Poby for SNOW Magazine
America’s No. 1 skier of all time is jetsetting, enterprising and engaged
By Shauna Farnell
Lindsey Vonn has kept herself plenty busy since retiring from ski racing. The 35-year-old has launched new clothing collections, a beauty line, written a memoir, starred in an HBO documentary, led children’s camps and has walked countless red carpets. Oh yes, she’s also engaged.
Having put her Vail home on the market and relocated to New Jersey with fiancé and NHL star P.K. Subban, Vonn is still coming to terms with the reality of ending her ski career. After all, this marks her first winter since childhood in which skiing is not a major agenda item.
When asked whether it feels like five minutes or a lifetime ago that she was rocketing down icy racetracks, Vonn said, “it’s kind of both.”
“It’s a bit weird to not be on the snow at this time, but it feels natural. It feels good to be in a different routine,” she said during a November phone interview. “I feel like so many times at this point in the season, I’m injured. I’m not injured right now, so that’s a very good thing.”
The bittersweet goodbye
Over her final 14 years of racing, Vonn did not go a single season without injury. She suffered multiple knee ligament tears and fractures, a broken ankle, broken arm, torn tendons and multiple concussions.
Her final race – the 2019 World Championship downhill last February – transpired in dramatic fashion.
After starting her farewell season with a training crash at Copper Mountain that resulted in nerve damage and a torn LCL in her left knee, Vonn spent several months furiously pursuing another familiar but unwitting pastime: rehabilitation. She competed in only three races leading up to the World Championships and, as documented in HBO’s Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season, suffered great pain with every turn. Thus came her decision to end her decorated career before planned, making the 2019 World Championship performance her last.
In her second-to-final race – the World Championship super G – Vonn suffered yet another crash. Then, exhibiting the super-human resilience that characterized her race career, the freshly battered Vonn nonetheless entered the downhill five days later.
Under such odds – having barely raced all season, with a missing ligament in one leg and biting pain with every bump – simply making it to the finish line was a struggle. But Vonn made it there in typical form … fast enough to win a medal.
The bronze she earned was added to her trophy collection, which totals eight World Championship medals alongside three Olympic medals and 20 World Cup globes, including four overall titles. Vonn wrapped up her career with 82 World Cup wins, the most of any female alpine skier ever and just five short of the all-time record held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, a record that Vonn had hoped to beat as her swan song, her grand finale on-snow achievement.
“I didn’t want to retire,” Vonn said nearly a year later. ““I wanted to break the record.”
Vonn wrapped up the end of last winter with what she hopes is the absolute final surgery of her life – repairing her LCL and relieving nerve pain in her left leg.
A break from the slopes to make way for business
Skiing, Vonn’s lifelong passion and what she has described as her “only rock” during her toughest personal experiences – bouts of loneliness, depression and a divorce from ex-husband Thomas Vonn — is something from which Vonn now wants to distance herself … at least for one winter.
“I don’t think I’ll be skiing much this year. I’m not ready for it yet,” she said. “The wound is too raw, too fresh, too open. I feel like right now every time I think about skiing, I think about pain … emotional pain and physical, too. Emotionally, I’m not ready for it yet.”
Thus, Vonn is pouring her energy into other endeavors. She’s a global ambassador for her buddy Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Project Rock Collection with Under Armour, released a new sportswear line with long-time ski sponsor Head, has a forthcoming beauty line in the works as well as a memoir – Rise: My Story. She said the standout experience (so far) of her retirement was getting engaged last August to P.K. Subban, a 30-year-old, Canadian-born NHL star who currently plays for The New Jersey Devils.
“Starting this next chapter in my life with him by my side has been huge for me,” she said. “Knowing my future is with him and is bright makes me happy. He’s been really good to me. He believes in me as a person. He doesn’t care if I’m a skier or a businesswoman. He loves me for me, which makes me feel more confident with myself.”
Vonn has tentative plans for a nuptial date some time in 2020.
“I’m working on it,” she said. “I’m in the process of hiring a wedding planner. With P.K.’s schedule and because we have a big family and are trying to find a good location, I have nothing solidified yet. It’ll probably be when he’s in his off-season. We definitely want to get married sooner rather than later. I want to do it someplace warm.”
Having spent much of her life freezing in a lightweight speed suit at high elevations, Vonn is spending as much of her free time as possible in warmer climates. As anyone who follows her on Instagram already knows, she has not lapsed whatsoever in her workout regimen, regularly photographed performing precarious-looking balancing acts and hoisting what appears to be twice her body weight. Having also sold her home in Los Angeles, Vonn has continued to spend plenty of time there (e.g., her many red carpet appearances, including hanging out with The Jonas Brothers, John Mayer and the Charlie’s Angels cast) and signs up for a suffer session with celebrity personal trainer Gunnar Peterson at every opportunity.
“Every time I go back to L.A., I’ve got to get a workout session in with Gunnar,” she said. “It’s hard to find the motivation to get into the gym these days. I work with some trainers in New Jersey, too. I’m trying to keep after it.”
It seems that nearly every week since her retirement Vonn is making some sort of celebrity or swanky brand appearance somewhere in the world, be it for Land Rover, Rolex or … attending an orchestra with the king and queen of Spain.
“I feel it’s been a lot more travel, definitely,” she said. “When I was skiing, I always had to control my schedule. I obviously had to train – there was so much I had to think about – but now I can travel as much as I want or as much as my schedule allows. I’m bad at saying no, so I’m probably traveling more than I should, but I like working so … there’s an upside and a downside.”
Ranking among the major upsides of retirement is Vonn’s ramped-up role with her charity, the Lindsey Vonn Foundation. Launched in 2014, the Foundation is aimed at empowering young girls in their passions through confidence-building camps and by supplying scholarships toward the young recipients’ chosen sport or activity. In the last two years, the Foundation has awarded more than 100 girls across the country with more than $315,000 in scholarships. Vonn has attended every single camp (called Strong Girls Camps and free to the first hundred or so 11-to-14-year-old girls who register) and says that empowering children continues to rank among her life’s most-fulfilling endeavors.
“I was all in,” she said, reminiscing back to last summer’s camps in Baltimore and New York, during which she allowed the young attendees to tattoo her arm. “I had permanent marker all over my arm for a few days.”
Along with her younger sister, Laura Kildow, who runs the Foundation, Vonn aims to add more camps and do her part in providing transformative experiences to the young women who attend.
“I always wanted to be at every camp, but we only had one camp a year specifically because I was never able to attend,” Vonn said. “I want to be very involved. We’re going to try to do as many as we can now. I want to do stops in certain places annually … that’s my next goal.”
Her glowing influence
A person needs only to glimpse photos from the Strong Girls Camps – the glowing faces of attendees laughing with Vonn – to guess at the positive energy being exchanged.
“There are a lot of instances of individual connections,” Vonn said. “There was a girl in one of my camps who was a cutter. She was depressed and she’d cut herself. She said that I turned her life around. This was the turning point for her. It started a chain reaction. The cutting stopped. I’m so thankful I was able to be there for her, to be that hope and inspiration. To know that I don’t just inspire kids, but I actually change their lives is unbelievable and rewarding. Everyone out there has their own story. Everyone has their own obstacles.”
Like so many of the kids involved in the Foundation, Vonn has kept in touch with the girl in question.
“We texted a lot. I saw her after that, several months later. She’s so much happier now. It’s amazing to see that transformative change. It’s an emotional change for me, too,” Vonn said.
The cornerstone of Vonn’s close connection with the Foundation girls likely stems from her approachability and sincere presence.
“No one’s perfect. I’m definitely far from perfect,” she said. “That’s what I always tell the girls … that everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. It’s just whether you believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody is going to believe in you. I try to deliver that message and make them see their potential.”
Vonn’s approach harkens back to being on the flipside of such wisdom, when she encountered her hero, fellow American ski racer Picabo Street, as a young girl. Street left an unforgettable impression, imparting a ray of light that ended up illuminating Vonn’s career path.
“That’s what Picabo did for me and the premise of my Foundation … being able to connect with kids in powerful, meaningful, empowering ways,” she said.
Now that Vonn is venturing into unchartered territory herself, she is trying to take her own advice to heart.
“At the Foundation, we’re making an impact one girl at a time. Also, I think being able to be a businesswoman and prove to myself that I’m more than a skier, that’s been really impactful to me personally as to who I am and what I’m capable of. I didn’t have a traditional education and I’m really self-conscious about whether I’m smart enough to be doing these things. But the work I’m doing so far really makes me feel I belong. That’s been very empowering for me.”
Now that she’s put some distance between herself and her ski career, Vonn has new perspective on the impact she made as an athlete and teammate.
“Sometimes I feel I’ve driven in the last six years to be a leader, but you don’t always know if you made an impact,” she said. “It makes me feel good, the comments I get from people. It’s very validating. I guess it’s better than I could have thought. As a team, we always pushed each other and grew together and were injured together. We’ve been through a lot as a team, as women. It’s hard to not be around them all the time. I was around them more than I was around my family for most of my life.”
Although she is no longer a Colorado resident, Vonn still has family here, including her brother and father in Vail, and said her time on the slopes is not behind her forever.
“My dad still lives there and I can always stay with him when I come. It’s not like I’m not going to be in Colorado ever. I’m still part of the community. Once I move past my skiing career and can actually ski for fun, I’m going to go out there and ski with my dad and brother. I look forward to that.