For McRae Williams, the goal was never World Championships
As a young freeskier, McRae Williams’ goals never included reaching the World Championships.
Growing up in the early 2000s, the X Games, Dew Tour, and other events were the gold standard of competition and exemplified the lifestyle that he and other freeskiers thought of when they ruminated on their sport.
“We never even thought we would be in the Olympics,” he said. “And going into it, the question I got asked over and over again by reporters was, ‘When did your Olympic dream begin?’ I never had an Olympic dream.”
That all came later.
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Growing up in Park City, his dream was to build a name for himself in competition, show his talent among his peers, then say “goodbye” to the intense, often-stultifying world of competition and “hello” to the filmmaking life.
Making a living from ski films is a tough way to go, but for those who can do it, it’s the zenith of the ski bum lifestyle.
The 28-year-old has a Palamino pop-up camper, a truck to pull it, and a snowmobile at the ready, waiting for that moment to pack his bags and drive north.
That dream is still the one he thinks about as his next frontier, even if it’s been deferred a couple of times.
His tenure on the competitive circuit was extended after he had a breakout season in the winter of 2016-2017, when he medaled at X Games, won the overall World Cup circuit, and won the World Championships in slopestyle in Sierra Nevada, Spain. Winter 2017-2018 brought a promise of similar success, but delivered mixed results.
After he was named to the 2018 Olympic national team, he partially tore a ligament in his knee off the bone, which kept him out of the sport until the day before practice began in Pyeongchang.
“Things were looking good,” he said, recalling the moment of his injury. “I had made the Olympic team, I was already qualified for the X Games, then literally, the last run of the last day of practice in Aspen at X Games, I got a little lost in the air on the last jump and came down kind of funny and tweaked my knee, and it ended up being a grade three MCL avulsion.”
Then, during his first run at the Olympics, he dislocated his shoulder.
“I tried to keep the run going, but the next jump I was doing a tail grab with my right hand, and I just couldn’t even do it,” he said. “So I ended up pulling off the course and putting my shoulder back into place, and that was the end to the Olympic journey for me.”
That injury kept him off the snow in early season of this year after surgery last May.
He competed at the World Cup in Font Romeu France, plus Dew Tour and X Games, but has not stood on a podium yet this season.
But by this point, he has largely accomplished what he set out to do. Even going to the 2018 Olympics was something of a surprise.
“Back in 2014, when I didn’t make the team, I kind of figured that wasn’t going to end up happening for me,” he said.
The result in Pyeongchang was not ideal – he took 15th – but he was grateful just to be at such a massive competition.
Williams will suit up again for the FIS World Championships slopestyle competition on Feb. 6 and try to defend his crown in front of friends and family on his home turf.
But if you catch him looking wistfully off course, it’s probably the “Powder Highway” calling his name.
“It’s been over 10 years of competing now, and it’s hard to keep that motivation,” he said. “I might just put a solar panel on (the camper) and disappear, man.”
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