World Cup fans may not know the names Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus, but they know their athletes. Do the names Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso ring a bell? With a combined 25 years with the U.S. Ski Team including a seven Olympic Winter Games, 12 World Championship teams, and more than 50 World Cup victories, Knight and Fergus have worked with some of the most elite ski racers in the world. Now, they are turning their focus from the top of the food chain to the development pipeline not only in the U.S., but also abroad. Bringing together their collective experience, they have started the International Ski Racing Academy (ISRA).
“This has been a lifelong dream of mine,” says Knight. “I want to fill a hole I see not just in American ski development, but around the world.”
ISRA is a high performance academy based in Italy for female athletes who want to pursue their goals of making a national team or excelling in collegiate ski racing. Keeping up with the radical evolution in technique and equipment, as well as the changes in approach to conditioning, is a major challenge for any program. Knight and Fergus have the experience, the insight, the connections and the proven track record to bring athletes to the next level.
The program’s ultimate goal is to create a seamless transition from FIS racing to the Continental Cup and World Cup circuits. That’s why they’ve decided to base the program in the Dolomites. According to the coaches, being based in Italy will provide the athletes with more opportunities to pit themselves against the best up-and-coming ski racers, who they will continually run into on their way to the top on international ski racing.
“Northern Italy is the perfect location for ISRA athletes to get access to varied training conditions and easy access to race venues around the continent,” Knight says. “Countries like Austria, Switzerland, and France provide a large variety of FIS penalties and afford athletes the benefits of choosing the appropriate level of racing from junior FIS races to the Europa Cup.”
That’s not to say that they don’t support racing on the NorAm Cup. Having worked in U.S. racing for decades, they hope to be a part of the solution for getting more women to the top 30 in World Cup tech disciplines by exposing top athletes to the intensity of European competition.
“We just think at present the intensity of the [NorAm] circuit is quite weak and doesn’t provide the gateway to European or World Cup ski racing that it should,” Knight says. “This is based on many examples but mainly the fact that we haven’t had any new talent breaking into the top 30 of World Cup tech ski racing in a long time. Just Mikaela [Shiffrin] and Resi [Stiegler].”
Knight and Fergus are building their program to be an intensive experience with an intimate five-to-one athlete to coach ratio. By providing year-round programming with these small groups including summer camps in the Southern Hemisphere and California, ISRA will allow unparalleled consistency for athletes as well as tremendous growth because they can work with their coaches from ski testing in June through championship races.
“What we’re offering is similar to the national development team level, but with consistency of coaching,” says Fergus. “We wanted to create an opportunity to keep kids in the sport longer and build athletes that are ready to compete on the international stage.”
This consistency is, in part, possible thanks to ISRA’s partnership with U.S. Performance Academy (USPA). USPA is an accredited, private, online, middle and high school created for high performance athletes. It is the ultimate flexible education solution for athletes in the ISRA program.
“USPA allows a student-athlete to give 100 percent in both aspects of their life,” says Fergus. “Our athletes can structure their academics based on their training schedules.”
The partnership with USPA also allows ISRA to develop a tiered program, catering to the needs of younger athletes through post-graduate skiers.
As more athletes join the program, Knight and Fergus have the ability to bring on additional coaching staff and send individual groups around the world to create the best possible training and racing program for each athlete. Essentially, they are building a program that can scale and service the next generation of NCAA and World Cup stars.
Camps kick off the summer for academy athletes with some select spots available for interested skiers that are not part of the ISRA program. Athletes and parents considering the International Ski Racing Academy should contact Jeff Fergus and Chris Knight.