Last year, John Teller, a car mechanic from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., was a late addition to the 2010 Winter X Skier X roster. He made much of his chance, surprising most by making the final and finishing sixth. Unfortunately, that was easily the high point of his 2009-10 season. Teller wasn't chosen for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team; he served as an alternate. Then he finished 33rd on the World Cup Ski Cross circuit, a series he joined in spring '09.
And then things got worse. American ski stalwarts Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett retired from World Cup competition. With the anchors of the U.S. skiercross effort gone, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association cut funding for the national ski cross squad. Teller had two options: Quit or go it on his own.
Teller continued, with some aid from the American Ski Cross Association (ASCA). Formed by ski industry vets like Rahlves and Puckett, the grassroots nonprofit offered Teller important assistance. However, the ASCA is still in its beginning stages, and funds aren't plentiful. Athletes racing under its umbrella foot much of their own bills and travel to events without the privilege of coaches or ski technicians.
But it helped get Teller to Europe. He did the rest on his own. At the December 2010 World Cup stop in San Candido, Italy, Teller stayed up late tuning his own skis while competitors slept. By the end of the weekend, Teller had his first World Cup podium, a third place. He trumped that with a stunning victory at St. Johann, Austria, on January 7. In the process, Teller became the first American to win a World Cup Ski Cross.
We caught up with Teller after he traveled to France. At this rate, the favorites may have trouble catching him at Winter X 15.
Congratulations on the win. How does it feel to be the first American to win a World Cup Ski Cross?
Being the first to achieve a World Cup win is huge, especially looking at the guys that raced before me. Casey Puckett and Daron Rahlves are two of the best skiers the U.S. Ski Team ever had. To win without any support from the U.S. Ski Team or a technician or coach means it was all on me to try and succeed. This means I put a lot of time and effort into my skis alone. I spend countless hours working on my skis at every race when most of the other athletes are resting. I guess that's good because I love the hard work and it means that much more to win under these circumstances.
What was your strategy for this particular race?
My strategy was to try and win the start because there wasn't very much room to make a pass anywhere. I succeeded in all of the heats except the final. When I saw the chance to make a pass, I did it and came out with the win.
This is your second podium of the young season. What are you doing differently this year?
I trained pretty hard this summer on fitness and rode a bit of motocross. Motocross correlates amazingly with ski cross. My work ethic in life is my biggest contributor. I have to work as a mechanic for my real job so I know how hard work pays off. Most other athletes are able to concentrate on their sport for a job where I have to work 9-to-5 before I can play.
How will this win aid your fundraising efforts with the American Ski Cross Association?
Hopefully it will help get more people interested in the sport and ASCA. ASCA is a big part of the reason I am able to race this year and I owe a lot to their hard work. All the people in Mammoth Lakes, my hometown, are very supportive and a very big reason I made it this far.