Just last month, USSA conducted a high-level training project where development athletes from all three of USSA’s regions – West, Rocky/Central, and East – converged for a two-week camp in La Parva, Chile. Athletes who were selected to participate in the project were afforded the rare opportunity to train all four events at a world-class venue alongside some of the fastest skiers on the planet.

In all, 14 athletes and five staff members made the trek down to the Southern Hemisphere from Sept. 8-23, 2016. Campers consisted of regional training group (RTG) men and women from across the country, and all participants had either competed in the past or are expected to be competing on the NorAm circuit this coming season.

“Whenever we have the opportunity to bring developing athletes within our country together, especially at a venue this time of year where you’re skiing full-length trails, it turns out to be a good project,” says Western Region Development Coach Jeff Pickering.

According to Pickering, perfect weather meant athletes didn’t miss a single day on snow and were treated to sunny skies and winter-like conditions for the duration of the project. They even got to rub elbows with members of the Austrian, Slovenian, Swiss, and Italian national teams, making for a high-intensity training atmosphere on the hill.

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“These guys were clawing to get better each day, just really duking it out, trying to make sure they weren’t falling off the pace, and it was really cool to see,” says Rocky/Central Development Coach and project leader Ian Dunlop.

The camp was broken up into three training blocks of two events each. The first block consisted of giant slalom and super-G, the second of slalom and downhill, and the third block going back to GS and super-G.

“Maybe one or two of the kids had actually trained downhill before in their entire lives. It was quite the experience for them and for us as coaches, too.” – Kyle Darling

“La Parva offers our best regional athletes a great venue to train all four events,” says USSA Development Director Chip Knight. “It can be particularly good up high in September, when the freeze-thaw cycle creates hard snow in the morning and racers have the ski area largely to themselves. The terrain is wide open, which lends itself to great glide training, jump repetition, and fundamental work in the technical events.”

“We were able to train downhill side by side with some World Cup teams on a full-on real downhill track. It was in-your-face, high-speed terrain – dark, high speeds, and bumpy with airtime,” adds Eastern Region Development Coach Kyle Darling. “Maybe one or two of the kids had actually trained downhill before in their entire lives. It was quite the experience for them and for us as coaches, too.”

The staff in attendance at the project clearly saw the benefit of gathering the top young talent in the country for this kind of training. According to Dunlop, the more that accomplished athletes from around the country are able to feel comfortable with coaches and other athletes who they otherwise would not be familiar with, the better. “When we’re on a big NorAm track like Lake Louise and these guys can come into inspection and see familiar faces all around, either with athletes or with coaches, I think that’s really positive,” says Dunlop.

The more relationships built on the hill, the better.

“When we go to a bigger event where you need more people in positions to coach on the hill like a speed event, for kids to come down and see somebody that they’ve worked with out of region and they are comfortable going up to and talking to is really important,” says Pickering.

Bringing athletes from across the country together for projects like this is something Knight and his staff at USSA hope will ultimately lead to a healthier, lower-stress atmosphere at demanding races where nerves can easily get the best of a young athlete surrounded by unfamiliar faces.

“One of our development goals is to step out of our regional silos and expose young athletes to their peers from around the country, so it works really well to pool resources and work as a tri-regional team for a Southern Hemisphere project like this,” Knight says. “In the end, the athletes feed off one another and take their skiing to a higher level than they would have if they had stayed closer to home.”

Darling adds that several of the camp attendees will more likely than not find themselves as teammates on the national team at some point in the future, so fostering friendships between athletes from opposite sides of the country as early as possible can also help alleviate the pressure.

“When these athletes would go to a NorAm or one of our NPS series, they were strictly just the competition. Now they’re teammates, they’re bonded after doing a few-week camp together,” he says. “That’s going to lower the anxiety and stress level when they go to these events. I think the earlier you can build that camaraderie, the more beneficial it is in the long run.”

Do you think we’ll be watching any of these guys on the World Cup someday?

The staff also had to overcome a few obstacles by working with colleagues and athletes with whom they had little or no prior experience. All of this was taken in stride, however, and the future looks bright for projects of this nature in coming years.

“After seeing this group and the way we worked with the regional staff and the club staff that joined us, it’s definitely positive,” says Dunlop. “Going forward, I definitely think we can overcome a huge hurdle as far as the perception of regions working well together and having really successful projects together.”

Looking forward to the 2016-17 ski season, Knight says that there are plans for tri-regional projects this November in Copper, Colo., next spring in Mammoth, Calif., as well as another Southern Hemisphere project planned for summer 2017.

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Disclosure: USSA and SkiRacing.com are media partners.

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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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