Ben Ritchie: It’s not all downhill from here, it’s slalom

by Emma Marc-Aurele

Native Vermonter Ben Ritchie is widely recognized as the top junior male skier in the East. A slalom specialist, Ritchie was awarded the Golden Ski Award for his strong showing on the hill last season. Since 1969, the Golden Ski Award has been presented to the top junior male and female skiers in the East.

“I definitely have to attribute my success to my parents and coaches. My parents are constantly giving up a lot to allow me to ski competitively,” he said during a break in his mid-summer, dry-land regimen. “I think my hard work and determination has made me a better skier too. I have also had to give up a lot of other things in my life to focus on skiing.”

Ritchie, 15, grew up in Williston. His family moved to Waitsfield two years ago so he could attend the Green Mountain Valley School at Sugarbush. 

Ritchie’s hard work paid off this past season when he became U16 National overall champion. He placed second in super-G, second in giant slalom, and first in slalom. His finish in giant slalom proved most impressive when he started in 38th position and jumped all the way to a silver medal finish. 

He continued his successful journey this past season when he was chosen to ski slalom at the Longines Future Champions event at St Moritz, Switzerland, where he scored second place. 

The Longines event, which alternates between men’s and women’s races each year, brings together the future talents of alpine ski racing to compete against each other on the scene of a major professional circuit competition. 

This year’s event took place the day prior to the kick off of the 2016 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals in St Moritz.

Ritchie represented the US along with other members and nominees of the US National Training Group, in this year’s Hahnenkamm U16 event at Kitzbuehel. The event is a unique team competition in which skiers race one giant slalom run and one slalom run on the world-renowned Ganslernhang. In the end, the U16 skiers representing the United States took second overall, finishing behind the home-country team from Tirol.

All of this success has led him to being selected as the youngest member to the ultra-competitive US Ski Team. For this he will spend part of his time in Utah as he moves up the ranks and trains with and competes against Olympic hopefuls. 

Ritchie said his love for skiing started as a spontaneous decision to join a ski club with his now 21-year-old, brother.

“My brother was a skier and decided to do a ski club at Jay Peak, so I thought I would join him. I’ve loved it ever since.” 

The young star also said that it helps that his parents are athletic and both are recreational skiers.

His upbringing in the snowy state of Vermont also factors into Ritchie’s success. 

“Here in Vermont,” he said, “I’m always surrounded by great skiers. It definitely forces me to step my performance up.” 

In terms of Vermont’s sometimes harsh conditions, Richie seems to think they play in his favor, “The snow is always harder and faster here, so when I’m racing out West where the snow is softer, I think it gives me an advantage.” 

In the height of all his skiing success, Ritchie has also been awarded for his performance in his academics. He received the 2016 VARA George Tormey Award as Vermont’s top student-athlete. This is a huge feat for Ritchie because on top of dealing with the hectic schedule of a competitive ski racer, he also struggles with dyslexia. 

“I think it helps that I’m doing school work year round now. It allows me to spend more time on my work and focus better.” 

Even with all of his skiing success, Ritchie is a normal kid who enjoys taking advantage of Vermont’s terrain. He says during his down time, although it may be minimal, he loves to bike. 

“I just got a cycle cross bike and love to use it. I think it helps my skiing too!”

This fall Ritchie heads to Chile to get an early start on real snow before the winter ski season begins in the Northern Hemisphere.