Ski to Live

Marco’s Final Finish Line


By Mike “A.K.” Akay

Marco Sullivan is one of the greatest skiers and one of the greatest guys in the world. He just ended an illustrious World Cup ski career during which he garnered numerous medals and gained more respect as a noble and strong competitor. This season, in his last start, he just edged out Bode Miller to become the American with the most World Cup downhill starts, at 105. That is quite an achievement in such a risky sport. I was at the 2002 Olympics to watch Marco and Daron Rahlves both race in the downhill. That was Marco’s first Olympiad, and he stunned the crowd with an eighth-place finish. He ended his career strongly as well, placing 18th and earning a substantial amount of World Cup points this season and making his Atomic ski sponsor very proud. The former Mighty Mite racer was in four Olympics and six World Championships in his 15-year career with the U.S. Ski Team, and he had a decisive World Cup downhill victory in Chamonix in 2008. Over the years, I have found Marco one of the easiest people to talk to and he is generous with his time. I was fortunate to catch up with Marco for an interview after he announced the big news of his retirement.
AK: What was the most memorable moment in your career?
Marco:The best moments in my career were all the times I was able to be racing on a downhill course. The nervousness at the start and then the quiet zone you enter when you are on course. I always loved that feeling of freedom, regardless of the result.
AK: What was the favorite race of your career?
Marco: I think my favorite race was the 2002 Olympic Downhill in Salt Lake City. It was close to home so many of my friends and family were able to attend. I had a great result and I remember standing in the start gate and not having a care in the world. I was so happy to be racing in the Olympics, and it all worked out to be an amazing week of my life.
AK: After spending so many winters in Europe, what will you miss most?
Marco:The ski culture in Europe is awesome. Never-ending ski resorts, great coffee, people yelling at you and you have no idea what they are saying. I will also miss being a part of the World Cup tour because it is the biggest show in town. So much energy surrounds the classic downhill races in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. It’s a ton of fun.
AK: What is the highest m.p.h. speed you achieved in downhill racing?
Marco: 100 m.p.h. one year in Wengen, Switzerland.
AK: Is there a moment you wish you could take back?
Marco: Beaver Creek 2003. I missed a gate near the end of my first training run. I guess I was frustrated or something because instead of slowing to a stop I straight-lined down to the finish jump and popped it. That cost me two seasons of not racing after dislocating my right knee. That was a split second decision that I would surely take back if I could.
When Marco crossed the finish line at the end of this World Cup season at Lillehammer, Norway for his 105th World Cup downhill start and his last, he reflected on his time on the circuit, saying “It didn’t really hit me until I was in the finish, I was taking in everything the whole day. It was especially nice to hear from all my competitors about how much they loved having me around. I guess they meant it,” he laughed. “I always tried to be the guy who helped lift everyone’s spirit.” That statement truly reflects the man that Marco Sullivan is and many have enjoyed his strong presence, on and off the ski hill. Good luck to Marco with his next endeavors, be it another Arctic Man victory, X Games, Banzai, Alaskan ski films or whatever he chooses.

Siberia Express Deja Vu


by Mike “AK” Akay

On a beautiful, sunny cold December day, the new Siberia Express lift was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Squaw|Alpine CEO Andy Wirth presided over the festivities, and the first riders enjoyed excellent early season conditions. The new six pack, which cost $7 million, has a larger capacity and a stronger design to resist the high winds that can exist up on that ridge. A few attendees reminisced about the old double chair that opened in 1968 and its midway station just below the face. Others recalled the second incarnation of Siberia in 1985 when it became the first detachable quad chair in the U.S. The grand opening was marked by an appearance of a live “Siberian tiger,” courtesy of Marine World/Africa USA (now Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) in Vallejo. Former Squaw Valley USA Marketing Director Bill Jensen, now the publisher of the Squaw Valley Times, says no one cared that the big cat was actually a male Bengal tiger.BJ:Tiger

We took a little liberty there,” Jensen recalls. “His name was Ricon, and he made public appearances all the time but this was a first at a ski area.

“He was really just a big pussycat,” says Jensen. “He rode up the Cable Car and then was transported by snow cat to the bottom of Siberia. He was very docile, very tame. That is until our marketing intern Kristy Smith came running up from Gold Coast dressed in a faux tiger suit, which came as a surprise to all of us. At first, I thought this is a nice unexpected touch, but when Ricon saw her running from a distance, he grew very agitated and his handlers told me in no uncertain terms to ‘get her the hell out of sight—and quickly.’ They explained to me that if Ricon thought he was seeing a strange male tiger he might want to fight, and if he thought it was a female, well, that wasn’t going to turn out well, either.”

Jensen says the tiger mascot was eventually introduced to Ricon away from the tumult, and the ceremony then went on smoothly with Squaw Valley Chairman Alex Cushing and President Jimmy Mott cutting the ribbon while Ricon posed regally in the background.

“Ricon was very accommodating, he even jumped right up into one of the quad chairs,” says Jensen. “And there certainly was no room for anybody else.

“Later that year, we brought Ricon back for the Miss Sierra SnowFest Pageant at OVI. He was right on stage with all the contestants,” says Jensen. “He was very comfortable with people. His trainers loved him, they had raised him from a cub, and he had his own customized van to travel in. He was never a problem, and people just loved him, too.

“About a year later though, we saw in the news that he jumped into a crowd at a raucous pep rally at San Mateo High School. No one was seriously hurt, Ricon apparently just got excited when all the kids started screaming. The trainers called me and said that was the end of Ricon’s public appearances.”

A current Six Flags spokesperson confirmed that such visits by wild cats were discontinued some time ago. That was “a different era,” she said.

So in this “new era,” we had to settle for cookies, hot cocoa, a deejay and some good memories–and the skiing was great!