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Alice Merryweather Returns To Ski Racing After Two Tough Battles

by Peggy Shinn

Alice Merryweather competes during the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's super-G on Feb. 29, 2020 in La Thuile Italy. (Photo by Getty Images)

Alice Merryweather knows what it’s like to face demons. In the past three-and-a-half years,

the 27-year-old Olympic alpine skier has been to hell and back — both mentally and physically.

She has battled an eating disorder, which she wrote candidly about for in May 2021. A few months later, after she had re-discovered her love of alpine ski racing, she crashed badly in downhill training and wrecked her left leg.

After four surgeries, Merryweather relied on the lessons learned from eating disorder treatment to help her get through two years of physical recovery. Now she is eager to get into the start house again — hopefully at FIS Alpine World Cup super-G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on December 8, 2023. Downhill will come later.

“I'm out of the confidence-building phase in both giant slalom and super-G,” Merryweather said from Colorado, where she trained in November to prep for the season (she skipped the first world cup downhill in Zermatt-Cervinia). “In super-G, I’m feeling very close to how I want to ski; I’m starting to work on going faster.”

Always forthright with her emotions, Merryweather is eager to share those lessons — with athletes and non-athletes alike.

Raised in New England, Merryweather’s ski career was on a good trajectory through her teens and early 20s. The Stratton Mountain School graduate won a junior world championship downhill title in 2017 (the first for American women since four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso won it in 2002). Merryweather earned an Olympic berth in 2018 — finishing 15th in combined. The following year, she scored her first world cup top 10, finishing eighth in a downhill, and she competed at world championships for the first time. By the 2019/2020 season, Merryweather was consistently finishing in the points (top 30 in alpine ski racing).

Even though she was accustomed to going downhill fast, Merryweather was not prepared for the steep mental dive that she took in 2020. In her final world cup before the pandemic hit — a downhill in La Thuile, Italy, near the French border — she finished 34th. It was an abrupt and frustrating way to end a season cut short by the pandemic.

She came home, signed up for a hefty course load at Dartmouth College, struggled to find housing, and then battled “a severe fear of complacency as spring training ramped up,” she wrote in her blog post. The “perfect stress-storm” sent her spiraling.

Alice Merryweather competes during the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's alpine combined on Feb. 23, 2020 in Crans Montana, Switzerland. (Photo by Getty Images)

To regain control — of her life and her body — she began restricting her diet. She lost interest in ski-racing, and by fall 2020, did not have the energy to sustain the training load. With her body breaking down, her coaches encouraged her to seek treatment.

So began the hardest few weeks of her life.

“It was so hard for me to try to wrap my head around healing from something that was inside of my brain, re-wiring pathways,” she said. “Going to the gym, getting strong, going to PT, things like that make sense to me. But overcoming the worst of the eating disorder was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face.”

In treatment at a hospital in Denver, Merryweather learned to respect her mind and body for what they can do, “rather than berate them for what they cannot,” she wrote. “I have learned that it’s okay, and even empowering at times, to seek out help.”

She learned to listen to her own needs and desires and to be patient and accepting of herself. She also learned to celebrate little victories in her path to recovery.

Through the process, Merryweather matured. She realized that she really does love ski racing. By September 2021, she was training full gas at a speed camp in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

One spiral had ended. But another was about to begin.

Merryweather remembers her crash “clear as day.” It was a sunny day in September 2021, and she was training downhill in Saas-Fee. Although most of the course was bathed in sunlight, the bottom part was in the shadows. And at the final gate, the slope abruptly flattened out, creating a compression.

It was here, on her first training run, that Merryweather’s inside ski hit “a little glacier chunk” and threw her off balance. She tried to recover but hit the compression before she could get her skis back under her. The force “folded over” her left leg, and she slid down the slope on her face. When she stopped sliding, she looked down and noted that her lower leg was bent in the wrong place.

“Okay, my leg is broken, I’m not going to look anymore, I know what the situation is, I’ve seen teammates go through this,” she thought. It was her first major injury.

Doctors at a Swiss hospital stabilized the compound tibia/fibula fractures with a rod. Merryweather just kept thinking, “I spent the last year rewiring my brain, this [recovery] is going to be nothing compared to that. This is easy, I just go to the gym, let my PTs tell me what to do, and I rest and let my body heal.”

Alice Merryweather competes during the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's alpine combined on Jan. 12, 2020 in Zauchensee, Austria. (Photo by Getty Images)

Five days after surgery, Merryweather flew home and soon found out that everything she had learned from her eating disorder treatment would help with her physical recovery. She had learned how to treat herself kindly, to be patient, and to celebrate little victories. Her life had slowed down during treatment, and she had learned to accept it. Now life would slow down again.

Merryweather had to endure three more surgeries — the final one in July 2022 to repair ligaments in her left knee. When days were tough, she remembered a saying that a friend had coined during eating disorder treatment: “This productively sucks.” Meaning, even on tough days, she was making progress.

“I’ve really been embracing that for the last three years,” said Merryweather.

She strove for balance in her life and dove back into her coursework at Dartmouth and “to lean into other aspects of my identity and things that I’m passionate about that aren’t skiing and not feel guilty about it.”

“There’s definitely a time in my career where if I wasn’t doing everything ski focused, I would feel guilty that I wasn’t working toward those goals and that I was slacking as an athlete,” she added.

Through it all, Merryweather never doubted that she wanted to return to ski racing.

“That to me was a no brainer, no matter how long it took,” she said. “I still have so much fire for it, so I didn’t doubt that I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Her big goal is to make the 2026 U.S. Olympic Team and the world championships next year. This season, she would like to rank in the top 25 in super-G (which would qualify her for world cup finals in March). But she is realistic.

“I recognize that I haven’t seriously raced since February 2020, which is a really long time,” she acknowledged. “So my main goal this year is to be patient with myself and give myself grace when things don’t go my way.”

Back in November 2020, when Merryweather first entered treatment for her eating disorder, teammates suggested that she reach out to Jessie Diggins, who had opened up about her own eating disorder in her book, Brave Enough, which hit the shelves in March 2020. Merryweather was shy at first but finally did send the Olympic gold-medal-winning cross-country skier a message.

“[Jessie] responded within hours, opened up about her own experience with treatment, and made herself a resource for me, which was so incredible,” said Merryweather. “I’m grateful for that.”

Diggins’s openness has inspired Merryweather to help her community of friends and fans if they are struggling with disordered eating. She often mentions that she has undergone treatment for an eating disorder — a conversational shocker for those who don’t know her whole story.

“The more we can be casual about it and approach getting treatment for anyone who’s struggling, then the easier it will be for people to reach out when they need help.”

“Treat it as if it’s an injury,” Merryweather continued. “You would go to the doctor if you hurt your ankle. You should go to the doctor if your brain is not okay. Vulnerability is one of the most powerful tools out there.”

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