How Ester Ledecká Pulled off the Miracle on Snow

Ester Ledecka on skis

She’s pulled off the upset of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Ester Ledecká, a world champion parallel snowboarder jumped into the Super-G alpine event with little aspirations of winning. She just wanted to have a great run.

Ledecká did, and to the surprise of everyone, the Czech snowboarder, ranked 43rd in the world in the Super-G, won the gold medal. How did she do it? In a rush to explain, there was very little expert commentary. The assumption was that snowboarding and skiing are very different – a lot was made about how Ledecká was the first person ever to appear in two different Olympic events in the same Olympics, and that the skills for both were quite different.

And yet, according to ski and snowboarding coaches I talked with, that is not necessarily the case.

Jon Casson, the director of sport education for U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), was in PyeongChang to cheer on the numerous Olympians he has coached, thought that skiing and snowboarding, on the whole, are quite similar.

My personal opinion is that I don’t think they are truly as dissimilar as the experts make it out to be.  In the end, it’s about pointing your equipment downhill and going as fast as you can. You stand on the equipment and you move your body.  Those movements put pressure on the ski or board and make it do something.  In this case, it’s maintaining as flat a base as possible and taking as direct a line down the hill as possible.  As the most dominant athlete in her snowboarding discipline, she understands this innately and can make her equipment do those things. 

In other words, if you say you’re super at skiing, and you feel you need to prioritize your training, you will only focus on your skiing skills. But someone like Ledecká comes along and shows that under the right conditions, your skills in one sport are transferable in others. This is when cetain other skills can make a difference.

Jon Casson
United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Sport Education Director Jon Casson leads a coaching class at Copper Mountain.

According to wax technician extraordinaire Andy Buckley, who was also in PyeongChang, Ledecká had a skill above and beyond the other skiers. Buckley explained that in Super-G alpine skiing, racers do not get to do trial runs. Once the course is set, the skiers are given ample time to examine the course, but they can’t ski it until the competition. What Buckley said is that Ledecká had superior capability to “read the terrain, find the right lines, know where to go high or low on a gate.” a skill she picked up from both skiing and snowboarding.

And as Casson added, “Ester not only has the athleticism, she has the confidence to go fast or go big, and that transferred to skiing.”

Ester Ledecka on snowboard
Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka wins gold in the women’s parallel slalom snowboarding at the World Championships in Spain.

So how did Ledecká seemingly come out of nowhere to win the Super-G?

  • She had mastered the movements of a snowboard, and how to manipulate it with her body, arms, legs and feet in perfect harmony to the snow-covered ground, and more importantly, she was certain in her belief that these skills transferred directly to skiing. And let’s not forget, she was indeed a skier, someone who came to PyeongChang with an intent to compete in both disciplines.
  • Ledecká was an expert at reading the terrain, a highly critical skill for a race that does not allow competitors to have trial runs, and thus feel and know the course in advance. She read it, kept it in her head to visualize, and executed.
  • And she was confident, with nothing to lose. She was in PyeongChang for the parallel snowboarding race, so why not go for broke on Super-G?

For Ledecká, the conditions were the perfect storm. And that storm begs a name.

Let’s call it Hurricane Ester.