Ligety to retire after 17-year career

Ted Ligety stands in the finish area following his run in the downhill portion of the men's super combined Feb. 14, 2014 at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. (News file photo - Chris Knight)

Two-time Olympic champion and Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athlete Ted Ligety has announced his retirement, capping a storied 17-year career.

Ligety announced on Tuesday that he will stand in the start gate one final time on the world stage in the giant slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy on Feb. 19. 

Ligety’s career started with an unconventional path, but the trail he blazed was an unforgettable one. A late-bloomer, Ligety surprised even himself when he struck gold at the 2006 Torino Olympic Games in the alpine combined.

He’d go on from there to be one of the most influential figures in the sport of alpine ski racing. Never wanting to pigeon-hole himself into a single discipline, Ligety is proud to have podiumed in all major FIS Ski World Cup events throughout his career, including slalom, giant slalom, alpine combined, super-G and downhill. 

“It’s wild. I’ve been racing on the World Cup for 17 years,” Ligety reflected. “I’ve always said I didn’t want to think back on my legacy or my career until I was done and now I’m super excited. I’m super proud of what I was able to do.”

Ligety’s career was so unconventional that his first World Cup victory came after his first Olympic gold medal. Fun fact: His first World Cup victory was at Yongpyong, South Korea on March 5, 2006–the day after he slept through his alarm and missed the first of two World Cups at the venue.

Ligety was a game-changer in the sport, redefining the discipline of giant slalom so much so that the New York Times wrote about him in 2014, “No skier in the world carves turns the way Ted Ligety does. The American has practically invented a new way of skiing.” And it was true; Ligety was winning races by seconds in a sport typically decided by mere hundredths. 

His skiing was an art that everyone studied. When the International Ski Federation changed the equipment rules in 2012–including ski sidecut and ski length–Ligety pushed back hard in an article entitled “Tyranny of FIS.” But he didn’t only push back for himself, he pushed back for the sport of alpine ski racing. 

Why did he take the stance?

“Because it was bad for the future of the sport,” said Ligety, who (as Bill Pennington from the New York Times reported) launched his assault on the new skis through a blog post. “Young kids coming up weren’t going to be able to turn those new straight skis. I didn’t want a whole bunch of 16-year-olds to get discouraged and quit racing.”

And yet, he prevailed and won the giant slalom title in 2013 for the fourth time in his career. 

Ligety made history at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming, Austria, winning three gold medals. In doing so, he became the first since Jean Claude Killy 45 years prior in 1968 to win three or more golds in one World Championships.

Killy won four World Championship medals at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble.

“The thing I’m most proud of was probably Schladming when I won three gold medals at the World Championships there. I definitely achieved far more in my career than I would have ever thought as a 16/17-year-old kid when my coaches were telling me I’d be a good college athlete,” Ligety said with a laugh. 

Up next for Ligety will be progressing the business he co-owns, Shred, as well as spending more time with his three sons–Jax and twins Will and Alec –and wife, Mia.

“Now, I have two 6-month-old twins and a 3-year -old,” Ligety said. “It gives you a nice perspective on life when you have these little guys running around. Having six weeks on the road is not really manageable anymore. I think there’s a time in your life where family is more important than skiing. That time has come.”

Ligety will be remembered by his teammates as a fierce competitor dedicated to his craft–one who not only expects excellence from himself, but everyone around him.