The best U16 athletes in the country converged on Burke Mountain Academy (BMA) from Jan. 7-12 as part of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard National Performance Series (NPS). NPS projects are training and competition camps that occur throughout the season to provide developmental opportunities, and athletes are selected to participate based on regional and national performances over the last year. At Burke, the focus was on racing to determine the U.S. team for the OPA Cup, previously called the Seven Nations Cup, an international competition for U16 athletes that will be hosted in Liechtenstein this February.
“The project went really well,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Development Director Chip Knight. “The goal with these NPS projects is to bring our best kids together, nationally. For the U16s, we took a different approach this year where the December project was all training and fundamentals-based with a little bit of timed runs incorporated, but no scored racing, no selections or anything. This January project was much more about racing and competition and pushing the peer group head-to-head.”
The project is part of ongoing efforts to increase the depth of competition in U.S. ski racing including initiatives like Project 26. Jack Reich, the top male athlete after the two slalom and two GS races, enjoys the camps because he can see where he stands.
“By training and racing with my peers from across the country, I’m able to see what it takes to get to the next level,” he explained. “They push me on and off the hill to become a better skier and person. They inspire me to work harder, and teach me that there is always something I can do to improve. I guess, in a way, these camps can bring your confidence down, but if you embrace the challenge, it can be the fuel to your success.”
As the top male athlete, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) skier not only qualified for the team going to the OPA Cup, but also earned the lone spot in the Longines Future Ski Champions race, which takes place in Are, Sweden, this March during World Cup Finals.
“I am most looking forward to having the ability to ski against the – best athletes in the world and seeing where I stack up,” Reich said. “This is a unique experience that not everyone gets and that I am extremely grateful for.”
Part of the mission in taking athletes to Europe is getting them accustomed to ski racing in another part of the world–one where they will spend a lot of time in if they make it to the World Cup level.
“The exposure is really important,” Knight said. “It’s an eye-opening experience for young athletes to go to Europe–everything from what you eat at breakfast to how you deal with the lift line and the t-bars and the training and racing experience where there’s a ton of other kids who are just as good if not better than they are. So, that exposure is invaluable.”
The value of the exposure outweighs the importance of individual results from the national governing body’s perspective.
“They’re a decent indicator of where we are as a country, where the athletes are individually,” Knight continued. “But they’re by no means some great indicator of whether an athlete is going to be a World Cup champion. We don’t use it for that purpose.”
Reich will be joined on the trip by five other men and six women from across the country. The men’s team consists of Reich, Nicholas Richeda of SSWSC, Cooper Pucket of SSWSC, Cam Owens at SSWSC, Fletcher Holm of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) and Ryder Sarchett of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF). The ladies’ team is comprised of Nicola Rountree-Williams of SSCV, Isabelle Washburn of SSWSC, Berit Frischolz of SSCV, Dasha Romanov from the Loveland Ski Club, Carissa Cassidy of SSCV, and Zoe Zimmerman of BMA.
For Zimmerman, being named to the team was the highlight of the camp.
“For me, it was definitely when Chip Knight was announcing the Seven Nations team. I didn’t know if I had made it or not,” she said. “When he announced my name, I was last on the list, so that was really exciting.”
OPA Cup athletes will spend more than a week in Europe training and racing in early February. While the international component is exciting, at the end of the day, these NPS projects are part of the large effort to create depth in U.S. alpine skiing and prepare athletes for a future of elite racing and hopefully, lifetime involvement with the sport.
Complete rankings from the races at Burke can be found here.