Aspen’s Maple back in starting gate, Kammerlander wins first WPST race

Considering the race came to him, Aspen’s Wiley Maple was all for taking that next step in his professional skiing career by giving the World Pro Ski Tour a try for the first time on Saturday.

“It’s a cool event, it seems like. My dad raced in the pro tour,” Maple said. “It used to be a thing after you retired from the World Cup. You’d come to the party tour and try to make some money still ski racing using the skillset I’ve built for my whole life, basically.”

Maple, the homegrown Olympian who raced in the 2018 downhill in Pyeongchang, retired from World Cup racing two winters ago at 29 years old. A perpetually bad back, which needed spinal fusion surgery shortly after his retirement, was among the key factors in Maple’s career-ending decision.

But as he showed Saturday with the WPST’s return to Aspen Mountain, Maple’s professional skiing career doesn’t have to be over. In the unique head-to-head racing format that sets the World Pro Ski Tour apart, Maple was among the final eight before getting knocked out by a former roommate, Minnesota native and WPST veteran Michael Ankeny.

“Ankeny and I made the (U.S. national) ski team the same year. He became a slalom skier; I became a downhill skier. We usually lived together in the summers but as soon as we’d hit the tour, we wouldn’t see each other at all,” Maple recalled. “So, it’s cool to have him roll into town and stay at my parents’ house again. It’s strange putting speed suits on again and sitting on chairlifts.”

This was the first time the WPST had come to Aspen since the tour’s return in 2017-18. That winter did include a stop at Snowmass Ski Area, however.

The two-day affair will conclude Sunday with two more races: The Reven Cup, which is another open division race likely featuring many of the same athletes as Saturday, although on a slightly different course; and the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Women’s Tour.

Racing starts at 10 a.m. and will conclude around 3 p.m. Spectating from the base of Aspen Mountain is free.

Maple, who felt his skiing was fast on Saturday although admitted to being baffled by the start gates, plans to compete again Sunday.

“I’m kind of keeping my foot fully in the pro skier door, keeping up with all my sponsors and doing events like the Ajax Cup,” Maple said, referring to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s annual fundraiser and ski race. “I love skiing and I want to keep doing it at least in some format for the rest of my life. If I can make a little bit of money doing it, that seems nice as well.”

Ankeny ultimately finished Saturday’s tournament in fourth place, losing to Vermont’s Drew Duffy, a standout WPST rookie, in the third-place race.

Austria’s Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander held off tour superstar Rob Cone of Vermont in the final for his first WPST victory. Kammerlander represents Bolivia in international competition and plans to represent the country for the second time at the Winter Olympics next month in Beijing.

“There was always this last puzzle missing for the very top of the podium,” said Kammerlander, a frequent podium challenger at WPST events who had never won prior to Saturday. “You go against the same guy two times. One time on the red course, one time blue course, so it doesn’t really matter what the weather does. Snowfall, wind, whatever, you know. You have to just beat the guy next to you and that worked out pretty well for me today.”

Athletes faced challenging conditions on Saturday as heavy snowfall throughout the day made visibility difficult and made getting and keeping speed more of a task than usual. Still, racing persisted with minimal delays on the Little Nell ski run, with the finish area being right next to the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain.

-The Aspen Times