A snow-side chat with skier Hilary Lindh

Former Olympian from Juneau says she still enjoys skiing in town

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2010

She felt like a little girl again, racing down the Eaglecrest Ski Area slopes. She still remembered oversized snow pants, tiny hands gripped tightly on ski poles, ski goggles as large as her helmet, and a smile as wide and white as the powdery runs she embraced.

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Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

So what if she had won an Olympic medal, and an American championship and a World Title? She was still just a little girl in the snow.

"It was great," Hilary Lindh said of the skiing on March 6. "It was perfect timing on the snow. I feel like this most days when I ski. It is just fun."

The resort has changed since the 7-year-old Lindh skied off the Mighty Mite run, now called Sourdough, and worked as a guinea pig for lift-evacuation practice the summer before the chairs opened.

Her father, Craig Lindh, while working for the U.S. Forest Service, wrote the first perspective for the mountain and is largely responsible for the mapping out of what would become Eaglecrest. He helped build the Ptarmigan chairlift, became the first pro ski patroller and served on the Eaglecrest board.

"Now he just skis as much powder as he can," Hilary Lindh said. "My parents' love of the sport is for the sake of the sport, not anything to do with racing. That is the atmosphere I grew up in. My parents and all their friends, forever, are still out there skiing. It is neat to see."

Her mother, Barb Lindh, graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1963, an era of long stretch pants and wooden skis.

Barb Lindh skied the "third cabin days," an alpine area marked by three successive cabins up Dan Moller Trail, the popular ski spot at the time. Now it is mainly used as a snowmobile trail.

Hilary Kirsten Lindh, Juneau's first Olympic champion, was born on May 10, 1969, in the capital city. She first put cross-country skis on at age 2. At 5, she skied alpine with her parents at Alyeska Resort in Anchorage when Eaglecrest had yet to open.

"I remember at Alyeska I had learned to stop and turn," Lindh said. "My parents didn't know so I went straight at them and turned at the last second. I remember it worked."

Lindh has skied slopes from Utah to Norway, as a teen and an adult, from youth to Olympic competitions.

"Wherever had a lot of snow had the most appeal," Lindh said with a laugh. "That's what makes it, right? Good conditions and not too crowded."

As a 13-year-old at Floyd Dryden Middle School, Lindh's local ski competitions against boys grew to include competing with college racers and adults in Anchorage.

To continue her dream, she enrolled as a freshman in the Rowmark Ski Academy, part of Salt Lake City's 110-year-old college preparatory school Rowland Hall-St. Marks.

"The year I left Juneau, Eaglecrest wasn't even open because they had no snow," Lindh said.

In 1985, 15-year-old Lindh began traveling with the U.S. Alpine Ski Team's Development Team.

At 16, she was racing on the U.S. national team in Europe. In 1986, she won the first of five U.S. championships at Copper Mountain, Colo., in the downhill race. A week later, she stunned the ski world by becoming the first American to win the downhill title at the World Junior Championships.

"It was awesome of course," Lindh said. "I was traveling a lot and would try to catch up on school work and with friends when I returned and do teenager stuff, then go away again."

She would win another four U.S. Championships: 1989 downhill, 1992 combined and 1997 downhill and Super G.

In her first Olympics the 1988 games in Calgary, Canada, Lindh didn't place in downhill, was 23rd in combined and 26th in Super G.

"I was 18 and just back from a knee Injury," Lindh said. "I had all these unrealistic expectations caused by listening to this 'go for the gold' mentality. It was a big learning experience to focus on what you need to do when everyone else is hyped up."

In 1992, Lindh won a silver medal at the Olympics in Albertville, France.

"I had a better idea of what to expect and how to cope with it," Lindh said. "I could enjoy myself and still stay focused on what I had to do."

The medal ceremony was in the evening, outside in the rain.

"There were not very many spectators," Lindh said. "It wasn't the big Olympic medal ceremony but it was still pretty cool. The flower ceremony at the finish of the race was the better ceremony, because it just happened and the crowd was there."

Lindh brought the medal to a sold-out Centennial Hall event so she could share it with Juneau.

In the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, Lindh again battled injury and finished seventh in downhill and 13th in Super G. That year she also won her first World Cup victory, the 100th win by an American racer.

At the 1996 World Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, Lindh won a bronze medal in downhill and 5th in Super G, and at the 1997 World Championships in Sestriere, Italy, Lindh was the only American to medal, winning gold in the downhill.

She retired on March 13, 1997. Her 11-year total on the World Cup circuit is three wins, five podium placements, and 27 top ten finishes.

"I had been traveling internationally for 12 years," Lindh said. "I was done. I hadn't skied enough, just raced enough. It was pretty intense and I was ready to move on."

She was a TV commentator at the 1998 Olympics In Nagano, Japan, and a celebrity Olympian participant explaining competitions during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

"Commentating was good for me that year," Lindh said. "I got to be a part of the Olympics and not feel like I was missing something. It made me feel like I had made the right decision to not continue. I was relieved that I was on the other side at that point."

Lindh is married to Canadian telemark skier Jodie McCutcheon, the mountain operations manager at Mt. Sima in Whitehorse. They met through friends at grad school.

Lindh earned her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Utah and her master's in conservation ecology at University of Vancouver. She is an environmental consultant for Cascade Environmental.

She was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

Lindh attended the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a spectator, taking her young daughter to the Nordic events.

"She wasn't really old enough to appreciate it," Lindh said. "I don't know if she will have any memories of it, but it was pretty neat. We just want her to enjoy skiing so we can go do it as a family, that is the most important thing. They have been doing some great updates here in Juneau and we really enjoy skiing here and feeling like we are still part of this place."

On March 6 at Eaglecrest, 4-year-old Raiya Lindh was the little girl in the large snow pants that loves the snowy slopes. She has skied here three times now, mastered an awesome snow plow, as well as a stop-turn. She can ski the whole mountain, just like her mom.

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