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Park City • The hills of Deer Valley Resort are painted a lush green instead of their trademark powdery white. A familiar signal for one of the Park City's most-decorated homegrown Olympians: Time off. A couple of months away from the snow, clipped out of the skis with time to not only reflect but also decompress.
Ted Ligety's reflected a whole lot lately, but decompressing isn't in the cards. Not anymore.
On a sun-soaked bluebird day at the base of Deer Valley, the 32-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist sits up straight in his chair, staring out at the mountain he grew up carving lines into at the highest of speeds. Just the sight of the runs whittled into the earth along the Wasatch Back put a small grin across Ligety's face.
It's an Olympics year, and the 32-year-old alpine ski racing star has plenty to prove not only to himself, but the world that he's still a leader of the pack. Not only as the defending giant slalom gold medalist, but as one of the sport's premier talents who has been dealt setback after setback the last three seasons.
Ligety was forced to cut short last season's World Cup campaign to undergo back surgery to fix herniations in the nerve roots that consistently sent searing pain down his legs any time he'd hit a simple bump zipping down a course.
"Being beat up," he said, "that's just the way it is when you're in your 30s, and you've been racing World Cups since your teens. Just a lot of miles. A lot of hard miles."
Those hard miles left Ligety on the outside looking in at the 2017 World Championships. No ski racer ever had won three straight world titles in the giant slalom until Ligety did so. The back injury kept him off the snow and away from tacking onto history with a potential fourth straight world crown. That still eats at Ligety every day.
But once he "decided to pull the pin" on surgery, it was a choice made not for the immediate but for the long term, especially with the Olympic Games in PyeongChang right around the corner.
"It was a good window to do it, whereas otherwise I could've kept skiing," he said, "but it would've been getting 10th to 30th place and hoping and praying it could be better than that."
The back surgery was only the latest episode of bad luck Ligety's encountered since winning gold at the 2014 Games in Sochi. He suffered a torn ACL in a training run in Germany in January 2016, just two months after overcoming three herniated discs in his back as well as a muscle tear in his hip. Compared to some of the other injuries he's been faced with in his career, the most recent back surgery was "a million times easier."
Another smile arrives when discussing the joy of being able to walk out of the operating room. Ligety then looks back up at the hills of Deer Valley. That's where his first training runs after surgery took place a few months back. And that's where U.S. alpine coach Sasha Rearick would have to remind his friend day after day to try to take it easy.
"He's a race horse, and he wants to be in the gate," Rearick said. "He wants to go out and wants to push out the gate and go as hard as he can. That's all that's on his mind when it comes to race season."
Ligety, who turns 33 in August, now has his fourth Olympics in his crosshairs. Since bursting onto the stage at 21, stunning the field by winning gold in the combined at the 2006 Games in Turin, his career has been littered with Olympic, World Cup and World Championship success. Ligety became the first male racer to win three events at a World Championships in 2013. A year later, his gold in Sochi was the first ever won by an American in giant slalom.
Riding this unfortunate series of injuries, what are his expectations in PyeongChang?
Defending the GS gold is his first priority. Ligety mentioned vying for a medal in the super G as a possibility depending on how he feels come December and January. The only time he's ever raced in PyeongChang was 11 years ago. That turned out to be his first-ever World Cup victory.
"I have good feelings," he said.
Rearick said Ligety remains a medal contender in his eyes in large part to the evolution of his preparation and routine. Every single day, Rearick says, Ligety is up an hour before anyone else working out.
"He's religious to the extreme on it," Rearick added.
This winter season, however, will be a trial run unlike any other for Ligety.
On June 28, he and wife, Mia, welcomed their first child, a son named Jax. Ligety said Mia and Jax will follow along this World Cup season to select destinations. Rearick, who also has a newborn, said it's crucial that Ligety find time for adequate rest this season coming off surgery and a possible fourth Olympics appearance just around the corner.
"If we have a sleeper, then it's going to be easy, and if we have a crier," Ligety joked, "then I'm going to get two hotel rooms on race days."
Still peering out at the green ridges of Deer Valley, Ligety mulls a question.
As the calendar turns, as those hard miles continue to rack up, as the injuries become more pervasive, what does he want his legacy to be in the sport he's dominated over the last decade?
"When you're in the midst of it and you're still trying to win, it's not productive to think about it," he says. "I'm super happy with what I've accomplished so far. I was a kid that was the fifth-best kid on my local ski club at Park City. I'd never thought I'd be where I am today. I exceeded my own expectations and initial goals as a kid. But as you reach one goal, you have another goal and you keep setting the bar higher."
Hometown • Park City
Age • 32
Olympics • 2006, 2010, 2014
Accolades • Two-time Olympic gold medalist (combined, 2006 Games; giant slalom, 2014 Games), five-time World Championship gold medalist, five-time giant slalom World Cup champion (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), 25 World Cup gold medals, 51 World Cup podium finishes.
Overcoming injuries • Dealt with herniated discs and a hip muscle tear in 2015-16 before suffering season-ending ACL tear in January 2016. Ligety's following World Cup season was cut short after undergoing season-ending back surgery this January.