Many in the ski racing community have been asking what to do after U.S. Ski and Snowboard announced its plans surrounding the new development template, Project 26. The higher ups there are hitting the hammer on the head, insisting their goal is to work more closely with regions and clubs to create an increasingly vast group of development athletes on an elite level. A large section of the project’s focus is to shift from a nationally-managed D team to a combined elite development model that brings in U.S. Ski and Snowboard in collaboration with clubs on a small-scale regional level. Closing the gap in order to widen the pool, so to speak. The industry is eager to find out how this will work and most are reacting with positive embracement of the program.
But just how is U.S. Ski and Snowboard following through with Project 26? The roots of the game plan are just beginning and Timberline Lodge at Oregon’s Mount Hood is the first stop in the men’s and women’s development team preparation period this summer, where they get to put the proof in the pudding.
Twenty nine club-level athletes came together at the national development camp at Mount Hood and they were thrown into the mix with D-team men and women including Andrew Miller, Ben Ritchie, Zoe Zimmerman, Keely Cashman and Nellie Talbot.
Marjan Cernigoj, who has recently returned to the U.S. Ski Team as the Head Women’s Development Coach after 15 years of work with Canada, Slovenia and Russia at the World Cup level, was only hired in June and decided to act quickly with his plans for the preparation period this summer. The Mt. Hood development camp was originally planned for the Men’s side only and Marjan wanted to tack his girl’s team to Head Men’s Development Coach, Sasha Rearick’s, plans in order get a quick handle on his new team.
“For me this was super important to get to know the athletes, that was my most prevalent goal and to start working with them to see how this new set up will work in reality,” explained Cernigoj. “I want to know how the new girls will respond to this new coaching system.”
The idea is to bring in club-level athletes and invitees to train with U.S. Ski Team coaches, staff, and D Team athletes so that they can walk away from the camp with a level of developmental consistency that is on par with that of the U.S. Ski Team’s philosophies and training commitments.
“We have to have a far more greater sense of urgency that the time is now that we have to improve. For far too long, we’ve been going along saying ‘oh they’re going to learn that and there’s time to do that’,” said Rearick. “The time is now and that’s in the aspect of learning the fundamentals correctly and holding themselves accountable as to really what is good skiing.”
But it’s so much more than just philosophy that these athletes can walk away with according to Rearick. It’s drill skills, course sets, techniques, and even engaging consistent terminology across all coach to athlete communication. At the end of each day, videos are shared with extensive notes and thoughts that can vary all the way to the athlete’s conversations with the on-staff Physio at the camp. Through constant daily communication between the coaches at the Development Camp and the coaches, directors and staff back home at the club level, there are no secrets that the Development Team coaching staff isn’t sharing down to a regional audience.
“We need to communicate between all the levels of the program,” said Cernigoj. “Every Regional Director, club level coach, head of clubs, personal coaches and the management of U.S. Ski and Snowboard need to understand and know where the athlete is at that certain point of the preparation period. Everyone needs to be in tune and this is the most necessary thing at the moment for our program.”
Compared to years past when the D Team ran stand-alone camps, the communication between athletes and coaches would stay within the organization. In this case, athletes can take what they’ve learned at the camp back to their clubs through coach suggestions supported by video. In addition, the Development Camp has welcomed athlete’s personal coaches and club coaches to assist with the camp.
“The U15’s and U16’s can ski and do dryland with the older athletes and see how it’s done at the upper levels and we see athletes take big steps forward when they’re in that kind of environment,” said Alpine Development Director, Chip Knight. “There’s no athlete out here who is better than the other and we are treating them that way. The FIS level athletes ski with some of the youngest people and it’s more the attitude that we’re all in this together amongst the coaching and athlete populations. The technical themes are the same no matter who you are.”
The value of Timberline
Athletes are getting over 1,000 turns on snow each day and on a high-quality training facility that’s easy and affordable to access for most people in North America. Just this year, U.S. Ski and Snowboard formalized their agreement with Timberline Lodge as an official U.S. Ski Team partner. Aside from the Horstman Glacier in British Columbia and Mammoth for a shorter period of the summer, Timberline Lodge is the only location for skiing through the sunny season. According to Chief of Sport at U.S. Ski and Snowboard, Luke Bodensteiner, by bringing in club-level athletes to a world-class summer training facility, it offers an economical opportunity for clubs that might not otherwise have been able to afford sending their athletes to ski in the summertime.
“The value venues like Timberline provide for us is outstanding,” said Bodensteiner. “They help give us a place to bring all of our athletes together at different levels. When resorts like Timberline commit to that level of quality training that we ask for, there’s a natural spillover for us to give back to clubs who can leverage our access to that as well.”
Bodensteiner also spoke of the organization’s ability to put more money into athletes with partnerships like that of theirs with Timberline who offer training for the U.S. Ski Team at no cost.
“Timberline has a long and storied history as a summer training site for the U.S. Ski Team. From Toni Sailer, Billy Kidd, Steve and Phil Mahre and more recently, Ted Ligety, Cindy Nelson, Picabo Street, Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin. All have trained at Timberline in the summer as well as virtually all other U.S. Ski Team alpine athletes,” commends Timberline’s president, Jeff Kohnstamm, “We are very proud of this tradition and have worked with USSA to formalize our relationship. This will further meet the needs of US athletes and promote the world-class summer ski and snowboard training that is Timberline’s Palmer Snowfield.”
This year, Government Camp has a bit more of a heavy focus on the racing scene with snowboard and freeride camp, Windells and High Cascade, recently moving their athletes down the road to stay at a new facility in Welches. According to Director of Marketing and PR, John Burton, this has free’d up some space in town for others to rent out homes downtown Government Camp and it’s reflecting in a higher number of ticket sales this summer.
Ski racing is absolutely alive in the summer at Government Camp and Timberline Lodge, that much is for sure. The National Development Group and coaches wrap up their stint at Timberline on June 29 and won’t be back on snow until the Men head to New Zealand in August and the ladies to Switzerland.