And edge here. A rock there. The wrong line on a closed gate.

Each can mean the difference between being elite and just being really, really fast, particularly in slalom ski racing.

From a young age, David Chodounsky gravitated to the slalom and its close cousin, the giant slalom, because of the complexity of the discipline. The Minnesota native embraced the intricacies of the sport at a young age, and Chodounsky has become one of the best technical racers in the United States.

“My forte is definitely the technical events, the slalom and giant slalom,” Chodounsky said. “It just really kind of fell into place over the years that slalom is my best event. It’s a lot of fun.”

A lot of fun at times, but the more technical slalom can often result in more heartbreak. Straddling a gate or missing one through tight twists and turns is much more common in slalom racing.

On the biggest of stages ¬— the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi — the slalom grabbed Chodounsky by the skis. He caught a gate with his ski and didn’t finish his slalom run.


“You go in there, and you have high hopes,” Chodounsky said. “That wasn’t the way I’d planned it to go. I was bummed at first, obviously, but after I took a step back, the whole experience was really, really cool. It was fun to be a part of it all, and great to represent our country.”

Chodounsky bounced back well. He finished the World Cup season strong, placing 19th in the year-end standings, and capped the 2013-14 season with a slalom win at the U.S. Alpine Championships, held a year ago at Squaw Valley.

This year has been more ups and downs for Chodounsky. Still, he’s the top U.S. skier in the World Cup slalom rankings in 24th position.

“There are so many variables in technical skiing,” he said. “The weather, the snow, the equipment. You can hit a rock, your edge can give out. Any of that can add up to a whole second, which is a ton of time. But that’s what makes it interesting — and addicting.”


Chodounsky was a gifted skier at a young age. Born in St. Paul, Minn., he started racing at 7 years old with the local racing team at Buck Hill under coach Erich Sailer. One of his teammates? Lindsey Vonn.


When he was 11, his family moved to Crested Butte, Colo., where Chodounsky continued to excel in ski racing, eventually attending Crested Butte Academy. He tried unsuccessfully to make the U.S. team out of Crested Butte, a turn that took him to Hanover, New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. All he did his freshman year was earn a place on the ski team and win the NCAA slalom title.

“I was always stronger on the technical side, and college skiing only has slalom and GS, the technical events, anyway,” Chodousnky said. “After I won that race freshman year, it really started to take off in my head that maybe I could be a professional skier.”

Two years later, the junior captained the Dartmouth team to an NCAA overall title.

“I had a great time at Dartmouth,” Chodounsky said. “It’s more of a team thing at the college level, and some of my best friends still to this day are friends I made from being on the team there.”

Skiing wasn’t Chodounsky’s only focus on campus. He also graduated with a double major in engineering and geology from one of the premier academic institutions in the country.

“I definitely like earth science and engineering, and I hope I can do something with that when I am done skiing competitively,” Chodounsky said. “But at the end of college, I was skiing fast — really fast — so I figured, why not take a shot at the team?”


In 2009, Chodounsky made his mark. One year removed from Dartmouth, after skiing competitively on his own, he won the slalom event at the U.S. Alpine Championships.

“That’s what ultimately got me invited to the team,” Chodounsky said. “Being able to ski is really cool, especially the people. You get to travel the world and ski some great places.”

And those degrees? They won’t go to waste.

“I definitely want to do something with engineering and geology at some point,” he said.

Slow and steady

It’s easy to look at some of the top ski racers in the world, scroll to the “age” column beside their names, and assume that it’s a young person’s sport. Mikaela Shiffrin started taking the world by storm for the United States at age 16, perhaps the most glaring recent example of the youth movement. But the reality for most high level skiers is a path of natural, patient progression.


“It takes a lot of work and time to make it on the world stage,” Chodounsky said. “We have a lot of guys even on this team who are really fast, and they just haven’t quite made it there yet. But they’re still really fast. It took me years before I was competitive and consistent enough to have a chance. Some people get there much faster than others, but that’s definitely not the norm.

“If you grind it out, typically, you’ll be rewarded.”

Chodounsky made the U.S. team after his 2009 performance, but his best results at the World Cup level didn’t come until 2013. He placed 21st overall in the world slalom standings that season, and 19th in 2014. He also earned a place on the U.S. team for the 2011, 2013 and 2015 World Championships, and for the 2014 Winter Olympics, capping the 2014 season with another U.S. slalom title.

Finishing strong

After an up-and-down 2014-15 season, Chodounsky is ready for an encore at Sugarloaf.

“I’ve been skiing well recently,” he said. “We’ll see what happens when we get there. I just have to go into the race, take the conditions for what they are and ski my best.”


The U.S. championships are a good way, he said, for friends and family to reunite after a long winter of travel and intense racing.

“It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere,” Chodounsky said. “It kind of wraps up the season, you get to see a lot of people, family and friends, that you haven’t seen in a while and still get to compete for a national championship.”

The U.S. Alpine Championships can be anticlimactic for some skiers. They come on the heels of the World Cup finale, and less than two months removed from the World Championships, held this year in Colorado.

“There are some smaller races, the spring series, at home, and those are kind of local,” Chodounsky said. “This really is the final big race of the season for most of us.

“Sure, it’s to a lesser extent than the World Cup or the World Championships, but it’s still the biggest race in the U.S. It’s our national championship, and that definitely means something.”

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