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Mount Hood represented by Luke Winters at 2022 Olympic games posted on 03/01/2022

Gresham’s Luke Winters’ early memories of skiing involve him, his brother and his father heading up to Skibowl, parking their camper in the lot and hitting the slopes.

 

“Night skiing at Skibowl was probably the biggest one for us when we were young,” Winters said. “Almost every weekend we’d be up there and we’d ski until the lights turned off.”

Last month, Winters represented Mount Hood, Gresham and his country at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. And while the first-time Olympian was unable to finish his runs on the slalom and giant slalom courses, he came away from the games without looking back and wishing he had done anything different.

“I knew I was skiing well, things were going well for me,” Winters said, adding that he had his best World Cup results in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. “Once I get to the start, it’s just the same as any other race. I was really not nervous at all in the start gate.”

Winters, who graduated from the Sugar Bowl Academy in California, added that in his earlier years, he also played baseball and football, but realized early in high school that ski racing would be his focus. Being an Olympic athlete and racing in the World Cup were on his radar in high school but started to become real after he graduated.

“That was the goal, but at the same time, I didn’t have this crazy dream from a young age,” he said. “I was good, I was talented and I worked hard. It didn’t really become obtainable until after high school.”

For the Olympics, he and his teammates expected the course (one made specifically for this event and featuring man-made snow) would have conditions similar to skiing in Colorado early in the ski season, with cold and dry snow.

“When we got there, everyone was caught off guard a little bit,” he continued, noting it lacked any texture. “The snow was super dry, there’s no friction at all.”

Winters said that the first day he struggled but made adjustments to his equipment and ended up feeling really good on the hill.

“Some people never figured the snow out,” he said. “I felt super confident going into the races.”

Unfortunately, his runs ended in disappointment.

“I didn’t expect the speed going into the top,” Winters said. “In ski racing, things just happen so fast.”

Winters’ final run was delayed by a day, but that lead to the opportunity for him to enjoy the closing ceremony (he arrived in China after the opening ceremony), making for a memorable experience.

“You don’t really realize (it’s) the world really coming together when you’re up competing,” he said. “That’s really why the Olympics are so special, you see everyone. Everyone is in the same place, all the flags. That really was actually pretty cool and special.”

Unfortunately, Winters was unable to have any family members join him in China due to restrictions, with only coaches and staff allowed. But he did note that it’s not uncommon for him to not have his parents on hand during the World Cup seasons.

“They don’t make it over very often anyways,” he said. “Obviously it would have been awesome to have them there.”

Immediately after the games, Winters was off to Germany for his next World Cup event at the end of February, while noting he was grateful for the chance to get back to racing.

“There’s so much focus on the Olympics for the U.S., people who really do know about ski racing know World Cups are just as competitive,” he said. “That’s really what we’re here to do.”

The current World Cup season is past the halfway point, with races in Austria, Slovenia and elsewhere before the finals in France at the end of March. Winters will need to be in the top 25 of the standings to be in the finals.

Winters is focused on the World Cup, with the 2026 Olympics in Italy not on his mind. He noted that the location will be a familiar one for skiers and they will have a great understanding of the conditions before the races start.

“It almost feels like a home Olympics,” he said.

For more information on how to view World Cup races, visit NBCSports.com. Luke Winters can be found on Instagram as “lukedwinters.”

By Garth Guibord/MT

 

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