Alpine SkiingNews

Jacqueline Wiles Takes Flight on Downhill Race Courses and Airplanes

by Brian Pinelli

Jacqueline Wiles celebrates taking second place in the women's downhill at the 2024 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Jan. 27, 2024 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. (Photo by Getty Images)

As the senior member of the Stifel U.S. Alpine Ski Team downhill squad, Jacqueline Wiles has been launching off jumps and soaring through the air on world cup race courses for more than a decade. More recently, she is also taking flight, while at the controls of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk single-engine airplane. 


“It’s exciting – the adventure of being able to fly anywhere and learn to control a machine like that is pretty empowering,” Wiles tells Team USA. 


At age 31, Wiles is relishing the best season of her career – having finished a career-best second in a downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Jan. 27. It hasn’t come easy, as she is on the comeback trail, once again, from injury. Wiles has finished among the top 15 in five consecutive downhill races, a streak currently intact.


Wiles sat out all of last winter, following another surgery and rehabilitation of a right knee full patella tendon reconstruction. The two-time Olympian from Portland, Oregon, maximized her time away from competitive ski racing, earning her pilot’s license in August 2023.


“It was good to have my mind focused on something else besides being in the gym – it was a fun year off,” Wiles said.


“Just the feeling of flying – the adrenaline that you get is something that I really hadn’t found outside of skiing, although I do ride motorcycles, but airplanes are another level.”


Wiles began flying in February 2019 and has benefited from a U.S. Ski Team partnership with Textron Aviation, the world’s leading general aviation company based in Wichita, Kansas. She typically flies out of Aurora, Oregon, south of Portland.


“My favorite flight that I’ve done was up to the San Juan Islands and Orcas Island, above Washington and that was absolutely gorgeous.


“I also took flights in Chile when we were training down there – flying in a different continent was really exciting. 


“Honestly, I just love flying around my hometown and seeing it from above is a whole new perspective, so that’s been really cool.”


Wiles said she is happy to guide friends, family, teammates and “anyone who wants to join.” 

Jackie Wiles poses for a picture with her Cessna 172 Skyhawk. (Photo by Jackie Wiles/U.S. Ski Team)

Back on the ground, Wiles conveys that she is re-energized competing in her 13th season on the U.S. Ski Team. The downhill racer has valiantly battled through numerous injuries over a six-year span, ever since a serious crash in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, shortly before the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.


“I feel like I have a new normal now, but I’m feeling the strongest that I have which is really exciting,” Wiles said. “I feel like I know my body better than I ever have and have a new appreciation for being on tour. 


“It’s a new perspective that I’m happy to be at in my life and really excited to be racing, having fun with the girls and skiing fast once again.”


Wiles recalled the untimely incident in Germany, which occurred one week after her previous world cup podium, a third-place result, also in Cortina. In that crash, she injured her left knee, broke her fibula, tore numerous ligaments and suffered perennial nerve damage.


“It’s been an insane six years – getting injured right after the last podium here and right before the 2018 Olympics. I was out for almost two years. That and a couple more injuries after that, it’s always been a fight of trying to push to get back to where I knew I could.”


Her resilience is evident, but Wiles informs she briefly contemplated retirement from the sport.


“It definitely crosses your mind after so many injuries – should I move on and do something else – but I didn’t want to give up.


“I had all the support in the world from the U.S. Ski Team and my family and friends, so I’m really grateful that I’ve had an amazing support system to help me keep going.”

Jacqueline Wiles competes during the women's super-G at the 2024 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Feb. 18, 2024 in Crans Montana, Switzerland. (Photo by Getty Images)

Wiles achieved the career-best second place result in Cortina in late January, starting position No. 26. It was a lengthy race, delayed by numerous crashes, injuries and windy conditions, all testing athletes’ nerves.


The veteran U.S. skier delivered a superb run, finishing runner-up to Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel, 0.35 seconds behind. 


“Just tried to stay in it mentally, trying to be patient,” Wiles said, in the Cortina finish area. “It was an insane day today. Super happy.”


Enhancing the warm and fuzzy feelings, Jackie’s father was at the Italian race to witness the moment firsthand.


“He knows exactly how hard it’s been the past five or six years, so I’m super psyched that he was here,” she said.

 

Two of her three career world cup podiums have come on the Olympia delle Tofane slope in Cortina d’Ampezzo. It is a long-term love affair that may grow even stronger considering that the Italian race venue will also be home to women’s alpine skiing events at the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026. 


Wiles exhibits good vibes envisioning what could be her third Olympic appearance.


“One-hundred-percent, that’s my goal – one more Olympics,” Wiles said. “It’s a special place – my favorite. I would love to be able to retire after that.”


In addition to the second and third place showings in Cortina, six years apart, Wiles also scored her first world cup points here, exceeding expectations and finishing 15th in a downhill at age 21, in January 2014.


“It’s an amazing, traditional downhill track – it’s pretty open, a lot of speed, a ton of terrain and it flows really well. It’s super when you are on the line and everything is flowing.


“The people are friendly here and the pizza is great,” she adds. “Cortina just has a special place in my heart.” 

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