Michael Ankeny races on the World Pro Ski Tour. Lisa Mutz-Nelson photo

 

For a host of reasons, including injuries, Michael Ankeny finally hung up his skis and retired from the World Cup ski tour last year.

A hip injury was the final drop in the bucket for 28-year-old slalom skier from Minnesota.

Michael Ankeny competes in a dual race on the World Pro Ski Tour. Lisa Mutz-Nelson photo

But like many skiers who aren’t on the United States national ski team, the World Pro Ski Tour gives Ankeny a shot to win some money without the added pressure, on and off the slopes, to perform.

“After a few years of breaking through and almost getting to where I wanted to be in top-15s and top-10s in World Cups, injuries made it where if I am not 100 percent healthy then I can’t put 100 percent in, it didn’t make sense,” Ankeny said. “I still love skiing and the Pro Tour is such a fun, competitive environment, that I wanted to continue to participate in that.”

Ankeny will be among the skiers competing at the final stop of the season, Friday and Saturday at Sunday River.

Ankeny raced in two of the Tour’s first three events this season, missing only the races in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as he finished up a project at Dartmouth College, from which he expects to graduate in June.

The full-time student still was able to race at Beaver Creek, Colorado, and Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, finishing fourth and second place, respectively.

On the World Pro Ski Tour, skiers race a dual slalom competition tournament-style with the final two remaining skiers racing to determine a champion. While many on the tour either have just recently retired from the World Cup circuit, others are eager to use the Pro Ski Tour as a way to prove their abilities for a spot on the U.S. team.

Ankeny is fully aware of the tough competition at each race.

“I’d love to make into the top-four again,” Ankeny said. “The goal is really to win, but I have to take a little bit of realism into it. There are people that just podiumed at U.S. nationals and people that scored World Cup points. I’ve done that in the past, but it’s been a year.”

Michael Ankeny and AJ Ginnis race on the World Pro Ski Tour. Lisa Mutz-Nelson photo

Ankeny’s expectations are also tempered by the fact that, with so much on his plate since retiring, even getting into the gym is difficult, let alone getting time on the mountain. The full-time student is also the assistant ski coach at Dartmouth College. Instead of training six hours a day for World Cup races, he’s now setting up courses, timing systems and helping Dartmouth athletes for four hours a day.

“It’s been a hard 180 in the other direction,” Ankeny said. “When it’s such a big part of your life for so long, you miss it a little bit but you don’t miss your heart beating out of your chest multiple hours a day.”

Skiing to Ankeny is like riding a bike. The former U.S. junior champion has only skied four times this winter (once in November and December and twice in February). He knows that his body can’t configure like it used to, but once he’s on the mountain that all goes out the window.

“You just have to know that you’re not as fit as you used to be,” Ankeny said. “You can’t go as straight and then expect to crank a tiny arch because you just don’t have the strength anymore. When you’re on the course you’re not really thinking that, to be honest. You’re competitive and the eye of the tiger is coming out where you’re thinking, ‘Nope. No way is this person beating me.’”

The U.S. men’s slalom team has a lot of potential for the future, according to Ankeny. But when former World Cup skiers Nolan Kasper, David Choudounsky and himself all retired around the same time, it left the stars and stripes in a dark place.

“We were kind of the core slalom team for the last few years,” Ankeny said. “It was sort of disheartening to not see a strong U.S. presence at the World Cups (this year), but what was exciting was that the younger guys had a phenomenal showing at World Juniors. We had one medalist and I think four in the top 12, which is really exciting to see. I think that group is really close and get along really well.”

Michael Ankeny skis around a gate on the World Pro Ski Tour. Lisa Mutz-Nelson photo

While his life is different now and his priorities have shifted, Ankeny is at peace with his decision. The infrequent gym workouts are more than enough for him, now.

“I am in a good place,” Ankeny said. “I’ve had this discussion with my mother a little bit. You weigh the pros, weigh the cons. It’s not as if I went into skiing and slacked my way through it. I put my everything into it … To be able to walk away without any regrets is the most powerful aspect of my retirement.

“I can walk away happy, and I am happy. I love the people that I met, I love the values that the sport instilled in me. Very net-positive experience.”

Michael Ankeny, front, in dual action on the World Pro Ski Tour. Lisa Mutz-Nelson photo

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