The family endured in a new environment, and Lindsey flourished. "Sometimes I can't believe we spent so much time on one child," says Krohn. "But it worked. The other kids are O.K. And Lindsey was so good, we had to try." At 14 Vonn was one of the best junior skiers in the world. At 16 she was a member of the U.S. Ski Team. "You could see right away, with her talent, she was going to be one of the top racers," says Kirsten Clark, a retired skier who was on the U.S. team with Vonn from 2000 to '07. Vonn skied in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, but later that season she crashed in an FIS (the equivalent of Triple A) downhill at Lake Louise.
Older skiers sensed that the teenaged Vonn was already at a crossroads, having gone as far as her considerable natural talent would take her. "At that point, it seemed like Lindsey wasn't sure what she wanted," says Jonna Mendes, a U.S. team member from 1997 to 2006. "When you're 14, 15, 16 years old, somebody with Lindsey's ability can go a long way. But then you get to the point where you're racing against World Cup and Olympic fields, and you're going to have to work for it."
Vonn knew all this too. One off-season she visited Julia Mancuso, her longtime junior rival (and later the 2006 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist), at Mancuso's home in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Mancuso and her father, Ciro, took Vonn on a long, mountainous bicycle outing. "It was the first time I had ever done a bike ride, except for transportation around my little flat hometown in Minnesota," says Vonn. "I fell behind them by, like, five miles, and I'm out in the middle of nowhere and Julia's beating me and I look like a fool. I was totally embarrassed."
Not long after that ride, in the summer of 2003, Vonn began working out six weeks a year with professional trainer Jacques Choynowski at his home in Monaco. Vonn slept in the bedroom, Choynowski on the couch. It was an arrangement that lasted three years, and it made Vonn stronger. "My body changed," she told SI in 2005. "I got rid of my baby fat." Vonn got faster on snow, earning her first World Cup podium in January 2004 and her first win the following December. But at the 2005 worlds in Bormio, Italy, she fell short of the medal stand, and her '06 Olympics were torpedoed by the training crash.
So Vonn took another step. In the summer of 2006 she signed with Red Bull and became part of the energy drink company's special-project training program. She spends up to six weeks every summer in Austria with Saringer, 41, whose work is a cross between athletic training and physical therapy, and Martin Hager, 43, a former trainer for the Austrian national ski team. "I knew about her before I met her," says Hager. "I saw that she raced very aggressively. I would say, 'This girl is crazy.' She didn't have the conditioning and stability to take such risks."
Hager and Saringer supervise a brutal workout program. (Often in the first summer Vonn would punctuate sessions by shouting at Hager, "I hate you!") The regimen is heavy on endurance; seven years after the Mancusos dropped her in the Sierras, she cruised alongside Hager and 2002 Olympic downhill champion Fritz Strobl (a sensational cyclist) on a series of switchbacks in a three-mile climb up the Gaisberg, a mountain to the east of Salzberg. When she first climbed the hill in 2008, she begged to stop; when she did it last summer her pulse never left the comfortable 140s.
The next day she spent four hours in the morning working on strength and stability and three more in the afternoon riding a stationary bike. "I'm not even the same human being I was back when I did that ride with Julia," says Vonn. "Talent can only take you so far. I know what other U.S. skiers do in training. I know I work harder. I know what Maria Riesch does; she road bikes for three or four hours. We bike for two or three hours, but much harder."
The training is intense, but the atmosphere is light; Hager and Saringer treat each other like brothers and Vonn like a little sister. "She is worthy of the best that we have," says Hager. "That's our responsibility." They travel with her on the World Cup circuit to supervise training and recovery. (Most of her program is outside the U.S. Ski Team, which women's head coach Jim Tracy says "is actually kind of cool, and Lindsey has earned special attention.")
There is another vital component to the team that Lindsey—a voracious TV consumer—calls her "Vonntourage" (in homage to Vince, Turtle, Drama and E): her husband. They met at a ski team cookout in Park City, Utah, in the early 2000s. They were friends and then something more. They married in the fall of 2007; in the ensuing two years Thomas has taken an increasingly greater role in his wife's skiing career and Lindsey has twice won the World Cup overall title, becoming the most successful U.S. female skier in history.
Thomas Vonn was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1997 to 2005 and was a 2002 Olympian. (He finished ninth in the Super G.) As an athlete, he was the opposite of his wife: While Lindsey is gifted, Thomas was a grinder who came out of Newburgh, N.Y., and didn't make the national team until he was a relatively ancient 20 years old. He tinkered with equipment to milk tenths of a second from runs; she would be relatively fast on two-by-fours. "Everything she's good at, I was bad at," says Thomas. "I was great with equipment, but I didn't have half the talent that Lindsey has. I try to keep the messes off her plate so she can concentrate on training and racing."