By Katy Savage
Phil Mahre took a private helicopter ride from Lake Placid, New York, to Killington, every day.
He skied at Whiteface Mountain in the morning and then skied at Killington in the afternoon.
During the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, “there wasn’t enough snow and good training,” said Mahre.
Mahre and the other athletes from the men’s and women’s U.S. Alpine teams flew in the 15-seat helicopter to train on a private roped-off trail at Killington.
The ride took about 45 minutes in one direction, Mahre remembered. It took the team away from the hype of the Olympics and allowed them to concentrate on their sport.
“It was a fun time,” Mahre said.
Everyone flew in the helicopter, but Mahre, who competed in Giant Slalom and Slalom, flew the most.
Their pilot, who flew in the Vietnam war, liked to show off his flying abilities with sharp turns in and around trees. Sometimes the pilot let Mahre, who had no flying experience, take over. During one of the flights, Mahre remembers the pilot hit the side of a tall tree, forgetting a ski bin was attached to the helicopter.
“He turned around and everybody was laughing,” said Mahre. “He could have taken the whole Olympic team down.”
Mahre, 61 who is regarded as one of the best Alpine racers in United States history, with 27 World Cup titles to his name, is coming back to Killington this week. He and 10 other athlete from the 1980 team will attend a cocktail party with VIP ticket holders for the women’s FIS Women’s World Cup, Nov. 23.
The skiers, including Mahre’s brother Steve, Karl Anderson, Cindy Nelson, Holly Flanders, Heidi Preuss, Andy Mill, Tamara McKinney, Bill Taylor, Abbi Fisher and Viki Fleckenstein-Woodworth are all scheduled to attend. Some of them haven’t seen each other since 1980.
“It seems so odd that we’re going to be all together,” said Woodworth. “It’s going to be really neat.”
Woodworth, 63, now lives in Massachusetts, but she has a home in Burke and sits on the board of Burke Mountain Academy—where she graduated from, where her children attended school and where Mikaela Shiffrin (the favorite to win the World Cup in Killington) attended school.
Woodworth remembers her daughter coming home from school one time in awe of Shiffrin’s skiing abilities when Shiffrin was around 11 years old.
“There’s nothing normal about the way she skis,” said Woodworth.
The 1980 Olympians know the the pressure the Alpine athletes face and the ability it takes to zoom 80 miles per hour down a steep slope on skis. “The highs are so high and the lows are so low,” said Woodworth.
Mahre broke his leg about eight months before the 1980 Olympics, but he still claimed a silver medal in the Slalom. Mahre won gold in Combined for the World Championship the same year.
Woodworth’s Olympic experience, however, was “terrible,” she said. She was 25 during the 1980 Olympics. Just before her event, the coaches held time trials and changed the team. Woodworth was consequently dropped off it.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I’ve had to live with it. I’ve turned it around.”
Though she couldn’t compete, Woodworth was still able to be there to support her teammates.
Following the success at the Olympics in 1980, the athletes flew to the White House and ate dinner with President Jimmy Carter.
“We were treated like dignitaries,” Woodworth said, adding that they traveled in a line of limousines as people crowded the side of the streets.
“It was finally a feel-good moment for America,” said Woodworth.
That year, there was much excitement for the hockey team, which had famously claimed gold over the Soviet Union, despite odds.
Though much time has passed, Killington still sticks out in the athletes’ minds. In 1980, Killington’s proximity to New York state made it a viable training venue.
For Woodworth, “It was wonderful. We had private training.”
It’s common practice now for the Alpine teams to train at nearby resorts during Olympic games.
“Often times, there’s not a ton of training available – especially for the women,” said Luke Bodensteiner, chief of sport for US Ski and Snowboard.
During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Alpine and Nordic teams flew by private plane to Park City, Utah, for a week to train. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea, the women’s ski team trained at a mountain about 1 1/2 hours away from the Olympics.
Bodensteiner said doing that gave the team better access to snow and it took the athletes away from the distraction of the Olympics.
“We had a joint partnership with the Korean ski team for four years leading up to the Olympics,” he said.
The US ski team gave the Korean team training access to Copper Mountain in Colorado. In exchange, Korea gave the US ski team private training.
“It depends on the relationship you have,” said Bodensteiner. Sometimes, the team has had to pay to use a training venue.
However, that’s often necessary for the athletes to be the best they can on the race course.
The 1980 athletes are planning to go out to dinner together once they all arrive in Killington. Most of them are still connected to skiing.
Mahre and his brother Steve host ski camps in Deer Valley, Utah. Mahre gets to ski himself about 50 days a year. Woodworth, who stopped skiing after her devastating Olympic experience, has finally gotten past that. She skis every chance she gets now.
“I still love it like crazy,” she said.
Photo Courtesy Phil Mahre
The 1980s Olympic team will be honored at the VIP party at the Peak Lodge, Friday.