Photo credit: Max Hall/US Ski & Snowboard

With so much uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, international travel, and domestic regulations, the U.S. alpine team is adapting and planning to make decisions on the fly as training opportunities become available.

The spring prep period is typically a time for equipment testing and a return to fundamental skill work. The coronavirus has put all of that on hold as teams from around the world, not just the U.S., have been prevented from getting on snow. Up until recently, the whole world was in the same boat, but reports have been coming in from Europe that the Norwegians, Swedes, Italians, Swiss, and Austrians have all begun taking advantage of training opportunities at their home facilities. The American squad had actually been scheduled to train alongside the Vikings in Norway this spring, but that camp was of course canceled as a result of the pandemic.

Despite these disappointing setbacks, there is reason to be optimistic with the governor of Oregon issuing an executive order that will allow Timberline Ski Area on Mount Hood to open this week. The ski team also remains hopeful — but not necessarily optimistic — that Mammoth Mountain will get the lifts turning in time for its scheduled training block in June. Finally, the team is holding onto hope that it’ll be able to travel to Argentina (women) and New Zealand (men) in July and August, but those prospects are looking increasingly more challenging due to a combination of government restrictions and lack of flights.

Alpine Director Jesse Hunt says the team is taking it one day at a time and focusing on domestic training opportunities, but they’re prepared to make adjustments as needed.

“We saw this coming, obviously, at the end of the season, the way the season shut down,” said Hunt. “We’re taking the opportunity to work on strength and conditioning. Our domestic opportunities will be at Mammoth and Mount Hood, provided they’re ready to open. … We’re not in a position to travel internationally at the moment, so we’re going to be counting on our domestic partners.”

During Hunt’s tenure, the ski team has been putting more emphasis on domestic training opportunities in the off-season, and there are several benefits to working within the U.S. boundaries, he says, in addition to avoiding complications caused by the pandemic.

“When I came back two years ago, one of the goals was to do more domestic training just for efficiency,” said Hunt. “Get some more miles in. Get some more reps in on snow here at home. … So we’ve been utilizing Mount Hood, and we’ve got a great partnership with them.”

In the past, the team has also relied on Mammoth Mountain in California to host its spring camp, which emphasizes fundamentals and speed elements. “We’re hoping that Mammoth will open, and we’ll get access to that, but I’m a little skeptical at this point,” said Hunt.

The international camps are looking similarly problematic, but Hunt is still bullish on the possibility of fall training abroad. He’s hoping international travel will be loosened by the tail end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and they’re also targeting fall training in Europe.

“We’ve got plans to go wherever they’re going to open for us,” Hunt said. “We’ve got plans to go to Europe. We’ve got plans to go to the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve got great partnerships around the world at these training sites. If we can actually travel — that’s the limitation at the moment — we’re going to put together protocols so we can travel safely and then we’re going to get back to business.”

In anticipation of getting back on snow, the ski team has also been working with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee to put protocols in place that will allow them to operate safely amid the pandemic. Over the summer months, it’s looking increasingly more likely that those operations will take place closer to home.

“We’re just waiting for the green light for an area to open and actually go train,” Hunt said. “Until that happens, we’re going to continue to prepare ourselves, and when it does happen, we’ll be ready to go.”

Geoff Mintz is a former alpine ski racer who cut his teeth at Ragged Mountain and Waterville Valley, N.H. After graduating from Holderness and UVM, he relocated to Colorado, where he worked on the hill prior to pursuing a career in journalism. Mintz served as associate editor for Ski Racing Media from 2011 to 2015. He later reconnected with his local roots to manage all marketing and communications for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail before resuming work at SRM as editor-in-chief.

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