ASPEN, Colo. — Classical music echoed through the hotel’s basement halls, drawing an audience around the person sitting behind the piano.
And who should be pounding the keys on the hauntingly enchanting piece? It was none other than Slovenian skier Tina Maze, who simply slid onto the bench and started in on the melody after a news conference following her third-place slalom finish in Aspen, Colo.
Her rendition was flawless, too, much like her recent performances on the slopes.
Maze has been in tune all season as she’s jumped out to a nice lead in the overall World Cup standings heading into the races this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. Sure, it’s early, but she’s emerged as reigning champion Lindsey Vonn’s top rival for the crown this season.
Oh, and Maze can sing a little bit, too. She has a song out that’s topping the charts in her country.
These days, things are going awfully well for the 29-year-old Maze (pronounced MAH-zeh). Even her demeanor and disposition seem to be different.
Once thought to be a very serious person, she appears to be lightening up. Someone recently asked if she’s still an “angry” person, or if she’s finding more happiness.
“I’m still angry,” Maze said, laughing. “The problem is there’s nothing to be angry about now.”
No, there’s really not.
Maze switched ski technicians before the season and they’ve instantly been in harmony. She won the giant slalom in Aspen last weekend for her first win on U.S. slopes. To celebrate, Maze did a cartwheel — in ski boots, no less.
It was Maze having fun. She’s been showing a side she hasn’t really displayed before. Not quite like this, at least.
She’s funny. She’s witty. She’s charismatic. And she’s musical.
“I’ve learned that maybe sometimes it’s better to show people who you are and what you are thinking about,” Maze said. “That way, you can be more relaxed with yourself.”
Just for kicks, Maze recently made a music video entitled, “My way is my decision,” a catchy pop tune written for her to sing by a friend.
So far, there have been more than 800,000 hits on Youtube. One of the lines in the song seems extremely apropos: “So I’ve got to be stronger. I’ve got to prove I’m a winner. Lead them into the light. I’ve got to show them all that I’m right.”
She’s definitely on her way.
Maze has come so close to winning an overall crown in recent seasons. But Vonn has been standing in the way. The American has won four of the last five titles.
Vonn just recently returned to the slopes after battling a bad stomach bug that required her to spend some time in the hospital. She’s still regaining her strength as the tour stops in Lake Louise for two downhill races and a super-G this weekend.
This is typically a place where Vonn shines. She’s been so dominant at the venue that it’s become affectionately known as “Lake Lindsey.”
The same can’t be said of Maze, who’s never finished higher than seventh in Lake Louise.
This time around, she’s loaded with confidence.
A fast start has her believing she can possibly unseat Vonn. Everything is just coming together after a strong offseason training program, which included grueling workouts on the beach.
“I was fighting with myself all summer to push myself to be stronger,” said Maze, who won silver medals in the super-G and giant slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “It’s working really well.”
Can she capture the overall crown?
“I was dreaming about that. But dreaming is not enough,” she said. “You need to make your dreams become reality. It’s five years of working and trying to get on top of racing.”
Ever so steadily, she’s moved up the standings:
— In 2010, she was fourth.
— In 2011, third.
— In 2012, second.
“In mathematics, it’s called missing No. 1,” Maze said with a big grin. “Of course, that’s a goal.”
As for her singing career, she said she will just stick with her day job — for now.
However, she does think of her song as she glides down the course.
“It’s good motivation to hear your song, to hear your voice, to hear your words,” Maze said. “But I’m not a singer. I’ve never even tried to sing in front of people. I’m not sure if I could do a concert. I’d rather do a concert on skis.”
Pat Graham can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pgraham34