Portillo has handed the keys to US men's Cup team
The resort at Portillo, Chile is happy to have the US Ski Team's entire men's World Cup group ripping up their mountain.
“They pretty much gave us the keys,” said head men's coach Sasha Rearick between the third on-snow session of the day and the start of the afternoon's dryland workouts. “Portillo actually closed to the general public last Saturday, but they are staying open just for us as a training area. We're being spoiled. We train where ever we want, when ever we want with what ever lift we want.”
This is no small endeavor. With 15 athletes, a dozen or so coaches and trainers, a couple of doctors and a physical therapist or two the squad represents incentive to stay open. While Portillo had planned to shut down Sept. 22 the snow depth was unusually slight, yet conditions for the camp have been remarkably good.
“There definitely wasn't a lot of snow when we arrived,” says Rearick, “but fortunately for us we actually had really cold weather the first week we were here. It did snow just a little bit, a few centimeters, and what snow we had stayed, so we got a little lucky on that side.”
“What (snow) we have had has been hard,” said Ted Ligety, a top three finisher in the World Cup's giant slalom standings in each of the last five season. “The weather had been good so far as well, so it's been fairly good. Things are going well.”
Portillo is 102 miles from Santiago and there is not a whole lot in between which has helped keep the crew focused on their skiing.
“It's a long way to anywhere,” Ligety reports, “so we pretty much just hang out here with a lot of skiing. It is the first time I've ever seen the lake fully thawed, so I did do a little kayaking.”
Kayaking or lounging in the pool is not what any of this crew is in town for though and frankly they've been pretty busy.
There are slalom and full length GS courses set up and a speed track that's currently running about 50 or 45 seconds long and allowing some good speed work.
A couple members of the downhill team (Marco Sullivan and Steven Nyman) have been in South America since a earlier camp at LaParva, though the entire group has been at Portillo since Sept. 14. “The speed guys have done a bunch of glide turn work, aerodynamics, ski testing and are focused on the pure foundation of downhill,” said Rearick. “We've been working on the transition between positions of the ski. Last year we worked on making the tough turns on injection (water injected snow).”
There has also been the matter of getting to know one another as the coaching staff, particularly on the speed side, has changed considerably with Austrian guru Andi Evers and former US racer TJ Lanning heading the squad.
“The coaching staff is working together well,” said Rearick. “They've done a fantastic job of keeping it going in a positive direction. Andi and TJ have developed a real nice working relationship and the athletes are really excited about it.”
The newest hire joined the group in mid-camp as Scott Veenis has been brought on to lend his help. Rearick referred to him as “The ever positive Scottie Veenis.”
In Portillo the speed guys have mostly been running GS and super G but the schedule is changing. As Rearick says, “and now a couple of weeks on downhill up on the plateau.”
The tech team, too, has been focused on glide turns and super G work, but there has been some easier slalom sets ups for a few of the guys just coming out of rehab from injury. “Michael Ankeny, Will Gregorak and David Chodounsky are running easy slaloms with Mike Day.
"The GS guys, primarily Ted and (Tim) Jitloff, (Thomas) Biesemeyer and Robby Kelley have been going at it and everybody is jumping in for some speed work,” Rearick said. “We have some more to do, but we're making forward steps in a good direction.”
Also on hand has been Bode Miller working closely with his new tech rep, Chris Krause, formerly the tuner for four-time Cup downhill champ Didier Cuche.
“Bode's been looking for a balance in his tuck,” Rearick said. “It's more glide turns than Bode has probably done in 10 years of prep period work.”
The burning question all summer has been how to adapt to the newly mandated ski dimensions, particularly in GS where the changes are most drastic.
“I got a good jump on it and I've had great skis from Head,” says Ligety. “It takes a lot of work and time, but I'm happy with where I am right now. I think softer snow is really where the new skis will make a bigger difference. It is basically impossible to ski cleanly on (them) when it's soft, so hopefully we'll see a concerted effort to prepare the slopes well, inject them, use the proper amount of salt and prepare the courses well... otherwise it could be difficult next year.”
Ligety and Miller photos by Gepa