How North American racers handle the
holiday season on the road BY SHAUNA FARNELL
HOLIDAYS ARE FAMILY TIME — but “family” takes on new meaning for
North American ski racers who celebrate the holidays far away from home.
Luckily for Lindsey Vonn and her husband Thomas, a family welcomes
them with open arms around Christmas. That family just happens to belong
to Vonn’s best friend, Maria Riesch, with whom she’s spent the last five Christmases in Garmisch, Germany.
“We have a great time,” Vonn says. “Even if it’s not with my own family, they
treat me like one of their own. They’re always so caring. You don’t find other
families inviting people into their homes for Christmas. It’s a pretty family-oriented holiday, so I’m really thankful that the Riesches have always been so
The German Christmas also provides Vonn a few cultural lessons, even
though they involve sausages and raclette for dinner, which Vonn asserts is
“not the best pre-race meal.”
“It’s different,” she says of the Riesch-family Christmas. “There’s no stockings
and we open all of our presents on Christmas Eve. Their tradition is having
only one present per person. So it’s not loads and loads of presents; it’s just
one nice one. I think that’s cool. It’s nice to experience something different. I
think when I start a family and finally have my own Christmases at home I’ll
do it differently. It’s nice to learn a new tradition and learn something that
another family and culture does. It’s much better than being in a hotel room
with just Thomas and me … that would be pretty depressing.”
For U.S. skiers who don’t have European families to spend the holidays with,
they become a family of their own. The men’s speed team is typically situated
in Bormio, Italy, where a makeshift celebration comes together.
“In Bormio, we have our own traditions,” says Scott Macartney. “We have
something as a team family. You do the best you can. It’s part of the sacrifice;
you miss a traditional Christmas. It’s hard but between our coaches and the
athletes, we try to have something to celebrate and make a night of it. Last
From top left: Lindsey Vonn and Maria Reisch in Christmas
colors during the holiday season last year; Erik Fisher (left)
and Marco Sullivan share a laugh in the snow at Lake Louise on
Thanksgiving; no turkey with families, but the U.S men’s speed
team enjoy a Thanksgiving day off in Lake Louise.
year we had it with the Canadians. We have stockings; sometimes we borrow a tree from the town. We have gifts; some are just for laughs. Virgil
[U.S. speed coach Chris Brigham] is Santa Claus.”
Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who is part of the Bormio Christmas
contingent, says his team is as close to him as his family.
“We go with the American team to this old mill that they turned into a restaurant and just have a big night out and some drinks and everything,” he
says. “That’s our Christmas. Our team is our family and I’m sure we’re as close
as we’ll ever get to anybody. We all get along. We’re all buds. That’s the only
way to survive when you’re in Europe for that long.”
For others, Europe offers a unique appeal for holiday celebrations. Julia
Mancuso is making the most it has to offer, both with visiting family and with
a trip to London to hang out with pal Chemmy Alcott.
“We’re going to go to high tea and see ‘Wicked’ and it will be fun,” Mancuso
says. “My dad’s coming for Christmas this year and we just try to do the best
we can with the holidays. I just like to have fun and try to enjoy Europe.”
Still, as Kaylin Richardson points out, there’s a little homesickness in being
away from one’s biological family.
“That’s the only awful part about it,” Richardson says. “Being away from your
family at the holidays is tough. Your mom, your dad, your siblings … it’s just
one of those sacrifices. I will say that being with the girls who become your
family on the road is great. We get to do the coolest job in the world, so it’s not
always going to be perfect. But you make little plans with your girlfriends on
the tour and you kind of try to do what you can. It’s not going to be like it is
at home. There’s something a little bit novel and fun about being away from
home … but there is a little bit of heartache.”