Looking back, Laurenne Ross is glad she took last season off.
The World Cup skier and two-time Olympian from Bend needed more time to recover from multiple knee injuries that threatened to end her career.
During her year away from ski racing, Ross earned her bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Oregon, and spent time alpine touring, cross-country skiing and working out at a home gym in Bend.
“I feel like I’m a lot stronger than I was at this point last year, and in a lot less pain,” Ross says.
“Just more ready, and less protective of my injury. Emotionally and psychologically I’m more well recovered as well. I’m really glad I took a year off. And it was a good year to take off because of everything that happened at the beginning of February (when COVID-19 struck Europe).
“I’m better, stronger, recovered, and ready to go now.”
Ross, who mainly competes in the speed events, made a dramatic comeback from a devastating right knee injury in March 2017 to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where she finished 15th in both the downhill and super-G.
But in February 2019, she crashed during a downhill training run at the World Championships in Sweden and injured her left knee.
Ross, 32, says she briefly pondered retirement, but eventually made the decision to just take the entire next season off.
“I think I’m as close to 100% as I’ll ever get,” Ross says. “I am living with a new normal now, but it’s manageable. I just have to be smarter about my training, and smarter about trying to do more quality versus quantity when I’m taking runs. It just wears on me a little bit more. But at the same time I feel like I’m just as strong as I ever have been, and just as capable. And also smarter in some ways, and more experienced, and that will serve me well in the next couple years.”
Ross says she hopes to race at least two more seasons.
“If I can get through the 2022 Olympics (in Beijing) I would be pretty stoked,” she says.
Ross recently returned from a training session with the U.S. Ski Team on glaciers in Italy and Switzerland, where she skied in speed gates for the first time in nearly 18 months.
“It came back really easily, and didn’t take as long as I thought it would take,” Ross says. “It was almost like the first run, it came so naturally and it felt so right. I knew I could make it work at that point.”
Ross’s first race of the season will likely be in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in early December. Her longtime boyfriend, Bend’s Tommy Ford, is also a World Cup skier and two-time Olympian.
He starts his season Sunday with a giant slalom race in Austria. (Most races on the World Cup circuit are held in Europe anyway, but this season all races in North America were canceled due to the pandemic.)
Ford said he was proud of Ross’s decision to take a year off from racing.
“It was a very hard decision for her,” he said a year ago. “She’ll have a little different winter.”
It was a different winter for Ross, but mostly in a positive way.
“It was kind of hard to sit out,” Ross says. “But honestly I knew I wasn’t ready. Knowing that really put me at ease. Because I went to school for the winter, I kind of removed myself from the skiing scene. So it was easy to kind of ignore ski racing in general. I didn’t really watch races or get caught up in missing the season.”
But Ross was there in Beaver Creek, Colorado, last December when Ford got his first World Cup victory, at age 30, and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in 20 years.
Ford returned home to Bend from Europe in early March, after the last World Cup race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He quarantined alone for two weeks, but then the couple set out on a spring and summer filled with adventure and training.
They went backcountry skiing and cross-country skiing, and bought their own weight set and set it up in a friend’s garage in Bend to avoid gyms.
“In a way, it was kind of nice to have that space and seclusion,” Ross says.
“We went on a winter camping adventure and we explored the area a little bit more, which we haven’t really gotten to do a whole lot.”
In June, Ross traveled with the U.S. Ski Team for training in Copper, Colorado. She skied giant slalom gates at Copper, and later in the summer at Mount Hood.
After her latest training sessions on the glaciers of the Alps, she says she is ready to return to racing World Cup downhill and super-G.
“I’ve really thought about what I want to do next and how I want to approach retirement, but I’m not really thinking about that now,” Ross says. “I’m committing to going back to skiing and hoping that I can ski well and stay strong and healthy for the next two years at least.”