America’s next rising star: North Lake Tahoe local Travis Ganong talks life away from World Cup racing
When you represent both the present and future of U.S. men’s downhill ski racing, you naturally get peppered with questions about your craft.
But there’s a lot more to Travis Ganong than his ski racing talents.
A North Lake Tahoe native through and through, Ganong bought a home in Lake Forest (in Tahoe City) last year and enrolled in Sierra Nevada College’s Ski Business & Resort Management program, which he hopes to parlay into a post-racing career at a Tahoe resort.
He holds a deep love for Lake Tahoe and cherishes every moment he can spend here. Not only does the area offer the familiar sights and smells of his upbringing, it’s a world-class training destination filled with epic trails for hiking and mountain biking, quality restaurants, local faces, and, of course, the largest alpine lake on the continent.
Ganong loves it all and is thrilled to share its splendor with Canadian girlfriend and fellow World Cup ski racer Marie-Michele Gagnon — who wasn’t sure that it snowed in California before experiencing a Tahoe powder day for herself.
And like the true Tahoe local he is, Ganong remains grounded and humble despite his skiing exploits, which include a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, his first World Cup win this past season and ninth-place finish in the 2014-15 downhill standings.
Check out what he had to say in an email Q-and-A from the U.S. training camp in Chile.
What were some of the highlights of your summer offseason?
“I got to go on this trip to Svalbard Island this spring to live on a boat and ski tour for 10 days with Ice Axe Expeditions. That was a huge highlight of the summer and one of the most amazing adventure ski trips I have ever done. Other than that, I’ve been training hard this summer with a morning at A Sante in Tahoe City, and big mountain bike rides or hikes the afternoon. We have also had some amazing summer skiing in New Zealand and Chile, where they are both having big winters. I’m actually writing this from Chile.”
How’s the new house? Have you embarked on any improvement projects or anything like that?
“It has been so nice to move back to Tahoe and to set some roots of my own in Tahoe City, and to have a place of my own to come home to after months on the road. We have done a bunch of projects around the house — it’s super fun. The last project was to set up some chairlift seats in the backyard from the old Siberia chair — an awesome piece of skiing history.”
When you’re not traveling and get the chance to spend some time at home, do you have any favorite restaurants or bars that you like to hit up?
“Tahoe House or Sugar Pine in Lake Forest are some of my favorite places to go to for a coffee or a sandwich. It’s so nice in Tahoe in the summer, so I’m always outside and bringing the goodies from those places along on an adventure or just enjoying them down at the beach. Same goes for a tasty beer or two after a big week of training — it’s so nice to go climb up somewhere and look down at the lake or hang out on the docks and enjoy. I try to be outside as much as I can all summer.
Favorite places to eat would probably be Mamasake, Christy Hill, Fire Sign Cafe (best breakfast on the planet), Bridgetender, and sailing down to Sunnyside for a meal on the lake. There are so many amazing choices around the North Shore and Squaw. We are super lucky to have so many amazing options in a small town.”
Any favorite local trails to mountain bike or hike on?
“Living in Lake Forest, I always zip up through the Nordic center and then from there I have so many options for mountain biking. I usually loop up to the Rim Trail and then head over to painted rock/wallternate/three bridges, and then back on the fisherman’s trail, or Painted Rock to Glass Mountain/Sawtooth Trail, and then down to town. Heading the other direction for bigger rides I love OTB and Deer Creek to Squaw and then Fisherman’s Trail back to Tahoe City, or up to Mount Watson for some of the best views of the lake via mountain bike, and some of the most fun downhills around. The Jackpine DH is also super fun to get back to Tahoe City.
For hiking I usually head to the crest around Blackwood, Ward Canyon, Alpine and Squaw. Or if I have more time I go down the West Shore and head into the Stoney Ridge area or Desolation. We have one of the best natural playgrounds all around us on the North Shore.”
You’ve expressed before how lucky you feel to have grown up in Tahoe. How much fun is it for you to show off the area to your girlfriend? And what are her impressions of the area?
“She loves it here. First time she saw Tahoe was in the winter after a massive storm, when there were five-foot wind drifts of snow in Boomtown, and my parents garage in Alpine Meadows was completely drifted over. A lot of people don’t realize that there is snow in California, and so this was an amazing surprise for her to see the most snow she has ever seen in her life that day. It’s fun exploring all that Tahoe has to offer with her. We are both professional skiers and have similar schedule and training programs, so we can go on big hikes, mountain bike rides or paddleboard journeys together all the while training to be better skiers.”
Your skiing allows you to visit a lot of iconic mountain locations around the world. Do you have any favorite locations that you enjoy visiting most?
“Every place that we get to go to is amazing. Every time you leave the mountains to travel, you enter another world filled with people, cities, urban sprawl and pollution, so for me, every time I get to a new mountain range, valley or ski area, it is the best place in the world at that moment. I’m lucky to be able to spend the bulk of my time in that world, and to have a home base in Tahoe.”
You enrolled in Sierra Nevada College’s Ski Business & Resort Management program last spring. How is that going?
“It’s going great. I’ve always been interested in the ski resort industry, and I am extremely lucky to have Sierra Nevada College in my backyard. From all my travels I get to see a lot of different mountain resorts, and I hope to combine those experiences with the experience I am getting at SNC to set me up for my future after ski racing.”
What would be your ideal job/profession after your ski racing career? Any specific goals?
“It would be great to be involved with one of the local ski areas in Tahoe. I would also love to guide people in the mountains and share what I have learned from the mountains with other people. We will see what happens; anything is possible.”
Obviously you’re not going to quit skiing once you’re done racing. Would you consider getting into the big-mountain freeskiing scene and filming?
“Yeah I have always loved to freeski and I have done a little filming with Warren Miller in Alaska and Sweetgrass Productions in Argentina. It would be super fun once I am done ski racing to go into that world a bit, and actually have time to go on some fun trips and ski in some of the places that I currently don’t have time to go to. I have some big goals to get after still in ski racing, but I also for sure have goals for the big-mountain freeskiing world.”
About your skiing, you’re coming off your most successful season to date — first World Cup win, ninth overall in the downhill standings. What did that success do for your confidence and your expectations for yourself going forward?
“Every year I get mentally stronger, physically stronger and more confident, and moving forward, all of those strengths will help me get to where I want to be as a downhiller. Staying healthy is the main goal now. I’m feeling great this summer and training is going really well, so hopefully I can build off of my success from last winter and have a great season.”
A version of this story first appeared in 2015-16 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine, a product of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Reno-Truckee-Tahoe region.