National champion, Fraser native trades skis for a bike
May 18, 2017
Alison Powers stood at the bottom of the downhill racing track in Haus, Austria, in 2004 looking up at the mountain that had derailed her promising career as a downhill skier just three years earlier.
During a World Cup race in 2001, Powers had fallen and collided with the finishing gate, shattering her kneecap.
Now her last race was in front of her, and she knew this time she would end it on her feet.
Though she hit a panel on the way down, lost a pole and missed the last gate, she was still standing. In a final act of defiance against the hill that changed her life, she raised her hand, middle finger extended, and flipped it off.
It was the ending of Powers's impressive ski career, and in many ways, the beginning of an exceptional cycling career.
Powers was raised in Fraser where she learned to ski and mountain bike from a very early age. She credited her athleticism in large part to her parents, Graham and Louise Powers, who kept the family in constant motion.
"My parents are very athletic and active," said Powers.
Her parents were ski patrollers at Winter Park on the weekends, which meant shes and her sister would spend their winters skiing and their summers biking. She learned to race at the Winter Park Competition Center, and recognized her potential in her freshman year at Middle Park High School, where she began to defeat older competition.
She went pro at 17, while she was a junior in high school, and ended up spending seven years on the U.S. National Ski Team as a downhill ski racer.
Things changed after her accident in 2001.
"That hill permanently changed my life," recalled Powers. "Things were going on a really upward path." She had been named to the World Championship Team and things were going "really awesome." But then she crashed on the Austrian hill when she was winning the race.
"That was the beginning of the end of my ski racing career," she said quietly.
Powers had five surgeries done on her knee, spent five weeks in a straight-leg cast and required several scopes to get rid of scar tissue. She was out of her skis for over a year.
But she used the injury to her advantage: it helped her to understand what she enjoyed about racing. The avid skier's discovery was surprising.
"I realized through all of it that I didn't enjoy the skiing as much as I enjoyed being an athlete. Running, jumping, lifting weights, that's what I missed much more than ski racing.
When she returned to the slopes, it was just "okay," as she put it.
"I wasn't the same as I was before. My knee always hurt and I was afraid. Then I stopped," she explained.
Powers pushed through pain and eventually finished that last race in 2004. She redeemed herself on the same Austrian mountain where she was injured. At the time it seemed she was finished being a professional athlete, but a 18 months later she was tackling a whole new beast: professional cycling.
She began her career as a pro cyclist in 2005 and quickly rose through the ranks. She was winning local races in Colorado before she was picked up by a local team and began competing on the national stage.
And she was dominant.
She won two National Championships in 2008 in time trial and team pursuit, two national racing calendar titles, and took second at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. But she would not emerge as the face of the sport until 2014. In late 2013, Powers won the national championship in the criterium category. Then in May 2014 she won the national championships in road racing and time trial. To this day she is the only American in history to hold all three road discipline National Championship titles at once.
Then, at the height of her success, she decided to call it quits.
"My legs and body could have continued, but not my mind. I just didn't enjoy the training, and I didn't enjoy the travel. I just wanted to be home with my husband and my dogs, and be in the mountains of Colorado," said Powers.
Today she lives in the small town of Pinecliffe with her husband, Josh Harrod, and two dogs. She is the owner and head coach of ALP Cycles Coaching and still rides enjoys road and mountain biking.
Powers is currently working with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce to create "Mountain Bike Capital USA" in Winter Park, an event scheduled for July 28 and 29 that will offer mountain bikers a chance to hone their skills with clinics and explore the trails of Winter Park and Fraser Valley.
Powers says she doesn't miss racing, but she does miss her team.
"My last year racing I was still learning the tactics," said Powers. "I had really great teammates, and a really great director and staff who taught us about bike racing. I miss that. That was really fun and rewarding."