One quick caveat, though, as she savors the sights and sounds during her last go-around: Come race day, Vonn will of course be Vonn.
At ease with her decision to retire following the season, she’s ready to charge after history — balky right knee and all.
The 34-year-old ski racer enters the season with 82 World Cup victories, leaving her five away from breaking the record held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.
“As much as I’m going to soak this season in, I’m still out there to win. I’m never going to be in the starting gate to just check out the scenery,” said Vonn , whose season kicks off in Lake Louise, Alberta, with a pair of downhill races and a super-G beginning on Nov. 30. “I’m very goal-oriented. That won’t be any different.”
She said there’s zero chance she returns even if she finishes just shy of breaking Stenmark’s achievement.
“I can’t physically do it — unless something miraculously happens in science,” said Vonn, who lives in Vail, Colorado. “I’m happy with what I’ve done. No matter what happens, it’s definitely going to be my last season.”
Once she steps away from racing, she has other plans to keep her occupied. Like possibly opening a business, perhaps a beauty line. Or taking in more hockey games, with her boyfriend, P.K. Subban , a defenseman for the Nashville Predators . She also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a broadcasting career.
“I’m ready for the next chapter. It’s not because I want to be — I’m ready because it has to be,” Vonn said after a training session at the U.S. ski team’s speed center at Copper Mountain. “The risk just doesn’t outweigh the reward anymore. I would like to be able to ski recreationally in 10 years and if I have children, be able to ski with them. … It came to the point where it was time to say goodbye.”
As she discussed her injuries, Vonn patted her troublesome right knee. Her dog, Lucy , sat on her lap with a bandage — duct tape, actually — on her right front paw following a recent accident.
Over her distinguished career, Vonn’s had a long list of ailments : ACL reconstructions, fractures near her left knee joint, bruised shin, broken ankle, broken arm, sliced right thumb and countless concussions.
She joked that her relationship with skiing is “tough love.”
Still, she said the sport helped her through some tough times, like her divorce from Thomas Vonn or her split with Tiger Woods.
“Skiing always helps me get over it emotionally. It’s always been my escape,” said Vonn, whose first World Cup start was Nov. 18, 2000, in a slalom race when she was known as Lindsey Kildow. “My injuries, while painful and difficult, still were an important lesson and taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.”
Coming up through the ranks, Vonn never contemplated breaking Stenmark’s record of 86. It was just too far out there.
Instead, she kept her mind on Olympic medals . She earned a gold medal in the downhill and a bronze in the super-G at the 2010 Vancouver Games, along with a downhill bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics last February. She missed the 2014 Sochi Games due to her right knee.
“It was really about the Olympics,” she said. “The success I’ve had on the World Cup level has been so much more than I ever thought was possible.”
In January 2015, Vonn broke the women’s World Cup mark of 62 victories that belonged to Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria. It was quite an accomplishment, but the queries quickly turned to this: Can Vonn catch Stenmark?
“I’m like, ‘Can we talk about breaking the women’s record for one second before we move on to something else I have to do?'” Vonn said. “I didn’t really think it was possible until I hit maybe 76 (wins). Before that, it was mostly just talking to the media and dealing with everyone else’s expectations. Anything could happen in ski racing and 63 wins to 86 is a really long way, so it’s hard to even think that far ahead.
“Until now, I haven’t really focused on Stenmark’s record.”
It’s within sight.
“A huge story,” said Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal , who has 35 World Cup wins. “It’s the record in Alpine skiing that people thought was unbreakable and she’s probably going to break it.”
For the moment, Vonn’s mission remains simple: Soak in the entire experience.
“Instead of always being in the hotel room and super-focused on the race the next day, I’m actually going out to dinner with the team and doing something different,” Vonn said. “I’m really enjoying it and not just having it be a job. I love the job, don’t get me wrong. But there’s also a level of, ‘I need to chill a little bit.’
“I’m 34. I’m ready to chill.”