December 01, 2015

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong's eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at world championships.

''It's really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,'' Ganong said. ''Before you have the first result, you're always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that's when the really good skiing comes.''

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he's taken a gradual approach to his development - never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at worlds.

''I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,'' Ganong said. ''Last year I was like, `OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.'

''Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. ... Now this year it's all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.''

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

''We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn't worry about setting up gates. We'd go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,'' Ganong said. ''That's the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.''

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong's idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

''I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,'' Ganong said. ''I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that's all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.''

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider's course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn't pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn't have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

''For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,'' Ganong said. ''I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.''

No one could catch Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

''Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,'' Ganong said. ''But Beaver Creek? It's a different hill.''

Ganong's kind of hill.

''Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,'' said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ''I'm trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I'm an underdog and have something to prove.

''Hopefully, that's a good mentality to keep me fired up.''

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