Bombing runs have been taking place at Cochran’s Ski Area since the 1960s. But as far as we know, Ryan Cochran-Siegle is the only Olympian to launch himself through the base lodge window while making one.
It’s not that outlandish to suggest that, perhaps, more than one Olympic athlete has managed to repeat the incident. After all, Ryan’s mother, Barbara, won gold in slalom at the 1972 Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. Barbara’s brother, Bob, finished eighth in the downhill at those same Olympics, while sister Marilyn finished 20th in giant slalom. Lindy Cochran finished sixth in slalom at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck.
A generation later, Jimmy Cochran competed in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, and the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ryan, a member of the U.S. Ski Team since 2011, already has been to one Olympics (the highest he finished was 11th in giant slalom in 2018 at PyeongChang), and is on the cusp of competing in another one next month in Beijing.
This year’s Olympiad will be much different for Ryan Cochran-Siegle. In 2018, the Starksboro, Vt., native lingered behind U.S. team veterans like Andrew Weibrecht, Steve Nyman and Ted Ligety. Four years later, he stands out as the United State’s men’s alpine team’s best chance at nabbing a medal next month.
The fact that he will be able to be there at all didn’t seem so concrete only 12 months ago, when Ryan slipped and crashed during a run in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He wound up fracturing his neck, putting an end to what had been a breakout season.
The month before, Ryan had earned his first-ever World Cup victory, winning the super-G in Bormio, Italy, becoming the first American male to win a World Cup super-G since Bode Miller in 2006. He won the race by nearly eight-tenths of a second, the largest winning margin in a men’s World Cup super-G since 2016. Earlier that same month, he also had finished second in a downhill race in Val Gardena-Groeden, Italy, which had been his best career finish to that date. He finished in 2:01.67, only .22 of a second behind Aleksander Aamodt Kilde. Previously, he had never finished higher than fifth in any World Cup race.
With his second-place finish in Val Gardena-Groeden, Ryan had become the first American man to grab a podium since 2017, when Travis Ganong won a downhill in Germany. According to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, that was the longest drought in U.S. history.
But anyway, back to that bombing run,
Once the lifts closed at Cochran’s, which Mickey and Ginny Cochran started in 1961, grooming a few generations of “Skiing Cochrans” along the way, ski club kids would gather at the top of the hill and try to get as much speed as they could so not to have to hike back up to the lodge. On this particular day in 2000, when Cochran’s Ski Area was celebrating its 40th anniversary, weather had been warm the previous week, followed by rain and cold, which made the surface extremely slick. “My brother knew how fast the snow was at that point,” Barbara said. “He told everybody to make sure you didn’t go in front of the lodge, you had to go to the right of it.”
The only problem was Ryan, who was 8, had a stomach bug and had gone into the woods to throw up the same time his uncle was giving instructions. When it was his turn to bomb, he ended up carrying so much speed that when he hit a lip near the base of the lodge, he launched himself into the air. It was too late to change direction.
“He tried to turn,” Barbara said, “but his arm and head hit the window and it shattered.”
His mother, Barbara, had been inside the lodge, but out of sight of the window, when she heard what she compared to an exploding Pyrex dish. Her immediate thought was that somebody had gone through the window. Her second thought didn’t take too long to come to her, either.
“I knew it was Ryan,” she said.
A family tradition
Barbara doesn’t want it to sound like she’s bragging, but she saw something special in Ryan’s skiing when he was only 2 years old.
“He was always really gung-ho with skiing,” she said. “He just had such a natural feel for it. I might be exaggerating a bit, but the first time he raced a real race — not a lollipop race — I think he was 4. Ryan was so excited about racing, and it was surprising how well he did.”
Barbara watched him earn his first career victory in Bormio on livestream, from the family ski area in Richmond, Vt., last December. She later asked her son if he had heard her screaming from halfway across the world.
“I bet you did,” she said.
Barbara also was watching from Vermont when Ryan suffered his injury in Kitzbuehel, a moment that was just as terrifying as his victory had been exciting.
“I was shaking, crying,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Ryan suffered what he called a “minor broken neck.” The way he figured it, he was grateful that his brain was fine. Everything below his neck was fine. It was only the neck.
“The rehab was probably more stressful for me,” Barbara said. “He’s so diligent when it comes to rehab that he follows it religiously. But I was thinking, it’s a broken neck, you know? That can’t be not serious.”
However serious it was, Ryan was back on skis in May, four months before he announced he was switching over to Head after 17 years with Rossignol, yet another development in a calendar year that already had plenty for the skier.
As the page turned from 2021 into 2022, Ryan was 10th overall in FIS points on the World Cup tour. His best finish thus far this season was fourth place in a super-G race in Bormio. He missed the podium by five one-hundredths of a second that day.
Ryan entered January in 12th place in the overall World Cup standings, far behind leader Marco Odermatt of Switzerland. But with teammates Ganong, who had a third-place finish in super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Bryce Bennett, who last month won the first downhill by an American man in five years, the path to the Olympics looks bright for the U.S.
“Knowing that we’ve had success, it allows us to kind of just go out day by day and enjoy it and not worry so much about results,” Ryan said recently. “When you can focus on the skiing as much as you can and really just key in on that, that’s when you can ski fast.”
A legacy like no other
Barbara said that it has only dawned on her over the last couple of years just how much the Cochrans have meant to the history of skiing. She was 9 years old when her father moved the family to Richmond and built a rope tow in the backyard, where his children, or heck, anyone, could use it, free of charge. Over the years, it grew into a modest ski area that earned a reputation for churning out ski racers.
That included Barbara, who had 18 podium finishes over six World Cup seasons from 1969-74 — 11 in slalom, seven in giant slalom. The Rossignol Strato 102 skis she used to win gold in 1972 hang from the rafters at the base lodge at Cochran’s, today a nonprofit organization that serves as a vibrant community hill. Lift tickets this season are only $19. It’s $5 to ski under the lights on Fridays. Typical ski resort cafeteria prices for an underwhelming cheeseburger are not an issue here. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be purchased for around $3. A hard-boiled egg might run you a dollar.
Ski racing history oozes from every corner of the lodge. Racing bibs from the World Cup circuit over the decades hang from the wooden beams of the lodge. In the far left corner, there is a black-and-white photo of a young Barbara, waving to the crowd with a gold medal hanging around her neck. Jimmy Cochran now serves as the general manager.
Cochran’s thrives as a true community landmark with a reputation of being a racing factory. But Barbara also has seen a shift in recent years, from exclusively ski club families to those looking simply for the pure enjoyment of skiing.
“Even though we’re still known for the race training, we’re also known for younger families and lessons.” Barbara said. “Watching people come and enjoy themselves, it’s really fun.”
Cochran’s has welcomed families from the likes of Louisiana, Brazil and England over the past few years. One family from Florida told Barbara, “This is exactly what we wanted. We didn’t want a fancy resort, we just wanted something that was local.”
It is the closest ski area to Burlington, so Barbara figures that it comes up when that city’s visitors are looking for a good place to learn how to ski. But Cochran’s also stands out as an outlier in a Vermont ski industry being gobbled up by major corporations. “I think, in a way, it makes us stand out more,” Barbara said. “I think that Jimmy as GM does a great job with the operations decisions made over the years. Just the other day, I thought, Mom and Dad would be so excited about what’s happening at Cochran’s.”
Thanks to the pandemic, foreign spectators are banned from attending the Olympic Games in Beijing next month, so Barbara will have to livestream Ryan’s races again, watching to see if yet another Cochran can find success at the Winter Games.
“Skiing has been such a big part of our family that it’s nice to have the next generation continuing,” Barbara said. “And then, even looking down the road to the generation after Ryan to see eventually what they might do too …
“My goodness, we are. We’re part of history.”