By Michael Mastarciyan
If Ryan Cochran-Siegle had any more racing blood in his veins, he'd have four hooves, a mane and tail, a saddle on his back, and a really cool nickname like Seabiscuit or Secretariat.
Cochran-Siegle, if you are not familiar with the 20-year-old racer from Starksboro, Vermont, is the latest thoroughbred from an American family chock full of alpine racehorses.
His mother: Barbara Ann Cochran - 1972 Olympic slalom gold medalist.
His aunt: Marilyn Cochran - winner of the 1969 World Cup Giant slalom overall title.
His uncle: Bobby Cochran - winner of the 1973 Hahnenkamm combined.
There many other Cochrans with incredible accomplishments in the world of alpine ski racing - but hey, this story is about Ryan - so let's get back to him.
Cochran-Siegle’s career results so far have been very promising – and yes, that’s a bit of an understatement.
Among the highlights so far:
Gold medals in downhill and combined at the FIS World Junior Ski Championships held in Roccaraso, Italy in March.
13 Nor-Am Cup podiums (in every discipline except giant slalom) – eight of them wins.
World Cup points in two of the five World Cup races he’s raced in so far.
We caught up with Ryan recently during off-season training for a quick Q&A session. Here are the highlights….
MM: Okay Ryan, let’s talk about your family first. Who is the “pound for pound” best ski racer in your family – past or present?
RCS: It’s hard to say, I respect everything that my family’s accomplished during their careers with many different achievements to choose from. In my biased opinion I should probably say my own mom though.
MM: Okay, other than your mom (and I would have said my mom too whether it was or wasn’t the truth so no worries on that one) who is the best racer in your family – past or present?
RCS: Although my mom may have won the gold medal, my Aunt Marilyn had the most talent. Aside from her success, she is an incredibly competitive person and always thought she should finish first, but it would drive her crazy when she didn’t.
MM: How old were you the first time you realized the members of your family were freaky good in the ski racing department?
RCS: I always knew they were good but it took me a while to understand how good they were. My mom would show me her Olympic medal occasionally growing up, but I never understood how crazy it was to have a mother who won the Olympics.
MM: This one’s a tough one, but you’re a big, bad ski racer, so suck it up and give us the real dope – who is the least talented skier in your family?
RCS: With such a high caliber of skiers in our family it would be rude to single one of us out.
MM: How’s the skiing on your dad’s side of the family – any elite level talent there?
RCS: No one on my dad’s side ever tried racing competitively, but he and his brothers were still good skiers. Growing up, my dad would take my sister and I into the woods to ski more difficult terrain like glades and moguls, which aided to my development as a young racer.
MM: What’s the secret to your family’s success in alpine racing – nature or nurture? Is great skiing ability in your DNA or the result of the environment you grew up in?
RCS: For sure the environment. It all started years ago when my grandfather built a short rope tow behind the house that my mom’s family grew up in. From there, ski racing became a huge part of their lives and they passed it on to our generation. Our parents never pressured us into skiing, we just all grew up loving it. I think any kid in our situation could have turned out the same way.
MM: What would the members of your family have said or done if you had decided skiing WASN’T the sport for you – like if you said you only wanted to focus on hockey or some other athletic pursuit?
RCS: Everyone in my family is very supportive of one another. As long as we have fun doing it, it doesn’t matter what we do. We all played other sports in high school, and no one ever minded.
MM: Are there any snowboarders in your family? If yes, are they accepted members of the clan or ostracized outcasts?
RCS: My sister tried it for a year, but I think she missed skiing with the rest of us too much so she gave it up.
MM: Have you ever gone snowboarding?
RCS: I tried it one afternoon but it wasn’t exciting enough for me.
MM: Being a younger member of a ski racing family probably meant you’ve had your fair share of hand-me-down equipment in your life – is this true? Do you remember the feeling the first time you got a fresh piece of ski equipment?
RCS: Being the youngest in my family had its perks. Money was usually tight growing up for my sister and me, but equipment was always being passed down from our cousins. One year for my birthday I received a set of my own Rossignol Bandits and I was so excited to have a new pair of skis to race with.
MM: Okay, onto your career…gold in downhill and combined at Junior Worlds in Italy last March – most exciting accomplishment in your career so far?
RCS: I think so. I had good results at Nor-Ams and a couple World Cups but there will be more of those races in the future. At World Juniors you only have one race in each event to prove yourself. It took a different kind of preparation and mentality to succeed at those races, and that’s what makes those results special to me.
MM: Any family members at those races?
RCS: My mom made the trip across the pond, which was awesome for both of us. She doesn’t get to see very many of my races anymore, especially with so many of them outside the US, so it was nice to share that moment with her.
MM: Any major celebrating after those medals?
RCS: Not really. I raced in every event at World Juniors and had to catch a plane back to the States afterwards, so there was never much time for a celebration. Then when I got to the US I had a race the following day and I didn’t stop until the beginning of April.
MM: What have those medals done for you in terms of confidence and looking ahead to future races?
RCS: By winning those medals, it’s made me more hopeful for my future. I now know that I can succeed on a big stage and I have more confidence going into more big races.
MM: You’re a very a very skilled racer in all the different disciplines but seem to be most successful in the speed events – are you an adrenaline junkie at heart?
RCS: A little bit I guess. I like to try new things once in a while and I like to have fun. My team got to go bungee jumpy a few weeks ago in New Zealand, and I’ve started mountain biking more during the off-season, but I think I know where my limits are. You won’t see me driving recklessly down the highway going a million miles per hour or skiing off a 100 ft booter between runs. I know the difference between trying something new and trying something dangerous.
MM: One of the other Alpine Young Guns we interviewed this summer said, “Speed is my life, my bible, my future.” What is speed for you?RCS: I enjoy racing speed and I’ve been having a lot of success with it, but ultimately I would like to be a 4-event skier. Racing and training speed is an important part of my preparation and development, but I’m putting my time and effort equally into improving my tech events.
MM: Speed isn’t for everyone in the alpine racing world; some even find it intimidating and scary. Have you ever been intimidated or scared looking out of the start hut?
RCS: Never out of a start, but I was a little intimidated my first time looking down “The Brink” into “Talon turn” on Birds of Prey. Fortunately I was only there for an inspection or else I’m sure I would have been way more nervous.
MM: What was Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course like the first time you went down that track at full speed?
RCS: Super fun, I thought it was going to be way gnarlier than it turned out to be. Once you get to “The Brink”, the course never lets up so instead of fighting the forces, you flow with the terrain, like a stick down a roaring river. By the time you make it past the last two jumps and into the finish your legs seem dead, you’re out of breath, and you can’t wait to do it all over again.
MM: What’s the fastest speed you’ve ever been clocked at and where was it?
RCS: Somewhere around 130kph at Lake Louise.
MM: Have you had a peek at the courses you’ll be racing down over the next few years – Kitzbuehel, Bormio, Garmisch?
RCS: Just the Chamonix track two years ago. We were driving from a couple Europa cups in Meribel over to World Juniors at Crans-Montana, and ended up crashing with the speed team the night before the DH. The next morning Sasha found a credential for me and I was able to get an inspection in.
MM: Canadian racer Erik Read told us one of the most important things he’s learned so far is to make every race count. He was referring to winning the Nor-Am Cup overall title. You came in 2nd only ten points behind him – given that – do you share his opinion?
RCS: Definitely. I missed winning the overall by only 10 points and it took me a little time to get over that. There were races that I didn’t take advantage of earlier in the season and Eric did, which ended up costing me later on. Although I didn’t take the overall, the DH title was decided by only two races, where first and third was separated by a few tenths of a second. Fortunately for me, I ended up getting the DH and SG titles, and all in all I’m satisfied with the way my season ended.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you that’s ski racing related?
RCS: Focus first on your skiing and results will follow.
MM: What’s the best piece of non-ski-racing-related advice you’ve ever been given?
RCS: Keep a level head, positive attitude, and learn from your mistakes. It’s easy to get down on yourself when things don’t go exactly as planned, but if you learn from your errors, you’ll be less likely to repeat them.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to young racers?
RCS: Have fun. If something isn’t enjoyable anymore, find something else that makes you happy. Life is short and it makes no sense to waste it.
MM: If you could improve on anything related to the way you ski what would it be?
RCS: Quiet upper body, balanced and equal stance in transition, strong movement over the new ski, early pressure at the top of the turn, and driving through with the core.
MM: What’s the hardest part of being an elite level ski racer? The travel? Not eating junk food? Going to bed at reasonable hours? Getting up at the crack of dawn on most days? Something else maybe?
RCS: I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time at home anymore. Between camps in Mammoth, Mt. Hood, New Zealand, Portillo, and Colorado during our prep period, as well as physical training blocks at the COE in Park City, I don’t find myself staying at home for very long. I’ve gotten used to it but a majority of the year we essentially live out of a suitcase.
MM: What’s your race schedule going to look like next season? A mix of Nor-Am, Europa and World Cups?
RCS: I haven’t talked in depth with any of my coaches yet but I assume an assortment of the three. I’ll probably be doing Lake Louise and Beaver Creek for the SG and DH’s but after that I’m not sure. I would like to get a few more WC starts than I did last year but I’m not ready to fully commit myself to that schedule yet.
MM: Did you have any ski racing idols growing up?
RCS: Ted, Bode, my cousin Jimmy, and Hermann Maier.
MM: What do you enjoy doing outside of skiing really, really fast?
RCS: I just got a new Mountain Bike this spring and have been riding a lot both back home and in Park City. The trails in Utah are really smooth and dry and seem endless. I’ve started doing most of my threshold and aerobic workouts riding, rather than sitting for hours on a stationary bike. It’s way more enjoyable, and after the climbs there are always awesome descents.
MM: Any hidden talents or interesting hobbies you want to share with us?
RCS: Like a true Vermonter, I spend part of my time at home helping with my cousin’s maple syrup farm. They started a couple years ago and it’s turned into quite the operation, with over 17,000 taps, there is always something to work on.
MM: Have you taken any time off for a vacation this off-season? Do anything exciting? Go to any beaches?
RCS: I went down to Cape Cod with a few of my good friends in July and that was a really nice break. We went to the beach every day and tried surfing one morning, but the waves were breaking too close to the shore. On the plus side no one got eaten by sharks, so we were content.
MM: How’s training coming along in preparation for next year?
RCS: It’s going well. It took me a little time to get used to Bernd’s Austrian style of coaching, but once I started understanding him I learned he has a lot to offer. We’ve had a lot of focus on SL and GS training earlier in Mt. Hood and in New Zealand, and speed training will start again in Portillo around mid-September. At first I was having trouble adapting to the new GS ski but I’ve made progress with that. Aside from skiing, I’ve spent quality time working out at the COE with a focus on strength and explosiveness along with flexibility and aerobics. I still need to improve physically and technically but I’m excited to pick up from where I left off last year.