Mead High School graduate Will Brandenburg had a tough time sustaining the momentum from his top-10 finish in the 2010 Olympic super combined event at Whistler, British Columbia, last February.
After three years of bouncing between the Nor-Am Cup and Europa Cup circuits with the occasional World Cup start, Brandenburg started every World Cup slalom of the 2010-11 season, including the world championships in Garmisch- Partenkirchen, Germany. In several events, Brandenburg carried the best time until the split, only to straddle a gate or careen off course.
I caught up with Brandenburg after his last World Cup slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. He was at the U.S. Ski Team headquarters in Park City, Utah, getting ready for the Nor-Am Cup finals at Whistler last weekend (he crashed out of two slaloms and two Super Gs). His final event will be the U.S. Nationals (he won silver in Super G in 2010) Wednesday in Winter Park, Colo.
After a full schedule of World Cup, Brandenburg said he is still trying to understand his limits in slalom at that level. The challenge has been more mental than physical.
“I have the ability to ski fast and I need to control that so I can be more consistent,” Brandenburg said. “I’ve struggled with that my whole career – understanding when to be aggressive but safe. I’ve learned how to execute it in training, but on race day I’ve got a lot more work to do.”
After his top-10 Olympic finish, Brandenburg said the difference in the super combined was his ability to recover mentally from a mistake and keep on pushing hard. That’s been a lot tougher over the course of a World Cup season.
“The big thing for me is controlling my emotions and not letting a mistake hang over my head going into the next race,” he said. “At the start of the year, Levi, Finland was a great race for me. About 15 gates from the bottom I was holding the lead on the second run and straddled a gate.
“It was hard for me to let that go. I went to Val d’Isere, France, and had another great first run. Halfway down the second run, again with the lead, I straddled a gate. I needed to let those mistakes go and focus on the positive things that happened in those races. I didn’t do that and it cost me in the second half of the season.”
Brandenburg said World Cup courses weren’t necessarily more difficult than the Nor-Am or Europa Cup slaloms, but he skied most of them for the first time. Skiers encounter hills that are set up better for their unique skills than others. Getting a chance to become familiar with all the hills will be an advantage next season.
“Levi, of course, is good for me,” he said. “Adelboden, in Switzerland, where I scored my first World Cup points (24th place) is set up well for me. But after Levi and Val d’Isere, I just wanted to get down. It has two of the steepest turns I’ve ever skied, which is good for me. It also has places where I can use my speed.”
Brandenburg expects he will be getting many more chances to use his speed on the World Cup circuit for the immediate future on the U.S. Ski Team.
“I just want to reach my potential in skiing,” he said. “I don’t know what that is, but I think I’ve only touched a little of it. I’ll do whatever I can to get there.”