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This is the first in a series of stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014.

By Taylor Nigrelli

News Sports Reporter

Erik Schlopy has skied all over the world and resides in Salt Lake City, but he’ll always call Buffalo home. And the former alpine racer has reason to return to his roots in October as he joins the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 after a decorated career that included three Olympic appearances.

Schlopy grew up in Hamburg but moved to Vermont when he was 13. His ensuing skiing career took him all over the globe, but Western New York was always in his heart.

“To me, ever since I moved away from Buffalo, people asked where I live. I live in wherever, but I’m from Buffalo,” Schlopy said. “I always raised the Buffalo flag. It’s where I’m from. I love the city.

“For me to be part of the Hall of Fame of Buffalo sports, that means I really made it in the most important place of my life.”

Vermont and Salt Lake City may be synonymous with skiing, yet the slopes outside Buffalo played an integral role in shaping Schlopy’s early development.

“I don’t think I would have been as good of a skier if I grew up in Vermont,” he said. “The amount of runs I got at such a young age really helped me. In my mind, at Kissing Bridge, I owned that mountain. At age 8, that mountain was mine. That wouldn’t have happened in Vermont.”

Schlopy began skiing essentially as soon as he could walk. He was only 18 months old the first time he took to the slopes at Kissing Bridge Ski Resort in Colden.

“If you’re not skiing in the Buffalo winter, you’re suffering,” Schlopy said.

Around age 8, Schlopy began to notice he was further along in his development than the other kids. That led his parents to enroll him at Burke Mountain Academy – a boarding school for ski racers.

While there, Schlopy won a handful of junior events, landing him a spot on the U.S. National Team. He competed in his first World Cup in Italy in 1992 and was gearing up for the 1994 Winter Olympic Games when he suffered a terrible crash. He broke his sternum, his back, two ribs, punctured a lung and severely injured his tongue.

While physically overcoming the injuries proved difficult, Schlopy believed the mental aspect was even tougher.

“A wreck like that could have ruined so many people’s careers because it’ll affect you emotionally,” Schlopy said. “You have to approach skiing with a reckless abandon. So, it’s harder to come back from the mental aspect than the physical one.”

Schlopy’s psyche recovered in time for the 1994 Olympics, where he placed 34th in the giant slalom.

Schlopy briefly left the national team to tour professionally. He returned, however, once he learned the 2002 Olympic games would take place in Salt Lake City.

His original plan was just to stick around for those games, make one last go of it. However, he remained a member of the national team all the way through 2009, including the 2006 Torino games. He placed 14th in the slalom at Salt Lake and 13th in the giant slalom at Torino. There was just something about performing for his country that Schlopy couldn’t resist.

“To me, it was everything I wanted to do as I grew up,” he said. “It was an honor to be able to represent your country. The Olympic experience, you can’t duplicate it.”

Schlopy retired in 2009 at age 37. He now lives with his wife – former Olympic gold-medal swimmer and television host Summer Sanders – and children in Salt Lake City. He’s helped coach the national team at times but spends most of his time as a real estate agent.

He knew that once they had kids and he couldn’t focus 100 percent on skiing, it would be time to retire. But that doesn’t bother Schlopy. He’s pleased with the career he had, happy with the life he has now and proud of where he comes from.

“It’s a hard-working city. I believe in that work ethic, and I believe in sticking to your roots,” he said. “Buffalo is my roots.”

The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Tickets are $85 or $750 for a table of 10. They can be purchased at www.gbshof.com.

email: tnigrelli@buffnews.com