Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home for the Holidays!


It’s good to be home. Time on the road isn’t bad -- the racing is fun to watch, the food’s OK, the rooms are warm. But there’s nothing like being home with family. It’s been a while since I made a post here. Between chasing races in Canada, coming home to prepare for Christmas, and working with our ski team at Schweitzer every day, life has been rather hectic. So I’m using Christmas afternoon to catch-up on stuff.

Scott’s December race results weren’t what he’d hoped for, but he’s far from beaten. He knows he’s skiing well and the final two tech races left him encouraged. I’m actually quite impressed with his self confidence and motivation. Of course, a number of his teammates and friends continued to race after the NORAMS, at regular FIS races in Canada and Colorado, where the point opportunities were better. Several scored good FIS points, which left Scott feeling left out. He wasn’t aware that the option existed and thought time off in his schedule to be mandatory. He’s lamenting the points he might have pursued.

I, on the other hand, see these two weeks at home to be important. We’ve been on the road for 9 weeks. No matter how strong and healthy he feels, travel takes its toll… subtly. When Scott flies out Jan 1st, he’ll be on the road for another 7-8 weeks with about 20 or more race starts before getting home for a few days. So I’ve been paying attention to keeping him focused on the schedule ahead, not the missed opportunities.

The NASTAR folks asked Scott to be the pacesetter at Schweitzer this winter. By doing so he saved the mountain $1500 in travel expenses, which may very well have saved the program. He donated a few days skiing with the local pacesetters and giving them a chance to get back into the swing of things. NASTAR isn’t exactly a real race, but it’s good fun. It was also fun for Scott to paceset the same guy who was the pacesetter in Scott’s first ever time through gates when he was four years old. Kinda cool!

We’ve both been working a little with our home ski team, filling in when the group coaches aren’t available. The younger kids get really excited to have a US Team guy skiing with them, even though they’ve known him for years. Funny to watch.
Tomorrow's supposed to be a powder day. We gave Scott powder skis for Christmas, and he has a seat on one of our snowcats tomorrow. The perfect storm...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We were skiers once, and young...

Last night I was watching “We were Soldiers” for the umpteenth time. If you haven’t watched this movie, you must. It’s a classic, embracing family, leaders, and soldiers as they navigate the emotional swamp that is combat. The central thesis of the movie is that soldiers fight and die for each other, not for the patriotic words in a speech. After the movie, my thoughts drifted to all the young athletes here at the NORAM and I saw some parallels.

Each of these kids (at age 60 they’re all kids) is enormously talented and has high aspirations. They each arise in the morning with goals and hopes and through the day do everything possible to achieve them. In the course of the day they encounter barriers such as soft snow, late start numbers, difficult course sets and uber-fast competitors that stand in the way of success. They begin the day as focused individuals, they end it as brothers. I watched from a corner of the lodge as racers came in from their first run. Some looked confident and satisfied. It was immediately apparent in others that they were disappointed with their performance. But the preponderance of athletes came in uncertain. Perhaps they’d skied well but their times didn’t reflect it. Perhaps they’d skied great, but had one mistake which yielded a disappointing result. No matter what their circumstances, I watched as this group of individual athletes buoyed and sustained each other. They listened intently to each other’s descriptions of their runs . They smiled and nodded knowingly. There were lots of self-effacing “Me too’s” rendered to sooth the wounds. By the end of lunch, as they were preparing to inspect for the second run -- they were renewed warriors heading to the next battle.

So why, in an individual sport where everyone is gunning for each other, do these guys provide each other the support to survive? Why do they invest in each other’s emotional well being and encourage each other to press on? I suspect it’s the shared experience -- the feeling that they’re the only ones that really understand each other and the pressures they face in this mentally challenging sport. It’s a great thing to watch… from a distance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Execution

Today's event was a Super Combined, which is a Super G plus one run of Slalom. The racers receive two official results, one being a Super G and the other being the combined times of the two runs (the Super Combined). Scott failed to execute in the Super G portion of the race finishing 38th, which became his start position for the Slalom.

The lift broke while Scott was enroute to the start and he sat for nearly 20 minutes. When he arrived at the start he was told that he had time to prepare, then heard the starter yell, "Anyone who's ready come on up and you're in." Scott saw numerous racers behind him in the start order get in line, and rather than lose his sequence and ski an even rougher course, he joined the mob. As it was he started about 10 racers late and he says that he never had a chance to get his mind in the right place before starting. That must be true since he went by me without ever tucking!

However, none of that is a valid reason for his performance. He simply didn't execute. Certainly one's mental state is key, but there will be many times when something like this happens. Scott needs to learn to adjust with these situations and develop alternative means for getting into his performance zone when things aren't perfect. There's so much to learn.

Scott did ski the slalom portion well and lower his Super Combined points. I was concerned about this since he hadn't been on Slalom skis since Nov 28th. So at least there's a positive to take from this. Racing continues tomorrow!

Course Maintenance

Well, we woke up to fine powder again today -- about 4 inches, and it continued to snow all day. Fortunately the snow started late enough that the workers were able to catch-up and keep up.

Course maintenance isn't as simple as it seems. In instances such as last week at Lake Louise, once a storm has the 12 inch head start it's awfully difficult to get a race off. However even seemingly small amounts like the 4 inches today pose a challenge. The snow not only has to be pushed off the race track, but the spill zones (where a racer would end up if he/she missed or was late at a gate) must also be cleared. Suddenly the crew is faced with clearing a 100 foot wide slope, edge to edge and for thousands of feet down the hill.

To accomplish this feat everyone gets involved. Coaches and athletes join in the slip and normally the start times are delayed (45 minutes today). Once the track is slipped, the "B" netting is lifted and reset so it is back atop the snow surface. But once the track is open the job isn't done. During the race a steady flow of "slippers" travels down the course between racers, moving and smoothing the snow. Coaches and course workers stand at problem areas with shovels and rakes evacuating that snow broken loose by racers and slippers. As always, safety is the big consideration and this job has to be carefully orchestrated.

The crew did a great job today getting the race done. Although the track was softer than we'd like and became somewhat bumpy for the later runners, it was safe.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Reflections

So this blog is being read by any number of folks and I've received positive and negative feedback both directly and indirectly. I have a little housekeeping to do, so here goes:

Yesterday I incorrectly quoted a fee a region was charging for the three races in Lake Louise based upon input from another parent. The point I was making was not about the total cost, but about the way each group of us perceives cancellations. My apologies to the region in question, as I know they make every effort to keep costs down in this very expensive sport. I have since corrected the numbers.

I was likewise guilty this past week of putting in a direct quote which may have reflected poorly on a coach. I have changed the quote and will refrain from such in the future.

This blog is generally intended to serve as a source of information for those friends and family following Scott's progress during the season. I have also used it as a tool to explain the various aspects of ski racing, such as suits, points, netting, etc. The past two weeks have been a bit emotionally challenging and I've imprudently expressed some strong opinions with a parental bias. I will temper my comments in the future.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cancelled!!!

This morning we woke up to 12 inches of beautiful powder. Ten years ago I would have hopped out of bed and been the first in the lift line. But times have changed and today I drove to the slopes before openning to check the status of the race. The decision had already been made (and it was the right one). The athletes were on the hill tearing down the netting as this was the final day of the series.

Cancelled... the word we all hate to hear. Cancelled ski races just disappear -- there just isn't room on the calendar and enough flexibility in ski area operations to reschedule them. Cancellations are a bitter pill for everyone in ski racing:
-- The athletes are always ready to go. They've been preparing for months. Each race is an opportunity. Their mental preparation is in full swing the evening prior and by race morning their focus is narrowing. Cancelations are an emotional letdown.
-- The coaches are probably the most conflicted by cancellations. They likewise go through months of preparation. They are fully invested in their athletes. They, more than anyone, have a broader view of the opportunities each race presents. However, they are also deeply protective of their athletes' welfare and watch closely to ensure the right decisions are made.
-- The Race Committee and Organizers work months preparing to host major events. 95% of the workers are volunteers who have put in the sweat equity to create a viable and safe venue. They are great people and take pride in their work. Most of them either have, or had, ski racers in their family.
-- The parents foot the bill. Besides liking to watch the races and see their kids succeed, they've paid some pretty big bucks to get their kid to the events. For instance, one region charged $900 per athlete for this three race event (not including transportation). If one race falls out, the family perceives to have "lost" a $300 investment. But the fixed costs don't change -- that's just the way this sport works and it's actually fair. This is a winter sport and there is associated risk to each race investment.

In the end, the difficult decision to cancel a race is made by the Jury, headed by the Technical Delegate. I could write a full blog describing this person's job and responsibilities. Suffice to say, he/she is the final authority at any race and has overall responsibility for protecting our athletes, the workers and the public. The TD also has a full understanding of all impacts this has on each cohort, but he/she makes the decision that best serves the athletes and the sport. Special people.

The Team had reserved the rooms through tonight, which was a good move. If the race had gone off the boys would be thankful for a hot shower and a bed after tearing down all of the "B" netting (see explanation below). Last year Scott and I drove late after this race and the netting drill and we were miserable. So anyway, the boys had a full day off. I have no idea what they did, although I heard a Canadian vs US hockey game was on tap. They played one two days ago and the Canadians killed them. Scott loves skating and is really getting into hockey (minus fistfights, thank you).

For my part, I had a condo waiting in Panorama. I'll go see my Ski Patrol buddies, pick up my lift tickets, and ski around a while. I want to look at the snow conditions. Looking forward to the next race series.

Oh yeah. "B" Netting. If you watch TV and see the triple walls of red netting lining the course, that's "A" and "B" netting. Traditionally the athletes and coaches dismantle and roll all the "B" netting at the end of an event. It's awkward, difficult and time consuming, but part of the deal.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More downhills

Have I said before that there are no great young downhillers? Yes I have. It takes so long to perfect the line and truly learn/internalize these courses. Scott almost had a career day -- but he didn't.

Now don't get me wrong. He skied well enough to finish 20 of 99, score FIS and NORAM points, beat the entire US "D" Team and alot of the rest of the team team. However, he didn't win. All week long (and for that matter, last year) Scott has been perplexed by one turn called "Fall Away." This turn requires one to dive towards the protective fence going about 70 mph, stand on the left ski and loop back across the hill and over a knoll and and commit to a right foot turn on a sidehill. The move from the fence to the knoll is a "blind" move. He's given up time there every day, but today he was dead on. I had him ahead of the field 2/3 of the way down the course. I was getting ready for the awards ceremony. However it wasn't to be. He came into the turn at the base of the hill and pressured as he had the first four days, except this time he was going about 20 mph faster and before he realized the problem (1/100th of a second) he was looping wide and the race was over.

It took Scott a good 20 minutes to be sociable in the finish arena. He was obviously reliving the 1/100th of a second over and over. He just called me and told me he's alternately pumped and disappointed in the result, but he now knows he can beat all these guys. Now there's something to build upon!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Suit


Since we're at a speed week, it probably makes sense to explain speed suits in more detail. The need for speed suits is apparent -- this is a game of fractions of seconds and wind resistance is an important factor.
When the first speed suits were introduced in the late 1960's, there were no quality or safety controls. Naturally things got out of hand in a hurry, and soon folks were wearing suits so slick that a person actually accelerated if they sat on the ground. Fortunately the FIS got a handle on this and there's now a standard for suits. Every suit worn in a FIS sanctioned event must go through a "plomb" test to determine how much pressure is required to push a measure of air through the fabric. This prevents fabrics from being so slick as to be dangerous.

How big is the advantage a speed suit gives? It's significant! As a rule of thumb the difference between a speed suit or regular attire over a 1 minute long GS course is about 1.5 seconds. So everyone searches for ways to make suits faster within the parameters set by FIS. Last year the US had "slippery suits" made especially for the Olympics. These suits supposedly gave a significant advantage over the average stuff. This year the "gig is up" and everyone has access to these suits. Scott is pictured above in this year's US Team suit.
But wait, there's more to this. Scott has two different types of suits, padded and unpadded. Athletes never wear pads for Downhill. They sometimes wear pads for Super G and always wear pads for Giant Slalom and Slalom. However, we've learned that the suits with sewn in pads are not as slick as those without, so athletes now wear "stealth" pads under the unpadded suits in Super G and Giant Slalom.
OK, enough of that stuff. Today was the first Downhill race of the NORAM season. Scott skied well, except for missing his line in one critical spot. It cost him lots of time so he settled for 12th place of 99 in this elite field. He lowered his FIS points, picked up a nice sum of NORAM Cup points, beat the entire "D" Team, plus earned the Juniors (age 19 and under) bronze medal. His goal tomorrow is to take the whole thing... we'll see.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Speed!!!


Lake Louise is the site of the opening World Cup downhills in North America each year. First the men come through town, then the ladies, and finally, as long as all the preparations have been made, the NORAM circuit bats clean-up... literally. The final day we get to tear down all of the "B" netting!
We live for speed weeks. Although Scott is a four event athlete, speed is truly his forte. He loves the wind in his face and flying off bumps at 80+ mph. We both enjoy the pace. Days are simpler than at technical events. Lengthy inspections, lots of mental preparation, only one run per day, then afternoons of preparing skis for the next race. Everything just seems more layed back. Of course for some people these are stressful weeks, but Scott's so comfortable with speed that this is more like a week at the amusement park.
He's skied well thus far in the two training runs. Yeah training runs. The rules require that any competitor completes at least one timed run through the exact course which will be used on race day. They normally schedule two days in case weather intervenes, but this year he got to run both days. Scott's skis are running well. He was fastest through the traps yesterday and today he handily won the final glide split. Tactically there have been some issues. Yesterday he missed his line on a big fall away turn and took a scenic tour enroute to the next gate. It cost him a bunch of time and he finished 39th. Today he fixed that problem and finished 13th... in the hunt. A win or podium here is well within reach if he puts it all together.
As I mentioned earlier, mental preparation is a big part of this event. At 80-90 mph there's little time for indecision. Athletes must have the course memorized to the most minute detail. Being a foot off line in some segments might put one into the fence. At a minimum, it will cost precious tenths of a second in a game of hundredths. As a coach, I focus on being positive, sticking to a regimen and helping the athletes create tools for remembering their line. But the most important thing after tactics is doing whatever is takes to help each athlete get into the proper frame of mind for the race.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Spirit of Ski Racing


It's late, I'm tired and I'm a little fed-up. That said we're in beautiful Lake Louise, Alberta for a week of Downhills and Super G. What could be better. Rather than labor through the mechanics of ski racing today, I thought we'd do something a little more light hearted.

We're staying at the Hostel in Lake Louise – not the Ritz, but its restaurant is one of the best kept secrets in this town. Staying at the Hostel also brings us in contact with a variety of international travelers. Last night Joy met a Japanese guy, here for the races, which appeared to be subsisting on a jar of peanut butter. She invited him to join us for dinner tonight.

Takeo Ubukata is a ski technician from Tokyo, the only skier in his family, and a passionate ski racer. He’s 34 and living the dream. He hardly speaks English so it took hours to obtain his story. He says that in Japan it’s impossible to become a downhill racer because the slopes are all so crowded, so they only train slalom on narrow lanes. He decided he had to race downhill, so saved his money, bought some old downhill skis, and headed over here. How he got on a NORAM start list I’ll never know.

While inspecting for the first training run today he was very scared. He wasn’t sure he wanted to run the course. While side slipping down the icy pitch, one of his ski edges ripped out from his ski. When he got to the bottom he decided he’d come this far so he’d better give it a shot. So he switched his skis to the opposite feet so the ripped edge was on the outside and headed to the start. As he told his story in broken English and hand gestures, his excitement was palpable. He triumphantly finished 89th of 99 competitors.

But it’s not over... He’s found some used Super G’s for sale in Banff, so will go there tomorrow to pick them up. He says he can’t afford two sets of skis, has had enough of going 85 MPH, and will just do the Super G’s here and at Panorama next week. So we've adopted him, will feed him again, and will set-up his race skis for the Super G races. You gotta love this guy!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So what's the Point?

So whats the point? What good is it to hear that someone “improved his points” if you don’t get the point? So today I'm offering a tutorial on the US and international points ranking systems. I hope you'll find this interesting, since this is the fairest ranking system I've seen in any sport. BCS, look to your laurels…

When do points come into play? Youth Ski League racers (12 and under) race in their region, searching largely for individual medals. There are no “standings” per se, and even if there were, those standings would offer little benefit. However, once a racer reaches “Junior” status, (age 13) it’s all about standings and points. Medals mean little or nothing unless they’re earned at a major championship... rankings are what count. There are two very similar point systems, one for USSA (US athletes) and one for FIS (international). US athletes are only ranked in the USSA points list at age 13 and 14. From age 15 through adulthood, our athletes are rated on both lists.

Why are points important? Many races are over solicited, so the entries are accepted based upon points standings (lower points are better). Also, the start order is based upon points, with the lower point athletes starting sooner. Obviously, the sooner one starts, the better the course conditions, and the greater the likelihood of finishing well. But most importantly, points are like the SAT of skiing. Spots on the US Team and top NCAA teams are offered based upon points and world rankings.

How are points earned? Points are earned using an intricate formula; here's how it works: The five lowest pointholders out of the top ten entrants are totalled and added to the five lowest pointholders of the top ten finishers. The sum is divided by ten, then a specific factor is added. This yields what is called the point penalty for that particular race. Once the penalty for the race is computed, each finisher receives the penalty plus race points based upon his finish order, the length of the course, and how far behind he was. For instance, if the penalty for a race was 30 points and I won that race, I would leave with a point result of 30. Let’s say you finished in 9th place, 1.2 seconds behind me, you might get penalty points of 30 plus race points of 7 for a 37 point result. Our results are then entered in the USSA and FIS data bases and averaged with our previous best points finish for the type of event. So, if I earned a 30 today in slalom and my previous best slalom result was a 38, my new points profile for that event would become 34.

Why aren’t medals important? Because I could seek races with weak fields and win every race. So what? My points (and world rankings) would never improve. Instead, racers seek events where the competition is better than them. That way the point penalty is lower and if they ski well they can improve their own point profile. Every racer starts his career with 990 points as a profile for each event. Racers on the World Cup have points in the single digits. It’s a long road to the top, but it is eminently fair.

Scott's FIS points in all events are around 40. Last year as a J2 in FIS elite races he was frequently amongst the early starters. But to get better he has to face tougher fields. So now he's in races with single digit athletes at NORAM level races. Since they're at the front of the start order, they're on the smooth, perfectly prepared, course. Scott and his fellow aspirants are starting way back in the 70's and 80's. So not only are they facing very fast athletes, but they are suffering a handicap from the course conditions. But it's all fair. I'll take this over the French ice skating judge any old day!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ladder


Sometimes it might sound as though Scott has made steady, uninterrupted, progress up the ladder of ski racing success. He has done well and is on a great trajectory, but the rungs on this ladder are getting further and further apart. Sometimes one has to leap for the next rung, get a fingerhold, and pull up. Sometimes one loses his grip. Scott has lost his grip three days in a row -- let me explain.

He's been training hard for weeks and feels ready for a breakthrough. In training he's running even with and often beating athletes with half his FIS point rank. He's primed for success. One problem though, this sport gets tougher at each interval and the only way to reach the top is to claw through seemingly unfair odds. When Scott runs even with the 20 point racers, they're all on roughly the same snow. Their first run is on smooth snow, and as the day wears on and ruts form, they all face the same ruts.

In races like the ones Scott's been in this week, the field is mighty "deep." The World Cup and Europa Cup guys, already infinately better than Scott, get to start in the top 30, on a relatively smooth course. The 20 point guys he trains with get to start in the 40's and 50's, and Scott is starting anywhere from position 70 to 90. But it's fair... every one of those guys ahead of him faced the same challenge and battled through. That's the ladder Scott now faces. He's handling it well mentally and just needs to keep grinding it out. I'm sure he will.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Blood

The North American Cup (NORAM) season began this week at Loveland Basin and Aspen, CO. The NORAM, or Continental Cup, circuit is most easily defined by comparison with AA baseball. These are the top athletes in North America who have not yet been called up to AAA (Europa Cup) or “The Bigs” (World Cup). The competitors are aged 15 (rarely) through adult, with competitors from all over the world, which sometimes includes a smattering of Europa and World Cup athletes.

The early season races in Colorado are a tough game. When the World Cup moves to North America, many of the international racers use NORAMS as “tune-ups” for the upcoming races at Beaver Creek. Such was the case this year, with World and Europa Cup athletes from Austria, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Finland, Korea, France, Slovenia, Netherlands, Japan, Argentina and Belgium jamming the field, along with the entire US Team. Add seven of the top Div I NCAA teams to the mix and it was hard to even qualify for a spot on the start list.

The slalom track at Loveland is a varied and steep pitch with many off camber areas and plenty of “micro terrain.” The surface this year was injected a few weeks ago, although several inches of snow fell and were groomed over during the past two weeks leaving a varied surface with some chop and ruts for the later racers.

Scott had a good day. He started 85th and blew out of the course half-way down, but he had a good day. How can that be you ask? Because victories are few and far between in ski racing so one must celebrate the bright spots whenever they appear. Scott absolutely ripped the top of the course, including two tricky combination gates, however, he hit a pot hole created by the other 84 competitors and was spit out of the course. So the bright spot is that his head was in a good place at the start (and after the mishap) and he knows he can rip. That's good enough to bring him back full-steam tomorrow for the next race. Sort of like hitting a great drive on the 18th hole after playing a miserable round of golf!

Oh, by the way, only 42 of 102 racers finished the race. Wait a minute, these are the best in the world and in the USA... how could that be! Because at this level everyone rips and there's no room for temerity. Go all out and see where the chips fall.

Hopefully I'll have a great report for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Skiing Homework

There's a reason most great downhillers are old, or at least experienced. World Cup downhill courses are surveyed and set exactly the same year after year. Experience pays a huge dividend as the competitors seek the perfect line. These two minute races are normally decided by hundredths of a second. We're trying to catalogue and retain all of Scott's downhill experience as he gains it.

Ever since Scott was little I'd have him run his favorite races through his head and visualize himself in action. It was a useful tool to help him develop the mental skills needed for race preparation, while also increasing his "familiarity" with the regional venues. As time went on, he learned to "rerun" certain frames until he got the turn or move perfectly. Then we progressed to him rehearsing the race against a stop watch to see how close his visual run was to an actual race he'd already completed. Mental training and preparation are essential to success in any sport.

Two years ago we started watching World Cup footage of downhills Scott would someday race. This was helpful his first time down the tracks at Alyeska, AK and Lake Louise, AB, but a video doesn't tell the whole story. So, starting with the Lake Louise World Cup track last year, we began the process of "charting" downhill courses on paper. Scott has a ten page (taped together end-to-end) chart of Lake Louise with footnotes of everything he learned last year. Our plan is to update it and add detail every year he races there. Likewise, he may be forerunning the Birds of Prey World Cup Dec 3rd, so we have just prepared a full length chart of that course, with all of the key jumps and turns labelled. Although Scott ran the bottom 2/3 of the course numerous times in 2007 during the National Development Speed Camp, we aren't going to add any of his notes until he's done a full course inspection this year.

So last night we watched Darren Rahlves' analysis of Birds of Prey on video as step one for next week. We also watched the entire "Thin Line" video to create the mood. I've dusted off our Lake Louise notes for Scott to study on the airplane to Canada immediately after the Birds of Prey. Hopefully my anal tendencies and Scott's focused preparation will pay dividends against the clock.

It never ends...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chillin' in Dillon


Break time!!! Scott's final pre-season training block came to an end on Saturday and he's been enjoying the time off. As a bonus, his girlfriend is in town. She's also a top racer, although not yet on the Team, and is out here for a National Development Camp. They've been able to visit a couple of hours a day -- real romantic stuff like tuning skis and doing homework. Her camp finished today, so they're ice skating this afternoon before she heads to Aspen tomorrow.
There are many aspects of a national athlete's life which aren't self-evident. At age 17 Scott lives on the road, sharing rooms with people he really doesn't know, working all day either on snow, in the gym or in the tuning room. Not alot of the normal stuff a High School senior might experience. Scott's further complicated the mix by having a girlfriend from Nevada who travels similarly, but on a different circuit. They won't cross paths again this season until April. It's an interesting life.

The past three weeks have had their good and bad sides in many respects. On the positive side, Scott is skiing the injected surfaces with confidence and strength. He's also right in there with athletes two or more years ahead of him. His health is good, and he's excited about the coming season. His strength is excellent. In addition to hours on the snow each day and some fairly light-weight dryland training with the team in the afternoons, he's been stealing off to the gym at night with a few of the more hard core guys and getting in some extra lifting. He's trying to adhere to our regimen of last year, which was designed for him to continue getting stronger through the competitive season.

On the negative side, I see some regimentation in his skiing, for want of a better word. He's skiing well, but an element of freedom is missing... the freedom that takes it down the hill hard. In the tech events I attribute this to the focus on "carving from the top" which has thrown his timing off a bit. He needs to get back to running the longer line, as we patterned during the first week out here before the Team arrived. If he can just add that back in, he'll be scary fast. He's been working hard in speed and is a natural at those events. However, he's so fucused on the carve that he's too precise to go fast. Now this may be the by product of any number of things such as soft snow conditions at Copper Mountain, working on new stuff, or whatever. But he needs to loosen up a little and let them run. Tonight we're going to watch some of his ski video, followed by the classic downhill documentary "The Thin Line" to get him into the mood for speed!
This "rest" break isn't all relaxation. We've been spending a couple of hours in the weight room every day, plus we've been getting all of his skis super prepped for the next two weeks of racing. Scott's also been doing schoolwork each day. We're looking forward to Joy and Bonnie getting here for the long weekend. Unfortunately, they already had minor car trouble and are now travelling in a winter storm watch. Hopefully they can push through today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Level 300 and the Moving Target

For those of you who think I live a blissfull life in the world of pure athletics... think again. Yeah, there are some great times. Being around high level competition is always exciting. But like everything else, we have our bureaucracies, one of which is coaches education.

Now don't get me wrong, despite the inconvenient schedules, expense and dogma of "continuing education" I've learned alot from the clinics and courses offered by USSA (the governing body for US Ski Racing). My problem rests with the management of the programs and the constant change. When I first Joined USSA as a coach in 1998, one could get certified as a Club, State, Regional or National Coach. OK, catchy names, geographically oriented, easy to understand. But wait, a couple of years later they changed it to Level I, Level II and Level III, with advancement through a series of clinics. So I dutifully completed Level I and attended the Level II Slalom and Giant Slalom Clinics, but there were no Speed Clinics to be had. Life superceded education and I dropped out of the process.

When Scott was 12 I offered to enroll him with a traditional Junior program for his teen years. He said he wanted me to remain his coach until he either made the US Ski Team or quit racing. Uh-oh! FIS and National level racing looked pretty complex from the outside so I decided to reenter the education pipeline. Unfortunately, it had changed again and now had three levels labelled 100, 200 and 300 -- how clever. The path was also more complex. For Level 200 one had to attend three different clinics, take two sports science courses from those available, take two management courses from a college, have a first aid ticket (no problem) and be a referee (also already done). Since I knew I was going to be going for Level 300 as well, I took all of the sport science courses. They were pretty good and included Strength and Power Training, Sports Psychology and Nutrician. The management courses were pablum about running a generic sports organization and fund raising -- sort of anticlimatic after 28 years in the Army and 12 years running a ski team. Then of course, there were the clinics; Training Environment, Tactics, Course Setting, Slalom, Giant Slalom, Speed. The challenge -- snow is required to have clinics, but most of us are working as coaches when there's snow on the ground. Scheduling was tough, and just when I'd get the clinic I wanted it was cancelled due to under-enrollment. Long story short, I finally completed my final on-snow clinic this week.

Not so fast! Sure, I've taken everything USSA has to offer, received my Level II Referee card, updated my first aid, undergone another background check and finished all the clinics... but at the end of our clinic this week the instructor mentioned they weren't quite sure how they were going to handle Level 300 after all. They still hadn't defined the management requirement and they might create a comprehensive final exam covering everything plus a practical application test (which has already occurred at each of the clinics). I promptly sent them a complete resume of my military management experience, 10 years a a Ski Patrol Director, 6 years as Chairman of the National Avalanche Board and 12 years running race teams, plus my MBA. I'm hoping to9 hear soon what remains to be done. Far from being a badge hunter, I'm just interested in getting this off my plate.

OK, so much for venting. I just wanted you all to understand why the guy in the photo has only a few hairs left and they're all grey. Aside from management challenges everything is going well and Scott is happy to be on the team. His gear is running well and he is getting faster by the day. He's not perfect, but he knows what to fix. That's progress. Perhaps tomorrow I'll provide a more upbeat look at life on the road.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Golden Peak, Vail

This has been a big week for Scott in many ways. This is his first time housed with the entire team (including Olympians) as a member of the team. He's rubbing elbows with the big guys, many of which he knew before. He's enjoying that aspect, plus the grade "A" accomodations. Scott's sharing a swank one bedroom condo with hard wood finishes, flat screen TV, etc, etc. It's 100' to the wax room and the dining room where he grazes through a buffet line twice daily -- Scott heaven!

The training hill is directly across the street. It's a fine hill where one can set 1 minute Super G courses and full-on Giant Slalom. The slope starts mellow (24 degrees) for about 8 GS gates, then roles to about 38 degrees for 8-10 more gates. After that there's a "shelf" which is about 22 degrees and 10 gates long followed by a sustained pitch of 30-32 degrees for perhaps 15-20 gates. The slope is triple injected, providing a firm training surface similar to what Scott will encounter on the NORAM circuit. To give you an example, 30 guys did four runs of Super G the other day and there was nary a rut.

Scott's had either Giant Slalom or Slalom training every day since the 6th. Additionally, he's had 3 speed sessions at either Copper Mountain or Vail. I must admit, he's getting his money's worth from the standpoint of training environment alone. There's no way I could have put him on slopes and snow like this, day after day. And the two of us alone would be hard pressed to put up long courses like this, train, and tear them down. I'm already seeing the benefit of the environment and the volume of training in his performance.

Each day I sit a hundred feet from the finish, watching all of Scott's training through binoculars. Being old baseball guys, we know how to communicate from a distance -- Coach Givens would be proud. We also get to watch video together and talk each day. I'm really excited about how he's doing. He knifes the ice like a pro and his strength allows him to do some things others cannot. There are still lingering issues he's working on, such as a "lazy" right hand in slalom that likes to drop each turn and the need to run the deep line. And he still has the occassional problem with timing his turns due to the speed plus the purchase the skis make into the ice. However, even with the occassional major error, his times are right in there and he's not that far off the big guys.

Hopefully tomorrow we'll get a real good indicator. Unbeknownst to me, an official FIS race was scheduled for the US Team members and selected invitees. It's sort of like the NDS race Scott did last season in Park City to help prep the Olympians -- except this time he's infinately more prepared. Unfortunately, they're now calling for 6-12" of snow overnight, which would put the race at risk. Hope they can pull it off!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coming Out

Vail welcomed the US Ski Team last night, hosting the official announcement of the 2010-2011 athletes at Arrabelle Square. Easily 1000 folks filled the cramped confines. The event was shown on Universal Sports TV and streamed live over the internet. After the ceremony the Olympians stayed at a table on stage to give autographs and the other athletes were released into the square. Scott got a
good dose of autograph hunters and middle age
ladies looking for hugs.
He's still being harrassed about the later.

After the crowd thinned, our good friends the Johns and I took Scott to dinner at Pepi Granshammer's Gasthof for schnitzel, one of his favorites. It was fitting to eat in the restaurant of a former Olympian and one of the original World Cup Racers.

This morning they hit the snow early, with slalom training at 7AM. This was Scott's first day back on injected snow and he skied well. There were some hiccups, but all in all he's right in there.

Injected snow isn't something the average skier encounters. The crews take a 4" pipe the width of the slope that has mini nozzles every 6" or so. They hook a snowmaker hose to the pipes and inject water directly into the snow surface to saturate. Then the water is turned off, and the pipe is moved 6" downhill -- repeat. It's a tedious and miserable process which is normally done at night, but it yields a rock hard surface for ski racing. The original reason for developing this procedure was to ensure a nearly identical surface for late numbered racers. To level the playing field, so to speak. However, if the big races are conducted on this surface, then the athletes must train on it as well. Interestingly, once an athlete learns to effectively carve on this surface, it becomes his/her favorite since it's predicable and holds edges well.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spring Training in November?


We just completed a great week of training at Copper Mountain with our Canadian friends, Michel Pratte and Matt Kerr. Although daytime temps reached a sunny 28 degrees each day, the snow at 12,000 feet was hard and consistent. We trained three days of Giant Slalom and one day of Slalom, with double sessions each day.

Scott's frustration and hard work during the summer paid off in one respect; he is definately developing pressure at the top of the turn and carving to the apex. However, the method they had him using was squaring him too much to the skis, putting his hips in the wrong position, and resulting in a boxy look and a slow line. Scott worked on opening his hips more this week and taking a deeper line which, when combined with the early pressure, generated some real speed. He trained against an older racer with far better GS FIS points (21) and beat him 13 of 13 timed runs by significant margins. Of course, training results aren't conclusive, but this was our first barometer of his progress this year. Scott is definately excited.

Scott also spent 2-3 hours in the gym every day and is looking and feeling really strong. His general health remains my only concern so we've been careful about diet, sleep and warmth. Hopefully his lungs will continue to heal from the pneumonia last year.

I just dropped him off with the US Team at Vail for two weeks of training. They're staying at Manor Vail, just steps from the training venue in some really swank condos. Scott's rooming with Keith Moffet, a top rising prospect who's recovering from a serious injury last year. They've met a number of times and get along very well. Tomorrow is a warm up day as the rest of the guys have been off snow since Chile. Then they kick into full swing, wiith early morning speed training at Copper Mountain followed by technical (GS/SL) training at Vail. I'll be on the periphery watching with my mouth shut.

We're rapidly closing in on the first races of the year and with each passing day the excitment becomes more palpable. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

We have lift off....


As far as I'm concerned, the first day of winter is tomorrow. After weeks of ski tuning, packing, sorting and scheduling, we're on the road and in Colorado.

Scott left Idaho before me, having physical assessments at the USST Center of Excellence in Park City, followed by a "Team Building" trip to Moab, UT from Oct 25-29. Joy and I drove down to meet him this week -- then she took the other car home while Scott and I continued to Colorado. Although this is nothing like military operations, our logistics are far more complex than the average family's.

We're now settled in Dillon, CO with our friends, the Johns, who let us camp here every November. Scott calls this his home away from home. We'll be training with our Canadian friends (and ex-World Cup coaches) Michel Pratte and Matt Kerr for a four days until the rest of the team gets here. This is how we've started our winters for the past three years and it feels good to be back at it. On Friday Scott rejoins the US Team at Vail, where he'll be training for about 18 days. Competition starts on November 27th and will be fast and furious right up to Christmas.
Scott has commited to posting his blog frequently this year, so I hope you check it out for the racer's perspective.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Headin' South

It's been quite a week getting Scott on the road to Chile for two weeks of winter training. It sounds like it should have been simple enough, but not so. First, there was the little manner of a Triginometry final exam. Then Scott had to get ahead on the grounds keeping job at the property he maintains. Then there was the equipment issue.

Scott was to bring 8 sets of skis to Chile, two for each discipline. We purchased big, three pair, bags for the purpose and planned for 3-4 ski bags plus two large suitcases for the rest of his gear. Our first adventure was that the new bags weighed 11 pounds and three sets of skis made them exceed the 50 lb limit. OK, remove the bindings, weight each different pair of skis, and come up with the right mix. After numerous permutations we came up with five pieces of baggage, each weighing within one pound of the limit. Success!

The US Team arranges travel and likewise negotiates discount baggage fees for the athletes. The coordinator told us she could only prepay 4 bags for Scott's flight due to the first leg being a commuter, "But you can pay full price for the final piece." So we confidently went to the airport this morning only to discover that the airlines limit to four bags per person on commuter flights... period. Ooops! So there we were on the airport floor reorganizing and shortening the list in order to get down to four pieces of baggage. We did it, but two sets of skis stayed in Idaho. I'm sure he'll be fine and we all learned something new today.

This is the only trip I'll be skipping this year. This is the first ski trip Scott has gone on without me along as a coach. Feels funny. However, Joy and I are enroute to Houston and Alabama to visit family and friends. Our first "vacation" together in an age. We're even going to slow down and sightsee on the way. Mt Rushmore tomorrow!

Watch Scott's web for skiing updates during this trip.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Final Tune-up


We're still trying to figure out where last season ended and the next one begins. We've decided the true kick-off will be the trip to Chile, beginning on Sep 13th.

Anyway, we're presently at Mount Hood, OR for a final tune-up. Nothing big really, just Scott free skiing and searching for the right "feel" on his new gear. The weather is perfect and there's hardly anyone on the glacier, so we have plenty of room to work.

It's been a busy summer, quite unlike the past few years. Normally summer is about strength training, schoolwork, lots of baseball and relaxing times with Mom and Bonnie. Scott did all of that this year, but added four ski training sessions (one California, three here) plus two administrative/physical testing trips to Park City. Our summer was essentially scrambled.

The first few months with the US Team have been enlightening. We're still adjusting, but in the end I'm sure it'll be a good fit. Scott's still excited and happy to be on the team, and that's what counts. Once the competitive season begins it'll feel a lot more like normal.

The photo above was taken at Tawanna Falls this afternoon. We did Scott's aerobic training on Forest Service trails today, and it was well worth it. If you look closely you'll see Scott near the falls, which are easliy 100' tall.

Time to pack lunches for tomorrow.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunshine!


We finally saw some sunshine today. The temps also dropped a little, improving the training conditions. The mountain is beautiful, with more rime deposited on the upper rocks than I've ever seen.

Scott continues to work on "stacking" over the new outside ski during transition. When it works, he's really fast. He can string 5-6 gates together and is impressed with how it feels. However, working on a new move in the race course messes up his timing, leaving him a little frustrated. It's only June... it'll come.
There are two days left in this camp, then Scott flies to Park City for "Rookie Camp" where he'll learn the ins and outs of sponsors, conduct, meeting with the press, etc. I'll be staying here to attend the Level 300 Slalom coaches' clinic. We'll both be home in time for Independence Day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Winter in Summer

We're back on snow after a couple of weeks at home. It snowed all day and the forecast calls for more tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully it'll stop soon as we need hard snow for training.

It was good being home for a while. We only saw Bonnie briefly, as she headed to Army Airborne school in Georgia this month. But Mom was there whipping up Scott's favorite meals and smiling all the time. Scott got back into baseball and played about 10 games with his American Legion team. He really loves baseball and enjoys being part of a the team -- lots of good friends. Walking away from the line-up and repacking ski gear wasn't easy.

Scott's training Slalom and Giant Slalom on the glacier at Mt. Hood, Oregon. Lots of memories here as well since I used to spend 3-4 weeks per summer running race camps when he was 7-10 years old. He's staying with the team in condos 20 minutes away. I'm staying for free in the "Atomic House" where the Atomic Ski staff lives for the summer while running their equipment test center. I'm helping out as a ski technician four hours per afternoon in exchange for room, board and lift tickets. I'm working mornings on the hill with Scott and the team.

Scott's been pretty calm about making the team. He smiles and thanks folks when they congratulate him, but he plays everything down. Last night the boys were issued US Ski Team uniforms. Scott called me and tried to sound calm, but I could tell he was excited. Today I saw him in the uniform for the first time and it was cool. It's been a long journey.

Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Official

Scott was officially nominated to the 2011 US Alpine Ski Team on May 25th. It was a great day for him and our family and he basked in the hundreds of letters and generous words from friends and family. One thing that struck us all is how great it is to live in a small, close-knit, community. If we lived in a city, perhaps a few neighbors in each direction would be aware of Scott's career. However here in Sandpoint everyone knows and celebrates each other's successes. We can't walk down the street or in a store without someone coming up to talk. Really neat and old fashioned in a funny sort of way. Personal.

With Scott joining the team comes an intense schedule that chops the summer into pieces. They'll have him for a couple of weeks every month, then he'll head to Chile for the month of September. I'll travel with him (except to Chile due to expense) so my summer is similarly shuffled. That doesn't leave much time for work around the house, Scott's job, school or relaxing. We've both been going 90 mph since getting home.

Scott will be working with an excellent coaching staff. The head coach, Randy Pelkey, has a strong reputation and is also very organized. That's a huge thing in this business. My original plan had been just to travel with Scott and maintain a low profile, tuning his skis and supporting from a distance. Randy and I met for a while last week and he invited me to be on the hill and pitch in. I was totally taken aback, but jumped on the offer. This is better than I'd hoped. So, although I'm not an official member of the staff, I will be involved and be inside the venues for training and competition.

Now we confront the next major challenge -- funding. Joining the team does not mean free skiing. In fact, the team charges all "unfunded" athletes $22K per season for tuition. Scott will be unfunded for at least two years. Add to that the expense of me tagging along and we're looking at a big chunk of change. The search for grants and donations begins this week. This is my least favorite part of the business.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Layin' Low

This is one of the most boring weeks of my life. I'm intentionally staying completely off the snow and away from the USST training. I have several reasons. First, I don't want to create an issue with the staff that might impact Scott (although they offered me to be there). Second, Scott is one of only two athletes here who made criteria. the other invitees are in a try-out situation. I don't think it appropriate for an outsider to be there.

So instead, the highlight of each day is a 5 minute visit with Scott while I pick up his skis to tune them. I also get to work out each day, read some books and watch lots of movies.

Scott is enjoying the training. The team spend three days preparing the slopes with jumps and rollers for various drills. The coaches are showing him a technique to build more force at the top of the turn. Scott says he can feel the power and is "getting it." I'll probably sneak up there at the end of the week with some binoculars and see what's going on.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The first day at school

It starts today. I just dropped Scott off at the US Ski Team "Center of Excellence" for two days of physical assessments. It felt vaguely like the first day of school. He met the new Assistant Coach at the door, filled out some papers, then walked into his dream gym.

Scott is a gym rat. He's been working out since age 9 and builds a few hours of work into every day. I'm sure he'd happily put a bunk bed in here and live full time.

While Scott's working downstairs, I'll be upstairs in a two day "excellence" conference designed for program directors. It'll include insurance briefings, athlete development ideas, fund raising guidelines and other areas which might be useful to our team. As much as anything, its a convenient diversion while Scott is being tested.

The ride down here was as important as the event. I wrote him a "treatise" about the transition, and we had a long discussion about his career and what changes joining the US Ski Team might bring. Certainly there are some great advantages. He will be brought into excellent on and off snow training environments, many of which I could never create. He will also have a group of elite athletes with which to train, which is always a good thing (although he's made it this far with no "rabbits" to pull him). He'll have dedicated fitness, therapy and sports psychology staff at his disposal. He will have quality, experienced, on-snow coaches. He will also have a competition schedule carefully tailored to meet his development needs. That all sounds pretty special, except that it will be substantially different than what he had to this point..

The key word here is comprehensive. Over the past five years Scott trained in a fully integrated environment which encompassed fitness (diet, exercise and schedule), tactics and technical skills, mental strength and equipment management. Scott's success is due to his dedication, focus and hard work. However his rapid development is largely due to the program in which he trained. Two major points we discussed, and I"d outlined in the paper, were:

"Being different is one of the things which propelled you to this point. Remember, your competition isn’t XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX or XXXXX. In the end, your competition is some highly disciplined and dedicated Swiss or Austrian kid who lives and breathes his dream. Every day he’s working out 3-4 hours to get stronger. He tunes his own skis. He has highly competent coaches. He trains year around with a singular focus. He has full family support. He lives in a society where ski racers are Gods and everyone aspires to be one. You’ve watched the Swiss kids -- you know the deal. To beat them in 2014, you must work harder than them today. So don’t limit yourself to standards set for the group. Set your own performance goals, decide what needs to be done, and get after it. If others don’t understand, politely explain it to them. Offer them to join you. Lead the way."

And

"Joining the US Ski Team will be great for you. There are many experts in the organization with a lot to offer. You are at the point where you need their support. The problem with the Team is that the information is compartmentalized. The ski coach knows tactics and technical matters, but isn’t an expert in fitness, diet, sports psychology or equipment. The equipment guy knows all about edges and wax, but little about technique. The sports psychology guy knows lots about minds, but little about technique/tactics or equipment. None of them knows much about you. So you have to learn how to connect the dots. You have to take ownership of making your program comprehensive. That will be the difference between greatness and mediocrity."

I'm sure some would consider my words extreme and unfair to the US Ski Team. I admire the team and respect the staff, however I have little faith in large organizations. They do well for the majority, but often don't meet the specific needs of the individual. Scott is the youngest here and must learn to manage his own future.

The first day at school. He knows his ABC's, he's wearing clean clothes, he knows where to reach me if he needs me, he has lunch in his backpack. He'll do just fine... I remember the day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Down Time


With only two weeks at home, Scott and I are staying pretty busy. The initial shock of seeing USST training requirements laid over his original summer plans is beginning to where off. I think he's accepted the price associated with being a full-time athlete.
Scott has a full plate right now, between catching-up on school, knocking the rust off baseball skills and working out several hours a day. In additon to his normal workout routine, he's been going to the gym at Pneumex with his trainer, Peter Faletto, two days per week. Training there gives him access to high tech devices and tech support. As an added bonus, Favio Medina (a pro boxer and championship contender) trains during the same sessions. The guys hit it off and it creates a good supportive environment for the longer workouts.
For my part, I'm busy working with sponsors and forming a non-profit foundation as a conduit for financial support. The new summer schedule also condenses the seasonal work around here and puts me in a crunch to get everything done. I'm trying to get most of next winter's wood in and complete our bulk wax orders before we leave next week.
This is a pretty big adjustment for me as well. Although I still play a significant oversight role in Scott's career, I'm no longer calling the shots. I now have to react to a schedule made by others. It'll work out.
The reality of being a full-time athlete is starting to sink in with Scott.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Not so quick...

So I came in the door two days ago and took the suitcase upstairs. I actually contemplated unpacking for the first time in seven months. However the following morning I received an e-mail for the US Ski Team with Scott's "off-season" schedule. We hit the road again May 9th for physical assessments followed by 12 days of skiing at Mammoth, CA. More in June and August followed by Chile in September. So much for unpacking...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sprint to the finish

Sorry for the lack of news. The past two weeks have been a blur, with ten starts in eleven days at two mountains. I had some trepidation about this trip. My concerns centered around possible fatigue, waning focus and the potential for soft snow. Scott insisted and, as it turns out, he was right. He scored in six of the ten races against elite fields.

We started at Mission Ridge, WA for two Super G, two Slalom and two Giant Slalom races. The field included eight US Team members, plus an array of team hopefuls trying to get those final points needed to meet US Team criteria. Scott had a little problem adjusting back to softer snow the first two races, then he regrouped and really threw down. He left Mission Ridge with improved point profiles and World rankings.

It was great being back home in the Northwest. We've been road warriors on the national circuit and haven't seen many of the kids with whom Scott came through the system. We have so many family and coaching staff friends here.

After the Mission Ridge series, we hopped in the car and drove to Mt Bachelor, OR for two elite downhills. The track was in great shape and they were able to start the races from the crater of the volcano (always a thrill). The Snow's have fond memories from this place. Both Bonnie and Scott have had great success here -- in fact, this is Bonnie's favorite race hill. It features numerous jumps and compressions. We also got to use the home of our dear friends the Beards, which also holds many special memories.

Scott pretty much owned the hill, cleanly winning the two downhill training races. Training races are required by the rules for downhill, with the course is set exactly as it would be for the real race. He then won the first official downhill by .65 seconds. Today, in the final race, he was edged out by .04 of a second by a US Ski Team member. In all, it was a very successful end to the year.

So now we hit the road home. First we have to swing through Twin Falls, ID to retrieve the Subaru with a replacement engine (January's casualty). Then I'll be hustling to fix everything that broke at the house over the winter.



Season of intrigue

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

...with a little help from my friends.

We're in Wenatchee, WA for some training before the last tech race series. Our good friends, Matt and Katie Dolan offered us free lodging for the nine days w're here, which brings to mind all the great people who've helped us in many ways this season. This is an enormously expensive and exhausting journey, and so many folks have helped with donations, lodging, assistance and moral support. Thanks to you all.

The plan was for Scott to be off skis the entire time we were home, however a foot of fresh powder intervened and we had a great day at Schweitzer on Saturday. Unfortunately, towards the end of the day, powder, World Cup GS skis, a 360 aerial and DIN 16 bindings combined to tweek Scott's knee. Nothing serious -- just a strain that bore watching. We headed to Mission Ridge early for two days of training on the venue anyway.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, a spring storm cancelled yesterday's training, giving Scott another day to mend. It seems that did the trick as he is 100% this morning. We'll be training on a closed ski area, using snowmobiles for upward mobility. Should be fun!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pit Stop

After a nice dinner and brief visit with Bonnie in Bozeman, we rolled into Idaho late Tuesday. It's so nice to be home after 49 days on the road. Unfortunately, we leave again Sunday for the final two weeks of competition. So these four days will be spent getting ahead on school, reworking all the skis and doing two sets of corporate taxes plus our personal taxes. I do love these rest periods!

Scott's left patellar tendon was pretty inflamed last week, so he won't be skiing this entire period. That'll give him seven days off snow, which should do the trick. We'll head to Mission Ridge two days early and let him tune-up there.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Leaving Lutsen

Today we left the land of Ole and Clarence -- we really enjoyed seeing this part of the country, and the people are amongst the friendliest we've met. I'm going to miss that old fishing cabin!

Scott skied well today. The first course set was nuts and impacted all of the field except two USST racers who nailed it. Scott's description was that it was so non-rhythmic that he had to "think" all the way through and never got in the flow. Notwithstanding, he was 11th after the first pass. He burned the second run, moving into 6th place overall. So for the weekend he earned two Golds, two Silvers and the Combined for J2s. He also, curiously, finished third for the season in Central Region, to which he doesn't belong. I imagine the J2s will be glad to see him leave.

We saw some crazy course sets this week. In addition to straight courses and way offset courses, we saw the following: oblique inside hairpins, hairpins running straight into hairpins, delays into hairpins, hairpins into delays, a hairpin into an inside flush which was oblique, and for the first time ever, a delay into an opposite delay (thus creating a semi-GS section). I guess the FIS requirement for three hairpins, one flush and one delay just isn't enough for some people!

Some coaches feel they need to get creative. They pride themselves on artistry, even when it degrades the competition. Some of them even think they're Picasso... I do not subscribe to those theories. I believe a course should be straight-forward, rhythmic and challenging. Not easy, just fair. The best racer will always win, but fair courses allow all the athletes to measure themselves against the best.

A rule of thumb is that if a course knocks out more than 20% of the field (barring extreme snow conditions), it's the course setter's fault. Since Scott advanced to the FIS level, I've frequently seen 40% of the field DQ in a run. Another disappointing trend is that this often happens on the final day of an event. I've heard coaches joking about "Sunday sets" that allow them to hit the road home early. That's criminal!

Each of these athletes has worked years preparing to compete at this level. They deserve a fair shot. Moreover, each of their families spend about $1000-1500 per event for entries, lodging, meals and travel. I don't think we have the right to be so cavalier about their investments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's Unofficial!!!

The US Ski Team publishes objective criteria for team selection each year. This year's criteria were tightened-up from years past. For a J2 to make the team, he must win two of four events at the J2 National Championships (Scott won two and took Bronze in another), be ranked top 10 in the World for his age group in one discipline (Scott's #1 in the World in two disciplines), and have Giant Slalom or Slalom points below 45 (Scott was at 48 and 46 respectively when he woke up this morning). We haven't discussed this as Scott inched his way down the past few weeks. But every crash or missed opportunity turned up the pressure... silently.

Today Scott brought his Slalom points down to 41, thus fully meeting US Ski Team criteria. Of course, nothing is official. The invitation letters go out in May. However, for the time being he's the only non-team member to meet criteria this year, so we sort of expect the letter.

This is a big relief for both of us, although we never doubted his ability. Now that it's done he can relax and enjoy the remainder of the season even more. A good, semi-emotional night for the Snows.

Friday, March 26, 2010

North Country




We rented a lakeside cabin near Lutsen, Minnesota for the races. Little did we know it would be an artifact. This place is great! It was built by the owner's grandad, and he hasn't changed a thing. Hand made furniture and cabinets, generations of "special" stones and driftwood on shelves and the porch, faded children's drawings on the wall, old books, hand carvings, wood stove, etc, etc. It even smells old, like my uncle's farm in New York. Scott is loving the place. He thinks it's cool to see the old pots, plates, hand mixers, etc in the kitchen. And he enjoys jumping the rocks along the shoreline. Who cares about racing -- this is a vacation.

But sadly, we did come to race. Lutsen is famous for it's Spring championship race -- the Central US FIS Championships. The US Ski Team sent a healthy contingent here (6 or 7) to help with the point penalty and there's plenty of other competition, including numerous college racers. Due to an early thaw, the Giant Slaloms were cancelled, so it's now a four Slalom series.

After two weeks of temperatures in the 50's, we had a deep freeze for race day. Be careful what you wish for, they always say. The snow set up like a shiny brick -- so hard I could barely navigate for course inspections. The conditions took a toll on the less experienced skiers. Scott, however, skied well the first two days. He finished 12th and 10th respectively, right in the middle of the USST and NCAA guys. He scored some points, although not as many as he'd hoped. The first day he "... gave the hill too much respect..." the first run. The second run he inadvertently tripped the wand as he approached the start, easily losing a second. Arrgh!

But when you're skiing well none of that matters. Tomorrow's another day. Oh by the way, another beauty of our little cabin is that there's no cell service, WiFi or TV.

Out of Touch


This is a "catch-up" posting to close out the US Alpine Championships. We awoke the final morning to warm weather and a drizzle. Disappointing, given a hard freeze had been forecast and that after the slalom debacle Scott was looking forward to good course conditions. It rained all day...
Scott skied great. He attacked the course and even had the fastest split in one run. On the first run he hooked his arm in a panel near on the final pitch, which spun him off line. Notwithstanding, he climbed up 28 places. The second run he was flying again when he crashed in nearly the same part of the hill. He skidded and regained the course after some skating to finish 36th overall. Not a bad showing with a fall, which attests to his speed on top. In all he felt good about the day. This is a tough sport, and as I said in an earlier blog, one must seize the small victories or be consumed.
We packed-up the following morning and embarked on two, 12 hour, days of driving to the Northern edge of Lake Superior. We travelled ground we've never seen, including Ontario, the Michigan penninsula, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There's a lot of wilderness left up here... it isn't all Detroit!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Championship Slalom

Scott started 75th in a very strong slalom field today. I figured it would be tough given his start number and the snow conditions. The temperatures dropped to 27 degrees, and they heavily salted the course, but ruts still developed very quickly. They were the ugly, knee deep with verticle walls, variety. The course set was difficult and six of the top fifteen racers didn't finish. By racer number 30 finish times were coming in 4 seconds off the lead. By number 50 times were 7-9 seconds off the pace. Scott skied really well until about 15 gates from the finish, on the final pitch, when a rut spit him out and he did a full flip and a half, landing hard on his right shoulder. Naturally he hiked and finished, but he was dead last by a large margin. At the end of the day, only about half of the field finished.

So we decided not to do the second run, and instead let Scott heal for Giant Slalom tomorrow. The temps are supposed to drop into the teens tonight, so we should have a good, icy, surface for his final event.

Super G

Scott raced in the National Championship Super G yesterday. This is the real championship against the US Ski Team and selected other top US racers, totalling about 80. It was warm and although the track had been heavily salted, it was still a little peely. Scott started hard, then hooked his arm on the second gate, slowing him. In fact, he was 24th on the first split. But he must have put the gas down after that, as he finished 14th overall and 4th for Juniors (age 19 and under). That result raised some eyebrows, as the youngest competitor beat about half the US Team.

Scott also had his first major autograph event. The finish area was jammed with spectators. As he exited the finish arena he ran into a herd of kids wanting autographs on hats, helmets, coats, etc. He was signing like crazy and quite overwhelmed when he noticed Tommy Ford (the next racer behind him) come through the gate. "Hey kids, there's Tommy Ford, the Olympian!" The herd immediately shifted it's focus and Scott escaped, only to run into the "second wave" as he described it.

After the openning ceremony last night, I decided to check out the Olympic ice arena near our house. This is the scene of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice." As I approached the door I remembered the NCAA Finals Hockey Championship was going on. We strode in as though we belonged there and headed to the upper seating. Zambonies were on the ice and another spectator told me they were preparing for a 20 minute overtime to decide the tied game. So we got to watch the climax of the NCAA Hockey Finals live. Good fun.

All in all, it was a very good day!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Slush Pit



We arrived at Lake Placid around noon today so that Scott could free ski and train a little on the Super G track. The base temperatures reached a record 61 degrees today and the snow conditions on the slopes were abominable. For those who have trained on the Mt Hood glaciers in July, it was like 1pm there.

Tomorrow promises to be just as warm. They intend to heavily salt the course, which should yield a pretty hard surface... at least for a while.

Scott will be starting 16th, which is an excellent opportunity. The course should still be in great shape when he comes down. Also, the top 30 racers will be shot for the TV coverage on VERSUS March 28th. If he performs well we may be able to see Scott on TV for the first time!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Refreshed

If I am reincarnated as a rich boy, I want to go to the Stratton Mountain School. Wow, that place is the best! Last week I called my friend Mike Morin to ask if we could train a few days with his athletes enroute to US Alpine Championships. He said he'd set everything up for us. Did he ever -- room, board, use of the tuning room, lift tickets and three days of much beeded tech training.

Ski racers can't just compete. Skills are perishable and they periodically need a "tune-up". Due to the addition of a few events by our Region, Scott hasn't trained since Feb 8th. We didn't want to fall into the same trap as least season, so this stop was just what he needed.

But enough about that. Let me talk about the academy. SMS has 120 athletes, divided evenly between alpine, cross country and freestyle. The campus is immaculate and positioned less than 1/2 mile from the slopes. The faculty is top notch. The alpine staff is headed by Mike, a veteran of 9 years coaching the US Team. His assistant is a former CU racer who also coached there. The entire staff is young, highly qualified and very motivated. The feeling is similar to when I'd walk into a well led Army unit. We'd call it "Command Climate", and this place has a good one. It also has a first class facility with a large field house, weight room, therapy rooms and staff, etc The complete package.

Academies aren't for us, but if they were I suspect this would be our choice.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Baseball is 90% mental... the other half is physical." Yogi Berra


Many sports become "90% mental" at the highest levels. Ski racing is a prime example. On any given day 30 guys could win the World Cup, but the mind is what separates them.

Thanks to my daughter and first FIS racer, Bonnie, I've been forced to study sports psychology. Scott is the benficiary. Around age 12 he started to let his mind interfere with performance. Many books, conversations, mental drills and visualizations later Scott emerged with a strong competitor's mind... but he's still 16 years old. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he goes on some strange tangent. Last week was one of those times.

Let me preface this story by saying that coaching ones own son is richly rewarding and highly frustrating. Let's face it, he's 16 and I'm 60 -- I know nothing. But I digress. Last week Scott straddled a gate and had to hike in the first run of the J2 Nationals Slalom race. No big deal, that stuff happens. He decided he'd try to win the second run from the back of the pack in a deeply rutted course. Go for it! So he got all pumped up at the start line and ran an incredible race, knees pumping and arms flying, posting the 10th best time. Now an adult would say that was fun and move on. Not so much for a 16 year old.

Two days later Scott made an error in the first run of the Giant Slalom and was sitting in third place, .12 of a second out. The two racers ahead of him hadn't been within a second of Scott all season. All he had to do was settle in for a solid run. Instead he super amped himself. He looked like Ferdinand the bull with steam coming from his nostrils. Scott "overskied" that run and wound up with the Bronze medal. He was reticent to discuss the race and never came to terms with what went wrong. I tried to discuss arrousal levels at the start line, and he shut me out. So be it. A week later we still hadn't come to closure.

Today Scott raced in the NORAM finals Super Combined. Because he has no Super Combined points he was starting near last. The snow was soft and the course was a little worked, but nothing serious. At the Super G start line he again got all amped for the race. He looked as he had for the prior week's Giant Slalom. I watched him cut inside the line on the first four gates, very aggreassive, before he went out of sight. When I reached the bottom and saw his time I could tell he'd had a bad run... 3.5 seconds out when he should have been 1.5-2 seconds out against this field. He wouldn't say anything more than, "I skied like crap. I was too hard on my edges." I explained that if that was the best technical analyisis he could offer, he wasn't ever going to improve. He got upset with me and I reciprocated. I told him he might have been a little too fired up at the start. He replied. "It's not a mental issue."

We'd forgotten his slalom helmet at the condo, so I went to get it. About 25 minutes later Scott called me. "Hey Dad, you're right. I think you're right. I let my mind get in the way." We agreed that he knows exactly how to fix this and can do that in tomorrow's Super G.

So today was a win. By making a major error, Scott was able to go backwards and identify a problem he can easily control. Any day you learn something is a good day!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Hobbit



Travelling as we do, Scott and I see and sleep in a lot of different places. But I have to admit, this week's accomodations take the cake. The photos on VRBO must have used a special, wide angle lense, because when I walked into the place I could have sworn I was in Bilbo Baggins hootch.
The place is as advertised. Kitchen, living room and two loft beds. I just didn't realize it was HO scale! But it sort of grows on you and the landlords are very nice, so this'll be fine.


The ride to the ski slope is also a treat. Twenty one minutes of muddy lanes over hill and dale. Farms, barns, fields of cattle. Great stuff.
So this is home sweet home for a while. Oh, I forgot to add that they have three friendly dogs, so Scott is happy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Down Time


As we learned by squeezing in the Park City races last month, if you don't build in down time you won't be ready to perform. Some of the athletes on the same circuit as us went straight to training on Tuesday and will train every day until the NORAM Finals begin.

Imagine having nine days of competition and training at the biggest event in your season, then going right back into training. Competition, when done at the right level of intensity, is both physically and mentally exhausting. That means a little down time is needed afterwards. Scott hasn't only been resting the past two days, he's been putting last week's results into perspective and refining his plan for this week. The importance of mental and emotional readiness can not be underestimated.

We spent two days in the same airport hotel just chilling and eliminating distractions (overdue schoolwork and admin stuff). Today we relocated to Kennebunkport and are in an ancient hotel. Scott's off for a run on the beach and I'm going to hike through the historical district. Afterward we'll go eat some fresh seafood (Lobstah skiing!) and maybe take in a movie. Phase two of the downtime.

Tomorrow we start to put the "game face" back on. We'll check in at Burke Mountain, assess snow conditions, prep skis, and get to bed early. Scott will hit the snow ready perform at a high level again on Saturday. Often down time is more valuable than training...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Greed

Scott just got "in" the NORAM Finals, compliments of some inside work by our friend and Western Region coach Jeff Pickering. Scott was first alternate. We were hoping for another shot at Super G points before the US Alpine Championships, since Scott missed out on all the speed stuff at Aspen with pneumonia.

Jeff said Scott's in for everything, including the GS and Slalom. That would be the temptation... to go for everything and hope for good scores. However we learned last year that success doesn't come without training. Scott hasn't had a chance to practice the tech events since February 8th. Better to be patient and find a place to train.

I called my friend Mike Morin (formerr USST tech coach and head of Stratton Mountain Academy). He's arranged lodging, food and lift tickets with his guys for the three days between the NORAM Super Gs and Alpine Champs. Perfect! Very generous of Mike and very good for Scott.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nerves


I'm seldom nervous about anything. Certainly I "sweat the details", but that's how you achieve perfection. However, once I have everthing in place I don't fret. No matter what, I try to hide any emotions I have from Scott on race day. He knows me too well and can pick up on them right away. I was nervous today...

Maybe it was the big win yesterday -- the fear that by winning the race that didn't matter he somehow put a hex on himself for the championship. Maybe it was the wind I heard blowing last night -- wind that could steal a victory. Maybe it was the sudden temperature drop that might render the chosen wax ineffective. Maybe it was because I acquiesced and let the head coach change his start number from 8 to 4 (I hate early starts). Who knows what it was, but I awoke at 5AM and couldn't sleep any longer. Extra coffee and computer time never hurts, I suppose.

I didn't discuss any of these things with Scott, and went about our race day routine like normal. Good breakfast, equipment check, course inspection, ski preparation, course reports, warm-up, etc. I clicked him into his bindings and skied to my vantage point with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then racer #3 (his good friend Max Axlerod) had a bad crash. "Start stop! Start stop!" Damn, maybe this was the curse I'd been fearing. "I hope he keeps his focus. I hope he's keeping his muscles warm. All the things he's been taught." Five minutes, maybe more... Finally the race resumed. Scott skied with great strength and confidence, winning the downhill by another convincing margin of one second. Yahoo! The wait was over and the world was right again.

Today Scott completed one of the best weeks ever at J2 Nationals, winning two championships, taking a bronze, becoming the first ever to repeat as a champion. It was great redemption for all those long days working together and those long weeks on the road. He just completed a huge step towards making the US Ski Team and we were both relieved.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wind Blows

I hate wind on speed days. Once Bonnie was in the start at the Sun Cup Super G and a gust nearly blew her back intot he start shack -- game over! That's the problem... wind creates an uneven playing field.

The wind was pretty significant today. Some gusts at the top of the course were easily above 25 MPH. But the wind was pretty steady between the gusts so I have no idea the aggregate effect on the race. Fortunately, today's race was simply a FIS race, not the National Championship.

Yesterday I did a pretty detailed post-race analysis of Scott's ski bases, trying to determine how much wax was left and where. Although the snow is warm and moist, the surface is hard at the points where most pressure is exerted on the ski. I found the inside edges of the base "dryer" especially towards the tip and tail. I'm assuming those areas are under the most pressure while turning and the wax is stripped off quicker. Given it was forecast to be 4 degrees colder today, I used a different strategy. I waxed harder under the base and at the inside edges. I still used a warmer wax for the rest of the ski. At the start line I also used a harder application the first 1/2" from the inside edge, then a warmer application over the rest of the ski. Scott rarely comments about his skis, but he told me they felt "slick."

There was also a detailed post-race analysis of Scott's skiing, given his difficulties on the course yesterday. He already knew what to fix, I just had him explain it to me during inspection. All the fixes seemed to work as he won the downhill by 1.3 seconds, a huge margin in speed racing. He also posted the fastest time through the traps at 82 MPH. So it was a good day and we'll try to take this into tomorrow's championship race.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

DH Training

Today was the required downhill training day. The track hardened sufficiently this week to provide a safe and fast race. Add sunshine and great visibility, and this was a great day.

From a competitive standpoint, the hill leaves something to be desired. The upper 2/3 is steep enough and has variable terrain, but the final 20 seconds of the course is flat and unchallenging. There also are no jumps whatsoever. From our perspective, this hill takes away some of the advantages that normally would accrue to an experienced downhiller.

Scott was second in the training run by .15 seconds. He did, however, post the fastest speed through the traps (81 MPH). If he had finished and told me, "I had a perfect run." I'd be worried. Instead he slipped to a hip and hand on the fourth turn, taking him off-line for that section of the course. He skied great from there down. So tomorrow is a FIS downhill, followed by the National Championship downhill the following day. Scott is confident and looking forward to the race.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Plan

Stick to the plan... that's what ourfriend Matt Kerr always says and that has been one of our menomics all season. Forgot that one today. A central part of the "plan" is always to ski the long line. That went out the window in the second run today.

It was the Giant Slalom day. Scott was the low seed going in and nobody in the field had beaten him all year. But that doesn't matter in ski racing and certainly doesn't matter in a championship race.

The first run he cut a little too close to a gate and shinned it, destroying the gate and bucking himself sideways. Notwithstanding he finished in 3rd, just .12 off the lead. He was really focused and determined the second run, but probably tried too hard. He broke the patterning he's been using this year and pinched the line all the way down. Even with that he was running fast and in good shape until five gates from the bottom when he looped low and lost all of his speed. The end result was a Bronze medal.

Perspective -- it's a Bronze medal at the National championships. Reality -- it should have been Gold. He's pretty disappointed with himself.

Tomorrow is the Downhill training day (a non-scored race on the exact DH course they'll race). After that he has two downhills, the second one being the National Championship event. Scott loves Downhill, so no matter what happens this will be a fun ending to the week.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lookin' up!

Things are looking up. In the past two days the snow has setup and is getting really hard. Add to that a forecast including five sunny days, and we're ready to rock. Today was the Men's and Women's Super G competition.

The policy here is that there is no free skiing allowed on speed skis. This policy was imposed after the death of a racer last year. This posed a real problem, given that the transition from Slalom to speed isn't that simple. This morning they allowed warm-up runs for one hour on the lower part of the race venue. Slow lifts converted that to just two practice runs. Scott and I made good use of the opportunity, testing various waxes. Scott's Super G race skis were bent at Aspen, so we've been scrambling to get his trainers up to speed. Based on our tests, we decided to use an experimental wax with a new overlay not yet in the Podium product line. While Scott inspected the course, I prepped his skis.

To get to the point, Scott won the Super G, becoming the first athlete ever to defend a national title at J2 Nationals. This was not without adventure. He charged hard from the start and was still skating after the second gate when he got hung-up on his inside edge and tipped over. He caught himself with his hand and quickly pushed himself back up, having only lost a little time. The rest of the run was great and the skis ran very well.

So now the train is back on track. Tomorrow the Men have Giant Slalom. After that its three days of downhill.