Her sport is going downhill... FAST

It took a while, but skiing has become a passion for Maddie Wehner, 15, of Port Washington. For nearly six months of the year, Wehner is either skiing or doing her homework.
Ozaukee Press staff

Already a veteran skier at 15 years old, Maddie Wehner of Port Washington still gets butterflies standing the in the starting gate, readying herself to bolt down the hill.

Before she pushes off, she always does an inspection of each course — skiing at a snail’s pace to determine where she can go fast and where she has to prepare for tight turns — and then does a free run to test the hill.

Leg and arm swings and high knee lifts follow to get her warmed up before competition.

As well prepared as she is, there’s always that twinge of anxiety seconds before she attacks the hill.

“I just think positive thoughts, ‘You can do it, crush it,’” she said.

That’s exactly what she did last month at the high school state championships in La Crosse. Wehner won giant slalom and super-G, and was fifth in slalom. Her seven points — adding up her place finishes — put her one point ahead of the second-place finisher, who is one of her friends. One of Maddie’s teammates helped by beating the second-place finisher in one event, dropping her down by the deciding point.

The camaraderie is one of the things Maddie most enjoys about the sport.

“We don’t really get mad at each other. We just blame it on ourselves,” she said of skiers beating one another. “It’s a good competitive relationship.”

But it wasn’t exactly love at first slope. Or second. Or third.

Wehner began participating in the sport her family loves when she was 3. She tried little bunny hills with a harness.

“I did not like it at all,” she said. “I wanted to hang out with my friends and I was so cold.”

She remembers finally taking a liking to skiing around seventh grade.

“It took a while,” she said with a laugh.

She still gets cold — especially during the recently completed season — but has developed friends through the sport, which has become a lifestyle she loves but has required sacrifices.

Weekends from October into March are usually spent at ski hills across the state or in the Upper Peninsula for races, or in Colorado for training.

During the week, Wehner skis Monday through Thursday after school with Friday being a travel day. She’s on the West Bend Co-op ski team and a U16 team. She practices at Sunburst Ski Area in Kewaskum and Ausblick Ski Hill in Sussex.

“Sunburst (ski hill) is not an easy drive,” Wehner’s father Gary said. “When she gets home from school, she does a little homework and figures out how to study in the car.”

Maddie grabs a snack at the hills and has dinner after she gets back late at night “if it happens.”

All Wehner  members ski — including Maddie’s older brothers Jacob and Zach — and spend time with extended family in Colorado at Christmastime. Maddie has attended online school when she missed an extended period of middle school and now works with high school teachers to stay up with her work.

“The teachers have always been very supportive,” her father said.

At this year’s U16 Central Alpine Division championships in Colorado, Maddie took 15th.

She competes in three events in Wisconsin: super-G, giant slalom and slalom. She has competed in the fastest event, downhill, in Colorado since Wisconsin doesn’t have big enough hills for the event.

Super-G, the second-fastest event, has gates closer together than downhill. Giant slalom requires more turns, and slalom is more of a technical event with gates the same distance apart with constant turns.

Maddie’s favorite event has switched from giant slalom to slalom.

“It’s one of those sports you like what you’re best at,” she said.

In downhill, Maddie can reach 50 to 60 mph.

“You really get going,” she said.

Her father Gary said he gets butterflies just watching.

Maddie wiped out once this year but had more sympathy for her friend in the starting gate, who ended up getting a rerun since Maddie was in the way while being taken off the course.

“I felt really bad,” she said.

Maddie regularly gets bruises on her hands from hitting the gates but her only major skiing injury has been a strained patellar tendon. She has sustained more injuries while playing on her school and club soccer teams.

Soccer’s speed and agility are good cross-training skills for skiing. Maddie also lifts weights and runs in the skiing offseason.

Weather conditions can play a large role in the speed and safety of a hill. The perfect scenario, Maddie said, is a cold night so the course firms up, followed by a sunny day of 12 to 15 degrees. Hard snow without ruts or holes is the easiest to ski.

Courses later in the day worsen, after many skiers tear them up. At state, Maddie was fortunate to ski 19th of 149 competitors.

This season was a challenge with events rescheduled due to temperatures too warm for skiing, lack of snow and bitter cold. One of Maddie’s friends sustained frostbite on her big toe.

Skiing well doesn’t always feel comfortable. The goal, Maddie’s father said, is to ride on the edge of the skis and barely hold on to the turns.

“Sometimes if it feels good I’m not attacking as much,” Maddie said.

Equipment can make a difference.

“What makes the racer fast is those who can bend the ski,” her father said.

When a ski bends on a turn, it snaps and helps fling a skier down the hill. If skis are too stiff, they won’t bend; if they’re too loose they won’t provide that fling action.

Maddie’s first pair of skis were Rossignols. and she has used that brand ever since, aside from one season.

Several years ago, some of the family’s skis and equipment flew off of their car while driving home. Maddie was given hand-me-down Fischer skis, “and that was my worst year of skiing,” she said.

She went back to her favorite company the following year.

Next year, Maddie plans to join the International Ski Federation (FIS), the world’s highest governing body for international winter sports, including the Olympics. She meets the organization’s age requirement when she turns 16 on April 9.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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