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Pack packs it up for good

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

Adios, Joe Pack.

The U.S. Ski Team’s hometown hero, a onetime ski jumper who lit-up things four years ago by capturing the Olympic silver medal in aerials before a wildly enthusiastic sellout crowd at Deer Valley, said Friday he’s done with World Cup skiing.

"It’s time to do something else," Pack said. A series of ailments over the last couple of years – back, knee and shoulder – have troubled him, but he said he’s healthy and he’s moving on. He’s just not sure where he’s headed.

Pack, 28 – whose retirement follows a similar announcement by ex-Olympic, world and World Cup aerials king Eric Bergoust earlier this year – took over as interim director of Freestyle Lives Year-round, the local aerials club which operates out of Utah Olympic Park.

"My body feels great. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be healthy," he said.

"I’ve had a good, long, fun run and I’ve got no regrets about retiring. It’s been a blast. All the experiences I got to share, the chance to make some lifelong friends…it’s been great!"

Ski jumping’s loss was freestyle’s gain. He was a ski jumper growing up in New Hampshire, but a summer training camp at Lake Placid turned him into an aerialist; when the Packs moved to Park City in the mid-Nineties, that closed the deal as his training took a major step forward at Bear Hollow during each preseason.

He became an aerialist who was the World Junior Championships gold medallist in 1996, a three-time World Cup winner and two-time U.S. aerials champion, the 2002 Olympic silver medallist and bronze medallist at the ’99 and 2001 World Championships.

"It’s been a great career. I’ve been very fortunate," he said. He still jumps occasionally with the Flying Ace All-stars for special events at UOP, joining his former teammates Trace Worthington and Kris Feddersen – who run the show – plus a hefty gaggle of younger athletes, including free-riders and snowboarders.

But if he hadn’t attended that summer camp at Lake Placid, who knows? "We were jumping on the 40-meter hill and I looked over at the splash pool and it looked like a huge camp signup, a bunch of kids trying out on the trampoline. My dad and I walked over, met [former U.S. Coach] Bruce Erickson, talked to him, and Dad signed me up for a camp…"

"I had a tramp at home, had some kind of raw skills," he recalled. "I remember telling myself I’d never go off a triple kicker," which is used for triple-twisting aerial jumps. "And, lo and behold, I climbed up the ladder from the youth side to the Olympics. I have no complaints."

U.S. Freestyle Head Coach Jeff Wintersteen said Pack’s leadership within the Ski Team will be missed. "Joe’s been a real team leader over the last three or four years as we rebuilt the aerials program after the 2002 Olympics. He’s been the de facto team captain…and he’s doing a great job with FLY, so he’s still helping lead," Wintersteen said.

While becoming a medal-winner in his hometown was "definitely the coolest moment, for sure," Pack also pointed to several other high points in his decade on the Ski Team.

"My best year was 2001. I was coming off an [ACL] injury from ’98, and Bergy and I came off ’99 one and three [at the World Championships], and we kept those wheels turning for about three years. In 2001," he said, "it was so entertaining just to get to the top of the jump and we’d talk smack at each – ‘All right, Bergy, I’n doing a full, double-full, full [four twists, three flips] and that’s gonna be 127.5 points, so what’re you gonna do to beat me?’"

"We just went at it, and we went for it. Those coupla years were great. We were going full bore, really had the throttle down and letting everything rip on every ride."

While some media accounts tried to paint a picture of teammates at each other, it was all "totally playful. Each of us wanted to win. We were laughing about it, but we also kept pushing each other not to let down."

Reminiscent of Park City’s Worthington and Austrian Christian Rijavec pushing each other in the mid-Nineties, especially at the 1995 Worlds when Worthington was aerials champion with Rijavec taking the silver medal? "Exactly," Pack said. Thoseguys went back and forth, back and forth to see who could land the cleanest, who could out-do the other one…and it was such good jumping, and Bergy and I got into that mindset, pushing each other to be the best."

Winning a World Cup at Deer Valley in 2000 and finishing second there in ’05 and third in ’01 were special moments for him, too, Pack said.

"Deer Valley is the posterchild for how to run a freestyle event," Pack said. "They just do things right, or they don’t get involved. [VP/GM] Bob Wheaton is out there, totally hands-on, and his staff follows his lead. They don’t take anything for granted, so they don’t overlook anything."

"Yeah, the Olympics at Deer Valley were great, and the World Championships in 2003 were, too…but when they’re over, I’ve watched and seen how they treat all of that like ancient history. Just because they did it right last time doesn’t mean a thing. They want it even better the next time," Pack said.

This winter, he looks forward "to skiing, not competing. I had my time and, like I said, it was a blast. Now it’s time to just enjoy the snow as a skier for a while."


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