When U.S. Ski & Snowboard announced its new training partnership programs with various high-level clubs across the country this past February, there was a feeling of cautious optimism in many who saw the initiative as a much-needed step in the right direction. Still, people were curious as to how the programs would eventually take shape this coming season.

With promises of two-way information sharing between clubs and more support for youth programs from the national governing body, all signs point towards a promising future for development in the United States.

Last month, the first clinics of this new program took place at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and the Barton Health Center in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where U.S. Ski & Snowboard staff was able to meet with employees from a variety of high-performance center clubs to begin this unique project.

“I’ve been to conferences and discussions and continuing education efforts on U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s part in the past at the COE (Center of Excellence) that have been tied to the club excellence conferences that they do in the spring,” says Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Alpine Program Director Scott McGrew. “So much of that has been a sharing of what’s been happening at the top level – top-down presentations on sports science and what the staff is doing with national team athletes. What really defined this program differently from everything that I’ve done in the past is that this was the first time for us where there’s been a really concerted effort by U.S. Ski & Snowboard to work into the development ages.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard has joined forces with club staff from across the country to rework the athlete physical testing protocol in an effort to make it more streamlined and eliminate any requirements for expensive equipment that many clubs do not have access to.

“It’s really an effort to create a ground-up strategy to standardize these things and share information so that we can start to benchmark our athletes,” adds McGrew. “It’s so overdue, it’s crazy. It’s not rocket science; this is good, foundational, fundamental athletic stuff for a 12-year-old and for a member of the U.S. Ski Team. This stuff doesn’t go away. We’re already implementing this stuff into our training programs.”

Clubs and the COE will now work together to develop effective testing protocols. Image Credit: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

According to Burke Mountain Academy COO and alpine coach Steve Berlack, the idea of the Center of Excellence (COE) in Park City, Utah, contributing to the development of youth athletes was born after club discussions in the spring of 2015 brought to light the need for regional-based resource centers for clubs to turn to in order to address their athletic programming needs. Two years later, the training partnership programs were born.

“We came up with idea where clubs that have a COE-like infrastructure would develop programming based on research and common ideas, figure out what’s working and then disseminate it out to the other clubs in the region,” says Berlack.

The clinics in Vermont and California focused exclusively on the off-snow aspects of an athletic program and stressed the importance of general athletic development and physical literacy for athletes of all ages. If there’s an early takeaway from these clinics, it’s that shifting the focus away from skiing just might be the key to its success.

“One of the reasons why it’s working is because we’re not really talking about skiing,” Berlack says. “You get a bunch of smart people in a room talking about skiing and before you know it chests are getting puffed up. This is so basic that everybody is all in. I think that’s developing trust and a platform that will foster way more cooperation on-snow. Every academy coach wants good athletes to work with. They also want good skiers and they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. What we’re working on are good athletes.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard High Performance Coordinator Calin Butterfield has been the COE’s point-person for this project and is very encouraged by what he saw at the first clinics. Butterfield stresses that the COE does not intend to tell clubs what they should do, but rather provide support and resources so clubs can design the best solutions to their common problems.

“It’s been good,” says Butterfield. “The clubs were really in the driver’s seat to come up with what they wanted out of this. We really lean on the expertise within the clubs and academies that are involved to help drive some of the solutions and really try and make it as collaborative as possible versus us just talking at people who already know a lot. I think because of that it’s been really positive.”

In order for an initiative this broad and with so many moving pieces to succeed, all parties involved agree that the biggest challenge facing them is convincing clubs across the country to fully buy into the system and take advantage of what it has to offer.

“I was encouraged by what I was hearing, but for this to work there has to be a commitment to have some durability with it,” explains McGrew. “This has been such a moving target for so many years with regards to things like how we test and why we test that the default has been clubs just developing their own testing. That’s the criticism.”

The next high performance clinic is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Stratton, Vt., with another to take place at the COE later in the fall.

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Sean Higgins
Senior Editor
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A Lake Tahoe native and University of Vermont graduate, Higgins was a member of the Catamounts' 2012 NCAA title winning squad and earned first team All-American status in 2013. Prior to coming to Ski Racing Media, he coached U14s for the Squaw Valley Ski Team.
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