually trying to learn more about my equipment, taking ownership for my physical training, asking more of my coaches, and always striving to be a little bit better each day. The details all add up and can make a huge impact on your career and life.
KC: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your fifteen year old ski racing self?
AM: Whew! To be easier on myself! I was really hard on myself as a young racer, every time I had a bad race I would beat myself up so much. Thinking I sucked, I didn’t try hard enough, my mistakes were “stupid”, all the traps that are so easy to fall into if you let yourself. I would have told my younger self to be easier, and instead of being down to look at my mistakes and find a way to learn from them. Mistakes are not bad, mistakes are an opportunity to learn if you let yourself.
KC: In 2013 you won your first World Cup Downhill in St. Anton, Austria which is considered one of the hardest downhills on the women’s speed circuit. What technical and tactical advice would you give an aspiring young speed skier?
AM: Use your inspection! Especially in training! So many times I see young athletes (I still do it at times) that inspect with no focus and then they kick out of the gate and have no tactical plan on how to attack the course. Look at the snow, the terrain, where the shadows are, the delays, where you can release the ski and pick up speed, all the features that make up a speed course. If you don’t practice a good inspection in training how are you going to suddenly have the ability to develop a tactical plan when it comes to race day?
KC: What are you working on right now in your skiing? And what is your favorite drill?
AM: Staying “connected” and level. Connection in the transition is really critical for me, I have had a tendency to move lateral or “throw my feet out” in the transition which didn’t allow me to build strong pressure at the top of the turn. Keeping “connection” with the front of my boots and fighting to move forward has helped me gain stronger pressure from the top of the turn. Staying level is something I have been working on since I was probably about 8 and will have to work on forever! Hah. We all know how important it is to be level with your shoulders so that’s something I always have as part of my focus.
A drill I do almost daily is skiing with my ski poles across my hips to feel level and strong over the outside ski, then move my poles up and hold them across out in front of my chest to then feel level and strong through my shoulders and hands.
KC: What do you like to do in the off season to unwind from your sport?
AM: Mountain biking, camping, hiking, rafting, fishing, pretty much anything that gets me outdoors and enjoying nature. There are so many places to explore and appreciate in this world so I try to experience as much of it as I can while I can!
KC: Lastly, if you could put a unicorn horn on any animal what animal would it be and why?
AM: Horses! A true unicorn. Duh. Just the coolest. I always wanted a unicorn as a kid. Still do, there has gotta be one out there!