Alpine skier with Copper Country roots winning big
VAIL, Colo. — Since the beginning of 2023, 17-year-old Hunter Salani, of Vail, Colorado, has not only been selected to the U.S.A. Junior World Championship Alpine Ski Team, but has proudly represented the team on the podium.
He earned a third-place (bronze) finish in the downhill at the international event held in St. Anton, Austria, two weeks ago. Last weekend, he swept the podium at the U18 Nationals in the giant slalom. In short, it has been quite a year for this up-and-coming skier, and the calendar is just now turning to February.
“His athletic abilities come from a long history of Salani talent,” quipped his dad, Gerald Salani.
Gerald graduated from Hancock High School in 1979 and was the Bulldogs’ MVP skier his senior year. He credits his love for downhill skiing to his sister, Teri, who is in the Michigan Tech Hall of Fame as a skier.
“She taught me to ski on Mt. Ripley when I was 10,” he said. “She is also the reason I ended up in Vail in 1990. She was on the ski patrol here (and still is), and worked as a nurse at the Vail hospital during the summers.”
Gerald explained that Teri needed help taking care of her new-born twins, and he took her up on the deal.
“I stayed with her, helping out for a little more than a year, and I was hooked (on Vail), and never left,” Gerald said.
Gerald said Hunter was quick to pick up the Salani’s passion for skiing.
Gerald related that Hunter was on skis for the first time when he was just three and has been training and racing at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail since he was five.
As a teenager, Hunter has skied around the United States and the world, including Italy, Austria and Chile. This past summer, he spent three weeks skiing and training in New Zealand.
A year ago, in 2022, he was the U18 U.S. National Overall champion (at Vail). His point total for the four Alpine ski events (downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G) were more than 115 points greater than the second-place finisher.
The Vail ski club is no stranger to turning out world-class athletes. Among those who grew up and trained at Vail are Olympic gold-medalist downhill skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin.
Are the Olympics on Hunter’s radar? Is he hoping to be on the slopes of Milan, Italy, in 2026? Hunter figures he has those answers already.
“You bet,” Hunter said emphatically. “The Olympics are a huge goal of mine. That is what I am shooting for. I just need to keep working hard and pushing myself to get better.”
Also pushing Hunter is his personal coach Miha Kürner.
“I believe Hunter can be the next Bode Miller, and I say this with humility and with the highest respect,” Kürner said. “Hunter is a talent in the broadest sense of the word. He is a fierce competitor who knows no fear.
“Hunter is already a team leader even though he is one of the youngest on the team.”
The two train daily at The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy (VSSA) — a small, specialized high school for athletes in nearby Minturn, Colorado.
“I love it at the VSSA,” said Hunter. “I’ve been going there since I was in the fifth grade. We ski in the morning and have ‘normal’ classes such as math and English in the afternoons. Everybody at the VSSA is in the snow sports world. It is very cool.”
Hunter will graduate from VSSA this spring with only around 20 students in his class. He is being recruited by University of Colorado-Boulder, and Denver University for his prowess on the slopes.
Gerald said that Hunter’s younger brother, Boden, is also a snow enthusiast, specializing in freestyle skiing.
He added that both boys love making their annual summer trek to the Copper Country to see aunts, uncles and cousins.
“That’s the way it should be. I feel blessed to share my roots with them,” Gerald said. “That’s important to me and our family.”