World Cup downhiller Wiley Maple and best friend turned ski tech, Sam Coffey, bring Aspen’s “Freak” style to skiing’s grandest stage.
On any given winter day, you can spot a group of hard-charging skiers ripping around Aspen Mountain, skiing fast. This group of locally-born-and-raised Aspenites is a millennium version of Aspen’s fabled ski gangs, known as The Freaks. Two of the groups’ principal members, Sam Coffey and Wiley Maple, have been best friends for as long as either can remember. Watching Coffey and Maple ski together is inspiring. Whether they’re in speed suits, bashing race gates or making super-g turns through steep moguls, it is very clear that skiing is the native language for these two.
A deep passion for long days on Aspen Mountain is one of the many things that has kept Maple and Coffey close throughout the years. Both are products of the local Aspen Valley Ski Club (AVSC) and grew up competing and free-skiing together throughout childhood. At every chance, they still rally their extended network of rippers to chase powder and lap the Silver Queen Gondola. The group became known as “The Freaks” inspired by the days of Hunter S. Thompson and the rebellious spirit that has shaped Aspen’s grassroots counter-culture. This modern-day ski gang includes some of the fastest and most skilled skiers in Aspen. "Everyone thinks we take this so seriously, but really we are just a bunch of friends who love to ski together," says Coffey.
While skiing remains priority #1 for many of the Freaks, Maple has made a career of the sport, traveling internationally on the World Cup circuit and competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, due to the nature (or lack) of funding for American alpine ski racers, it’s the same labor of love whether you’re chasing powder days through the Rockies or World Cup starts around the globe. Maple races downhill and super-G and is competing this race season as an independent racer (meaning no ski tuning support from the U.S. Ski Team), despite placing 30th in Downhill at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Back in 2008, when he joined the U.S. Ski Team’s C-Team, costs were covered, but as he progressed, funding dropped from development teams. He raced his first World Cup in 2011 and scored his first points the following year. In 2015, he skied to a top 20 result, but to continue his career, Maple has had to raise over $30,000 per year to cover expenses.
Maple has been self-funding his comeback after years of injuries and this year was no different. With limited support coming from the U.S. Ski Team, he reached out to Coffey to put an edge on his skis for the season. With the lure of powder days in the Alps, the legendary apres-ski scenes of Kitzbuhel combined with the opportunity to help his best friend take on the greatest skiers in the world, Coffey jumped at the chance.
It’s been said that behind every great ski racer is a great tech. In a sport where hundredths of a second can distinguish first place from fourth, a ski’s tune can mean everything. For most of us, ski tuning involves waxing a ski’s base and sharpening its edges, but at the World Cup level, the practice is elevated to a combination of art and science. European national teams secretly guard their wax formulas and technicians can spend a decade servicing skis for a single top racer, like Heinz Haemmerle, or “Magic Heinzi”, has done for Aztech co-owner Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn. It’s not a glamourous job—ski techs spend hours inhaling fluorocarbons in hotel basements lined with work benches covered in wax drippings, drills, irons and scrapers—but the unsung position is one of ski racing’s most important. Coffey, a former Europa Cup ski racer, is no stranger to prepping 20 pairs of Atomic skis with 50 layers of wax. Still, he admits he’s not a World Cup level tech. “We’re a little more cowboy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” says Coffey of Maple’s set-up.
After two weeks at Copper Mountain in November for a training camp, the pair headed to Lake Louise over Thanksgiving weekend, where Maple placed 15thin his first training run and won a time split before strong winds bumped him just outside of the top 30. He placed in the middle of the pack at Beaver Creek before racing in Italy, placing 28thand earning World Cup points. Maple and Coffey spent New Year’s in Aspen, where Coffey ski instructed on Aspen Mountain to help fund the rest of the season. Since then, the boys have been back in Europe, racing the legendary World Cup Lauberhorn in Wengen—the longest course of the season—and the infamous Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel.
A typical race day for the two starts around 7 a.m., when Maple starts his day with a jog to warm up his back. Coffey does a final prep of the skis, scraping and brushing and adding overlays. The pair then heads to the hill to inspect the course together. “It’s Wiley’s chance to see the course and prepare his line, and my opportunity to look at the snow and make sure his edges are right,” says Coffey. Maple spends the next couple hours resting and preparing, while Coffey sneaks in some skiing before the midday race start. As his time nears, Maple stretches and Coffey maintains the skis—making sure they feel fast and the edges aren’t icing up. About five minutes out, Coffey clears Maple’s boots, clicks him in, wipes down the skis, checks his goggles and then, says Coffey, “cheer my butt off as he leaves the start.” Post-race, Maple unwinds and does a light work-out, while Coffey heads down to the tuning room. He’ll re-do edges, re-wax and start scraping and brushing next week’s skis. After dinner, Wiley turns in for the night while Coffey is able to enjoy some European nightlife. “Being in countries where they live for skiing is the coolest thing,” says Coffey. “If you’ve never been to the Hahnenkamm, picture a Denver Broncos game and a Cloud 9 closing-day party combined. People are partying from 8 a.m. and long after the last racer coming across the finish. If you love ski racing or just ski culture, you have to see Kitzbuhel.”
In one Hahnenkamm training run, Maple placed 14thand was clocking top 10 splits in his race run before he was flagged (the previous racer crashed on course) and had to repeat his run. Try skiing the world’s toughest downhill—one in which you accelerate from 0-60 and hit a 100-foot jump in less than 10 seconds—twice!
“I really respect Wiley’s determination and all the work he has put in over the years,” says Coffey. “He has a such a strong mental game and now he’s physically stronger than ever. He’s pretty unique compared to other guys. He has a wilder style, and where he lacks some of the super solid Austrian technique, he makes up for with a natural sense of speed. It’s insane to watch.”
The Aztech Mountain team has been watching Wiley and Sam rip around Aspen Mountain for decades and we’re very proud to support the dynamic duo in their quest to bring Aspen’s Freak style to the World Cup this season. Wiley and Sam are both sporting the Hayden Shell System around the globe and you’ll notice the signature Aztech logo on Wiley’s helmet as he charges out of the starting gate. If you would like to support Wiley this season, go to wileymaple.com to learn more about his quest for speed.