Olympic Downhill Skier Bryce Bennett on Finding CrossFit: ‘I just got throttled by soccer moms, like destroyed’
Bryce Bennett is not your normal CrossFit affiliate member. He is six-feet-seven-inches tall, he grew up on the ski slopes while his mother worked at Alpine Meadows Resort, and he ultimately went pro. He has since competed in three World Championships and the 2018 and 2022 Olympic Games while focusing on downhill and Super-G (super giant slalom). Bennett also won the FIS Ski World Cup Downhill event in the Italian Alps.
Some details: Bennett, who has been a member of US Ski & Snowboard since 2011,had his first CrossFit experience 10 years ago. He took his first class at CrossFit Park City – now Park City Fit – and he discovered that the classes tested him in an entirely different manner than his normal training.
- “I did a whole summer training with the ski team at the time, and my buddy was like, ‘Hey, we should go to this Park City CrossFit,” Bennett said. “And Chris Spealler owned that. I was like, ‘All right. Sounds good. I mean, like, I’ve been training all summer, it’s no problem.’”
- “And I just got throttled by soccer moms, like, destroyed. And I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t think I’m that fit.’ So that kind of kickstarted my CrossFit addiction. And it was pretty… I mean, I think most people that get into CrossFit in the beginning, it’s really bad,” Bennett added.
Prior to his introduction to Spealler, a seven-time CrossFit Games athlete, Bennett spent a lot of time working on weightlifting and even more time on the bike for endurance training. It was effective for his chosen career, but it was not overly enjoyable.
A major choice: Bennett made the decision to focus more on CrossFit while preparing for the season, which led to an interesting conversation with his former head coach.
This coach told Bennett that he needed to come to Park City – the home of US Ski and Snowboard – and train with the team, or else “this is not going to work out.” He responded by saying that he wasn’t going to make the trip before ending the conversation.
- “I was like, ‘Did I just totally ruin my career?’” Bennett asked while laughing. “CrossFit was the avenue I wanted to go. It was fun to me. I enjoyed it. Just like slogging it out in the gym, doing three-by-fives was like the worst thing ever. I couldn’t do it.”
- “He called me back 30 minutes later – maybe an hour – and he’s like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna trust you to do this.’ You know? And so that was my intro into it and I was like, ‘Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’ve gotta do this.’”
While Bennett started out at Spealler’s affiliate while in Park City, he did not remain there.He actually lived in the Lake Tahoe area, so he and one of his friends set up a “janky” garage gym where they could train during the offseason. He also joined Dreamtown CrossFit and embraced the community, to the point that many of the members attended his wedding.
The Olympian has continued to do CrossFit, and he even spent some time coaching after contacting Dave Castro and attending an L1 seminar. Now Bennett focuses more on the daily classes, strength work on his own, and some time in open gym.
Bennett also mixes in long mountain bike rides because he livesin the perfect setting for those activities. It’s impossible to resist the call of the great outdoors. Though he doesn’t follow this schedule throughout the year. He has to shift his focus to his career for long stretches of time.
- “In the winter, I don’t do CrossFit. Ski racing is like the worst sport for you physically,” Bennett said. “You’re always in bad positions. I’m riding a chairlift, I’m sitting on an airplane, I’m driving around. And then I go skiing, like 90 miles an hour down ice. And you’re just in a bad position the entire time.”
- “So it’s a lot of trying to maintain a little bit of fitness and strength. And the other thing is, it’s such a high demand for such a short period of time. So, I can’t go do a workout and then go try and do what I do on the hill, because I need everything I possibly have for two minutes.”
Side benefits: One interesting side effect of the adding CrossFit into the training schedule is that Bennett has made positive strides in other areas. He grew up skiing and riding both bicycles and motorcycles, which meant that he wasn’t involved in traditional team sports. His “ball skills” weren’t great, but they have improved with more training.
- “My aerobic base was always high… I grew up riding bikes. I was on a bike my entire life. If I wanted to go to my friend’s house, they were 10 miles away, and I was riding a bike. And then I raced BMX bikes for a long time.
- “My aerobic base was high. That’s not what I needed. I needed a back squat. I was really bad at ball sports, and then I started doing CrossFit. And I became the best at ball sports on our team. And it was immediate.”
Bennett may not hit daily CrossFit workouts during the winter, but he still uses some of the training style’s benefits while racing downhill. The mental fortitude, in particular, has become critical for him, especially when he needs to push through.
- “Say you’re at the end of a gnarly workout, and you’re doing something technical, you have to focus on the technique of it. So like, when I’m tasting pennies in the back of my throat at the end of one of these runs and I’m going 90 miles an hour, I still have to focus on what I’m doing.”
- “And that’s what’s really helped me – I think – more than anything. Obviously, the strength and all that, but the attention and focus you need when your heart rate’s jacked and you’re in pain.”
- “It might be different if I did a different discipline, but I do downhill and downhill is… every weekend, there’s a possibility that you can die. It’s fucking dangerous. Like one thing goes wrong and you are in the net so fast. So there’s this mental component that wears on you and it tires you out. You get so fatigued mentally, so you’ve got to overcome that.”
Bennett continues to experiment with what works best for him, his six-foot-seven-inch frame, and his career. It has been a learning process, especially the summer that he did the competitor training path at the affiliate. One of the things he has learned is that his size is not great for handstand push-ups, a movement that he still struggles with. Bar muscle-ups, however, are just “cool” to perform.
Perks of the job: Bennett started his CrossFit journey at Spealler’s affiliate before finding a home at Dreamtown CrossFit. He has since visited some unique locations while traveling the world as a competitive skier.
What he has found is that there is a welcoming community,whether he is in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, or any other number of foreign countries. He just occasionally needs some assistance translating the workout written on the board.