Alumni Spotlight: Q&A With Christin Cooper

Christin Cooper (or “Coop” as she is known to friends) epitomizes Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s mission of providing “exceptional snowsport programs for the youth of the Wood River Valley thereby enabling each participant to reach his/her athletic potential, while developing strong personal character through good sportsmanship, strong values and individual goals.”
Raised in Ketchum with her two sisters and two brothers, Cooper, 56, learned to ski and race as a member of SVSEF and went on to a heralded career as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. In her first Winter Olympics in 1984 at Lake Placid, Cooper finished seventh and eighth in giant slalom and slalom. Four years later at Sarajevo, she stepped on the largest podium in the world as the Olympic Silver Medalist in giant slalom. Cooper rounded out her racing career with seven World Cup victories, 26 podiums, and 65 top tens. The ski run Christin’s Silver on Bald Mountain’s Seattle Ridge is named in honor of her Olympic finish.
Married to Mark Tache, a former U.S. Ski Team member, for several years, the pair divides its time between homes and businesses in Aspen, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana,(Montana Ale Works) although Ketchum is never far from Christin’s heart.
Recently in Ketchum for the unveiling of Gretchen Fraser’s statues in the “Our Olympic Ladies” legacy project of which she will appear in next, Cooper found time to correspond with the SVSEF, offering her views on how her participation with the organization shaped her life.

Christin Cooper displaying her technique and game face.

What did you learn about yourself through the sport of skiing?

My character was forged in essential and lasting ways with SVSEF.   My coaches were tough, and held us to strict standards, but the payoff was huge, with more fun, more laughter and more gratifying experiences in the outdoors than anyone deserves at such a young age. I learned early to work as hard as possible every time out, but without ever taking myself too seriously. As a skier, the snow snakes are always ready to take you down so you can never think too highly of yourself. With SVSEF, we were pushed to focus, and work incredibly hard, but never forget that at the heart of it was wind-in-your-hair and snow-in-your-face fun. Striking this balance is the mantra of my life. Ski racing, like successful living, is about balancing aggression and grace. Full attack, yes, but with a light touch. Bringing your best energy, and positive attitude to the day, no matter the weather or the circumstance is central to success in skiing, and in life.

What are your best memories of SVSEF?

My best memories come from the raddest days at SVSEF or World Cup level. Shivering with a teammate in a raging snowstorm with no one else out, singing songs and telling jokes to stay warm. Training in dense fog, one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences ever; I highly recommend it. Why? You have to feel your skis beneath you, and trust your instincts and capabilities, not your eyes. You have to overcome your fear and trust those coaches who have insisted that one more run is just what you need, and you do it, because you do trust them. And then when the sun comes out the next day and you’re skiing two seconds faster, you get it. Now skiing feels easy.

What life lessons did you learn that you carry with you to this day?

The idea of TEAM is core to how I approach my life today. No one succeeds alone. It’s all about interdependence. My early SVSEF years helped turn me into a bona fide scrapper, and a confident independent mountain girl, but I didn’t get there myself. The support of teammates and coaches was always right there, and the friendship when things got tough, the weather turned gnarly, when we’d all rather be home in bed, but were instead battling it out and figuring it out together. There’s no fooling yourself really, that you’re doing this alone, succeeding on the merits of your own wonderfulness out there. Success in ski racing and in life means standing on shoulders to see a little further, holding hands, filling gaps by those who know a little more about this thing or that, who can hand it to you right when you need it most.  Like the rest of life, ski racing is a mystery, a puzzle to be solved daily, with the puzzle pieces constantly changing with weather, snow conditions, countries, travel, your own preparedness. What ski racing really taught me was the importance of an agile mind to go with the agile body.

 Is there a defining characteristic you have that you attribute to being a skier? 

Defining characteristic: probably the willingness to admit mistakes, and have a problem-solving attitude about them. Sounds fairly simple but I’m amazed at how many people out there resist vulnerability and get invested in their “expertness”. Ski racing forces a problem solving mindset on you if you want to succeed. There’s no denying the clock, or the crash, or the occasional lack of motivation. The question is what you’re willing to do about it, and the key is in learning to use and appreciate all these people, with all these skills – your “Team” –  to problem-solve with you. Ski racing will knock you down every day if you’re not careful. Want to avoid a similar outcome tomorrow? Look at what happened. Analyze it. Solicit help. Listen to feedback. Try to fix it. And you usually don’t usually fix anything alone. Ski racing is an individual sport, but it’s the team experience that resonates.

How different would you be if you had not been a member of SVSEF?

That’s some of the basic stuff of life on a team. The life lessons you learn when you don’t realize you’re studying. The whole experience created a rock solid belief in teamwork that underpins my life now. You don’t succeed on talent and hard work alone…My medals relied on perfectly tuned skis (not by me), the right warm-up (thanks to the coaches), a warm van, the right food and drink, the support of the folks back home, the right words of encouragement at the right moment, the radio report from a teammate who was also a competitor willing to share her experience to help me. I’m still amazed at people – and it’s usually those who’ve never played team sports – who believe it’s all about them.  (We don’t hire those people at our restaurant).
I learned so much from ski racing it’s hard to say what was the most important; there’s such an interplay of lessons. Want to learn about life? Join a ski team.

coopersarajevo1984silverCooper on course in 1984 at Sarajevo.