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Women’s Speed in Switzerland

By Megan Harrod
September, 23 2021
Women's Speed Team
Keely Cashman and Bella Wright scope the fast line in Saas-Fee, with coach Karin Harjo. (Marc Amann - U.S. Ski Team)

The women’s alpine speed team would normally be heading to South America for their final Southern Hemisphere camp before making their way back up north to the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain, Colo. However, for the second year in a row, the women’s speed team is heading to the glaciers of Switzerland.

The crew, including Breezy Johnson, Bella Wright, Jackie Wiles, Keely Cashman, Mo Lebel, and Alice Merryweather—who suffered a heartbreaking season-ending injury—just wrapped a camp in Saas-Fee and will be heading back to Europe later this week for a camp in Zermatt. Two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion, Mikaela Shiffrin, also joined the crew for a couple of days on the longboards, skiing a productive mix of slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and downhill while in Saas-Fee. 

The days were full, complete with 4 am wake-up calls, busy morning commutes via tram+gondola+train+t-bar+snowmobile, sunrise inspection sessions, afternoon hikes to the Kneipp, and a visit to the cows of Saas-Fee, before an outdoor workout with a view. Rinse. Repeat. It was a mostly successful camp for the team. 

Olympian Jackie Wiles, who was injured prior to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, has been battling back from injuries and had a successful return to snow in Saas-Fee after having two surgeries, one on each knee, since March. Women’s speed team physical therapist Torey Anderson said, “we gradually increased volume over the two weeks and Jackie ended the camp really strong.” 

One unique element of the camp was that the Europa Cup, World Cup tech, and World Cup speed women overlapped at the same location. Head Women’s Coach Paul Kristofic commented after the camp, “Having all the U.S. women’s teams converge to one location is both rare and unique.” He continued, “Over the past three weeks in Saas-Fee, the women’s teams from the European Cup group to each World Cup group took advantage of perfect conditions and weather, and achieved a very productive camp from all perspectives. Cross-training between our groups and international pace proved to be valuable. The whole world was training in Saas-Fee. Extremely early morning commuting got us on the glacier at daybreak to take full advantage of hard snow and a variety of slope choices that Saas-Fee provided to us. All objectives were achieved across all disciplines.”

In what was supposed to be Merryweather’s “comeback season,” after sitting out the 2020-21 season to take the time needed to focus on health and happiness as she pursued intensive treatment for an eating disorder, Merryweather had an unfortunate crash. All signs were pointing towards brighter days, as Merryweather tackled a successful strength and conditioning period as well as return-to-snow camps in Official Training Site Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and then Saas-Fee, with many bright moments both on and off the mountain with her teammates. She was skiing strong, showing her teammates, coaches, competitors—and most importantly, herself—how far she had come the last 12 months...and just how much joy she had found in skiing again. 

While at camp in Saas-Fee, Merryweather crashed while going 80mph during a downhill training day this past Wednesday at Saas-Fee towards the bottom of the course, resulting in a broken tibia and fibula, and a scraped-up and swollen face. Further evaluation back Stateside concluded that, in addition to a broken tibia and fibula, she also suffered a torn ACL, meniscus, and partially torn MCL in her crash. 

Anderson, who has been by Merryweather’s side throughout her journey, spoke poignantly of the speed team’s strength and courage following her crash, “The ladies all demonstrated so much strength and courage after Alice’s crash,” she said. “They took a few soul ski runs together to get back into their bodies and out of their heads, and then jumped back into the course and had a few downhill runs to end the training session. They were eager to see Alice and all visited her in the hospital the next day, with lots of smiles and Swiss stuffed animals.” 

Kristofic echoed Anderson’s sentiment of the team, “Unfortunately we had one serious injury with Alice Merryweather which was difficult for the whole group, but the team rallied well to finish the camp strong while supporting their fallen teammate. We all wish Alice a speedy and full recovery.” 

The women’s speed team will head to Zermatt this Friday, while the women’s tech team will head to Europe in late September/early October for a final training camp prior to the FIS Ski World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria on October 23.