Ted Ligety, the only American man to win two Olympic gold medals in Alpine skiing, met his 3-year-old son, Jax, after preschool late last month and quickly learned that Jax had earned a medal in an after-school ski program.
“Jax showed me his medal and I told him, ‘Daddy has some medals, too,’” Ligety said in an interview last week.
It took Ligety 30 minutes to find his Olympic prizes at his Utah home, but once he produced them Jax had a suggestion: The Ligety family ski medals belonged together, maybe framed on a wall.
“It was pretty cute,” said Ligety, who told the story to help explain another recent household decision: his retirement from the sport.
After seven victories in Olympic and world championship races and 15 years as one of ski racing’s elite performers, Ligety, 36, will announce his decision Tuesday, saying he wants to spend more time with his growing family.
“My priorities have changed,” Ligety said. In addition to Jax, Ligety and his wife, Mia Pascoe, have twin sons who were born seven months ago.
“I don’t want to be away from home for five-week stretches of training or racing,” said Ligety, whose last race will be Feb. 19 at the world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. “And I don’t feel like I can do it all at the level I wanted.”
A magnetic personality on the Alpine World Cup tour, he has been a respected provocateur, using his voice to defend athletes’ rights while also goading the old-style ski establishment to embrace a younger vibe.
In his prime, Ligety developed revolutionary techniques on the snow that made him almost unbeatable in the giant slalom for a few seasons. But Ligety, a four-time Olympian, was not a one-trick pony: He won the super-G, the super-combined and the giant slalom in a span of nine days at the 2013 world championships, something no male skier had done in 45 years.
Along with the now-retired Lindsey Vonn, Ligety will be remembered as a trustworthy star who bridged the gap between the Bode era in American ski racing and the ongoing Mikaela Shiffrin era.
Ligety became an overnight sensation — at least among American sports fans — during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, when he claimed his first major ski victory, a shocking upset in the combined event. Bode Miller, who was expected to win multiple medals at the 2006 Games, was the pre-race favorite and held the lead at the midpoint of the event. Ligety, then 21 years old, was in 32nd place.
But in the final stage, Ligety, wearing eye-catching hot pink gloves and goggles, zoomed ahead to win by more than half a second.
“When I think of the 2006 Olympics, I still get goose bumps,” Ligety said. “I’m in shock and awe.”
Two years earlier, Ligety had not been ranked among the top 300 skiers in the world. While most racers had corporate sponsor’s names displayed across the brim of their helmets, Ligety affixed duct tape to his and wrote: “Mom and Dad.” Back home in Utah, his parents, Bill Ligety and Cyndi Sharp, still assumed that their son would soon be in college, studying to become an engineer.
The Olympic triumph turned out to be a harbinger, not an aberration.
Ligety rapidly ascended in the world rankings and became especially dominant in giant slalom, winning that discipline’s season-long championship five times.
Also, in an attempt to help change ski racing’s staid ways, he co-founded a company called Shred, which develops helmets, eyewear and other snow-sports accessories. Ligety considered existing ski racing brands “super dorky” and wanted Shred to lead the sport toward regaining some of the “cool factor” that he believed snowboarding and free riding had drained from traditional skiing.
Fifteen years later, Ligety said ski racing“definitely has a better image now,” adding that he “hoped we had a little bit to do with merging the different snow-sports worlds.”
In 2013, with his place in the sport firmly established, Ligety took a gutsy stand against his sport’s European-based ruling body after it had decided to increase the minimum ski lengths racers could use in giant slalom. In a blistering blog post, Ligety railed against the changes, which were enacted without input from the skiers.
“I had to push back,” he said last week. “I always figured that whatever the punishment, there’s the potential for more reward if it gives athletes some voice in these things.”
The change in ski-length guidelines was eventually reversed, but not before Ligety — in another poke in the eye of the hierarchy — figured out how to use the new, longer skis better than anyone else. He won the next season’s opening race on the new skis by nearly three seconds, an unheard-of margin for a sport in which races are often won by hundredths of a second.
At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Ligety was a prohibitive gold medal favorite, and his victory in the giant slalom put him in an exclusive group of American skiers. Only Mikaela Shiffrin, in 2014 and 2018, and Andrea Mead Lawrence, in the 1952 Oslo Games, have also won two Olympic Alpine races.
In the succeeding years, knee and back operations blunted Ligety’s ability to put in the voluminous training hours he had become renowned for, and his results reflected those limitations. The last of his 25 World Cup victories came in 2015, and he did not win a medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
Ligety’s exit comes when there is some new promise for the United States men’s Alpine team, which has struggled to find replacements for aging stars like Ligety.
In late December, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, 28, won a super-G race, the first World Cup victory in that event for an American man since Miller won in 2006. In the past 14 months, Cochran-Siegle’s teammate Tommy Ford, 31, has had three World Cup podium finishes, including a giant slalom victory. Although Cochran-Siegle and Ford both had their seasons cut short by injuries sustained in race crashes, Ligety feels optimistic about their futures.
“There’s definitely a changing of the guard,” he said.
Asked what he expects to do next, Ligety said he wanted to devote more time to the day-to-day operation of his company and to continue to be heard on important competitive and cultural issues in ski racing.
“I won’t be invisible,” Ligety said, laughing. “But my main priority will be my family. I’ll be able to be on the mountain with them.”
Which will mean more time to add to the Ligety family medal collection.