Giles tests his speed and determination with club alpine skiing
May 16, 2023
The slopes are a test of patience and mental strength for junior Henry Giles. His dedication to competitive downhill skiing has taught him the importance of getting back up and trying again.
At age seven, a school friend convinced Giles to put on some skis and try the sport of alpine skiing. Just two years later he started competing, and the slopes have been his outlet since.
A standout on the SPA alpine team, Giles also skis with the Buck Hill club team, going to the hill three or four times a week. His season spans the snowy months in Minnesota and can extend when he travels elsewhere to find powder.
Skiing has taken Giles across the world for competitions. He has tested his performance across the Mountain West and Europe, and into the Southern Hemisphere. He will head to Chile in a couple of months.
Ski competitions are trials of individual performance, and can create a high-pressure environment. Most competitions in the international league consist of a two-run race, with an additional inspection run allowing athletes to vet the course before the official runs start.
“The first run you are really nervous– I am usually pretty freaked out,” Giles said.
Though, by the time he gets to the second run, the nerves are replaced with new confidence in the route. Running the course is a test of speed. Skiers are ranked on their time and its difference from the top time.
Failure is completely fine and it happens a lot. If you fail enough you will eventually succeed.”
— Henry Giles
Maneuvering through the routes can be a challenge. While focusing on speed down the hill, skiers also have to dodge gates. If a gate is hidden they are given a “DNF” and eliminated from placing in the competition. Giles said he has a high DNF rate– meaning sometimes he is unable to finish the race.
“It really does get in my head,” he said about not finishing, “I just think that if I keep going at it I’ll eventually succeed, and I’ve had greater success through the years, so it’s paying off.”
Managing failure is a life skill, and Giles finds that his lessons from skiing are applicable not only to how he deals with disappointment, but how he approaches the world.
“Failure is completely fine and it happens a lot. If you fail enough you will eventually succeed,” he said, “It’s a philosophy that I have internalized.”
Giles is uncertain whether he will ski competitively in college, as his senior year times are the determining factor. NCAA skiing recruitment differs from other Division 1 sports, because of the high number of international athletes, especially coming from the European Alps. There, alpine skiing is a bigger part of the culture and there are more elite skiers.
“We have football, they have ski racing,” he said.
Giles doesn’t mind that skiing is a niche sport here. At times he wishes that it had the same cred and audience as football, but he also enjoys the small community it creates.
At alpine competitions everyone is there together, so Giles frequently sees elite performers and Olympians. The small community of the Buck Hill club team also creates a supportive environment. Giles has traveled and practiced with a similar cohort for years, making for a tight-knit group of athletes.