Sunday, June 5, 2011

"One word... plastics" from The Graduate

Scott Graduated from the Idaho Virtual Academy last Thursday. Like thousands of kids across the country, it was a major milestone in his life. For elite athletes in any number of sports, completing High School presents a different set of challenges.

Scott was fortunate that internet education existed by the time he entered high school. IDVA enabled him to get a great education from a well developed and regimented curriculum while travelling all over the world. As it is, he is well positioned to enter college whenever he decides.

Graduation lifted a burden off his shoulders with regard to ski racing. The daily "grind" for a ski racer includes early wake-ups, hours of on-snow training, then a break, then dry land (strength) training, followed by another break, then a team meeting in the early evening, followed by time off until bedtime. The athletes must work dinner and ski tuning into the open periods of time. Schoolwork becomes fragmented and is squeezed in wherever possible. Last year Scott was the only athlete in his group still in high school -- it will be nice to have a lighter schedule this year.

Scott has a lot of work to do with the "D" team this year, so he'll mostly focus on skiing. He'll probably take some German courses, both to improve his language skills and whittle away at elective credits. He wants to take college calculus to preserve his math skills, but it seems that might be a bridge too far given his training schedule. He'll reassess next year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011-12 Begins

Scott left for Park City yesterday. He is going through two days of physical assessments as I write this entry. I watched him with mixed emotions as he packed to leave. He's well prepared and looking forward to the challenge.

He spent his 2 1/2 weeks here working out at the gym and working at the property he maintains during the summer. His daily workouts were very intense with a focus on explosive strength. In addition to gym time he spent an hour a day on the bike, plus jumped rope. It will be interesting to see how he does on the explosive portion of the assessment.

We also took a day at Schweitzer Mountain for ski testing. The mountain is closed, but its still winter up there. We used the snowcat to groom an entire run, and had two snowmobiles to tow Scott back up to the start. We tested all of his speed skis to ensure he's using the fastest sets on race day, then we tested a variety of waxes and fluorocarbons for the wax company. Every test run was done at least two times for redundancy, so Scott got lots of miles in a 60+ MPH tuck. It was a sunny day and we all had a great time. You can see the video on Facebook at Selkirk Powder Company.

After two days at Park City, Scott heads to Mount Bachelor, OR for 10 days of training. This will be Super G and Giant Slalom training on slopes specially prepared with rollers every 24 meters or so. He really enjoyed this camp last year. He's also looking forward to being with the new group of guys, many of which are his age and have been his friends for years.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's a wrap...

After waiting a few days to decompress, I'm ready to close out the 2010-11 blog season. This has been an interesting year in many regards.

Scott learned alot about people this year -- I'm not sure the lessons learned on the US Ski Team are significantly different than those learned in the workplace. He met good people, bad people, hard working people, lazy people, creative people, people with no imagination, egotistical people, open minded people, qualified and unqualified people, sage mentors and immature people. Perhaps the intensity of the environment and the pressure to meet personal goals turn up the heat, but the ingredients in the cake are all the same. Scott survived, but not without a few scars. In the long run, he'll be better prepared next year.

Scott stayed strong and injury free, which is an accomplishment in this business. He didn't just ride the benefits of the many years he's spent in the gym working out. He carried weights and slant boards on the road and worked out on his own every night. I believe he broke the mold and finished the season stronger than he started. He added 10 lbs of muscle to his frame and is now back in the gym for several hours a day looking for more.

After a difficult start his skiing has changed for the better. He worked hard on a concept his coaches presented early last year. He seemed to be getting it, but his timing was off which messed up his line at the gates. He had what a baseball batter would call a slump for much of the year, and couldn't put together two good runs in a row. His confidence suffered, further exascerbating the problem. However, towards the end of the season things started coming together and he became consistent again. He still needs to fine tune the timing, but the essential elements are in place. Most importantly, he is confident in his skiing and ready to get back to work.

Scott developed mental strength this year on several fronts. He endured adversity within the team, yet stayed focused on the task at hand. I won't say that was a complete success, as he's still fighting the morale battle right now, but he's getting a handle on things. He also had his first, bonafide, downhill scare in February. It took a while for him to acknowledge it, then it took a while to get over it. However, as evidenced by his performance at the final speed series, he seems to be back in form. Scott's ability to narrow his focus and manage his arousal levels at the start line continued to improve. Not that this was ever a problem area, but he experimented with new methods for different situations and learned alot.

Although Scott didn't achieve many of the performance and outcome goals he set for himself, he still skied well enough to requalify for the US Ski Team next year. In fact, he was one of only three Juniors (Age 15-19) to meet USST objective criteria for selection. This takes alot of pressure off the first training camp in May, which will double as a tryout for the other 15 men attending. Scott feels poised for a huge season next winter and plans to eclipse the goals he set for himself this year. I truly believe he can.

On a personal note this has been a great season. Aside from spending another year with my son, my limited role on the hill and on the tuning bench allowed me to invite Joy along for several trips. She joined us at Lake Louise, BC, in Austria and Italy, at Whistler BC, in Wenatchee, Wa and Bend, OR. Those times with her took the sting out of 200 days on the road.

We also had some real quality time with family. Scott's older brother Jonathan came to Europe for a week and travelled with me through Austria and Germany. He later joined us at Winter Park, CO for the US Alpine Championships. Scott's older sister Adrienne flew to Mount Bachelor, OR for the final speed series and for the first time watched her brother race. My nephew Eric and his family drove up to Winter Park for three days to cheer Scott on. And finally, my sister plus my niece Denise and her family rented a house with us in Whistler for the week. We had great hikes, snowball fights and times on the slopes, where I had the pleasure of teaching their children, Ryan and Lauren, how to ski. My only regret was not getting an opportunity to explore the mountain with Denise's husband, Mark. Denise is also the person who designed this great web site and keeps it up to date; thanks so much.

The financial burden of ski racing is huge, and we received so much help from friends and family. Thanks to you all. In addition to direct financial support, we enjoyed the benefits of cost cutting, a home environment and friendship by staying at the homes of JJ and Laura Johns, Kent and Heather Christian, Karin and Tod Wehse, Jack and Melanie Kern, and Katie and Matt Dolan.

It's been a good year, but my final one on the road with Scott. He will turn 18 years old this summer and doesn't need me around any more. I'll return to coaching younger kids on our race team and maybe bring a few more up to the US team. I'll keep posting this blog based upon reports from Scott and my experiences coaching younger athletes. I suspect there's fertile ground in comparing what we do at the lower levels of racing with the National level.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Final Speed Fix

Scott ended the season on a perfect note -- speed! We
dashed straight to Mount Bachelor, Oregon after the Tech series for six days of speed including two Super G's and two Downhills. The Super G's were run on soft snow with gusty winds and rain -- sort of miserable. Fortunately the temps plummeted and the sun came out for the downhills, yielding rock hard snow and a safe, consistent, track.

Have I mentioned Scott loves downhill? He had blast on this fun track. Due to the ideal conditions the race started from inside the volcanic crater, through the notch, and down a track with plenty of bumps and turns. Scott knows this hill well, having raced it since he was 10 years old. The combo of fast skis and experience, plus the "homeboy" advantage allowed him to sweep the training run and both downhills.

Scott didn't have to come to this race, but he wanted to help with the penalty for the younger athletes. It's been a long season and logic argued for a rest before heading back into training in a few weeks, but I acquiesced given how much we used to hate it when seed racers didn't show-up at speed events. It all worked out well since the daily schedule allowed plenty of down time.

So we're now home at long last. Scott is catching up on school and back in the gym for a few hours per day. He also has some "close-out" maintenance to pull on his speed skis. I'm already engaged in repairing stuff that broke around here over the winter. Scott heads to Park City on May 8th for physical assessments followed by 10 days of Super G and Giant Slalom training in Oregon. It never ends!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Series

After dashing across country from Colorado in two days we signed into the Western Region Spring Series at Mission Ridge, WA. We always enjoy Mission Ridge, both because of the great races they host and the fact that our good friends the Dolans live there. They hosted us in their new home (which he built) and we got to meet their new baby boy. The regional Spring Series is also fun because all of our friends (coaches and athletes) whom Scott "came up" with are present.

The points were good at the races, with about ten USST athletes plus top NCAA and FIS racers from across the country in the field. Scott came hoping to lower his tech points and did get a few minor scores. Although things didn't work out exactly how he wished, the series was none the less a success. Scott has been under significant stress recently and had lots of things to sort out, including a decision about what to do next year. He also wanted to improve his finish ratio, while working on his line and technique. The combination of all these things stood in the way of resounding scores.

Scott struggled with his line for the first half of this season. A variety of factors, including his focus on strengthening the top of the turn, messed up his timing. In a sort of Catch 22, the wrong line takes away the opportunity to properly develop a turn, and working on properly developing the turn messed up his line. Anyway, last week he showed some real consistency in both regards. He skied great most of the time, but seemed to have a bauble in each run... just enough to preclude a score. He left Mission Ridge feeling good about his skiing and looking forward to summer training.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Top of the World

Scott raced at Breckenridge immediately after Alpine Champs. The course started at 11.500 feet of elevation and someone said it was the highest Giant Slalom start in the world. Regardless, it was high enough. Standing at the scoreboard one could hear the heaving chests of the athletes as they finished and came to see their result. Those of you who have been following this blog know that it's been a hard year. Nearly every opportunity for bad luck has manifested, sometimes on its own and sometimes with a little help from Scott. There have been some great runs, followed by a mishap, and there have been days with nothing but mishaps. After a while it becomes difficult to keep going, to bring expectations back where they belong for success. Scott came to Breckenridge hoping to "kick start" the final part of the season. Things had been improving, in that he'd finished most of the recent tech races and felt better on his skis. It was time to get going. He skied well in the two Giant Slaloms. Each race had one run with an error. Both errors happened just above the flat section, thus having the greatest impact. Notwithstanding, he did finish well and score some FIS points. He feels good about his skiing and is looking forward to the Western Region Spring Series, beginning this week in Washington. The points will be good there and he should finally get reasonable start numbers. All we need is a good race surface. Hopefully he can end the season on a strong note and set himself up for good start positions next year. We're at home tonight, making a cameo appearance to do laundry and cross-load gear for the final two weeks. It was a tough commute. Last night we drove until midnight to make Salt Lake City. Today we logged another 11 hours and we hit the road at 9AM tomorrow. Sure do love this stuff!

Family Time

The US Alpine Championships were hosted by Winter Park, CO this year. Many of the athletes' families came to this event, which included banquets and socials in addition to competition. This was also the first time the entire US Alpine Team convened at the same race since December, making for a reunion type atmosphere. In addition to the US Team, numerous Division I NCAA atheletes plus a host of invitees from across the country competed, bringing the field to over 100 athletes in each gender. Despite all the fun and good will, this was intense competition for bragging rights.

Scott wasn't looking to make any noise in the tech events given his start numbers, but hoped for a good Super G result. He had a great run going until four gates from the finish where he was spit out of the course by a rut. Disappointing... The following day's Slalom he got a little salve for the wound moving from 66th start position to 2oth place in in a deeply rutted course.

We had lots of family come share the weekend. Scott's brother Jonathan (dressed in the retro Descent suit above) came to embarrass Scott with the help from some friends. Also, his cousin Eric came with the entire family. Scott invested some hours on the magic carpet and green slopes teaching his little cousins to ski. All in all it was a great trip.

Monday, March 28, 2011


The best of times, the worst of times. We awoke to 8 or 9 inches of snow in the valley today, and mo0re than a foot on the mountain. Fortunately, the race committee abandoned the effort at 8:30AM and the races were cancelled. Although I admire the drive and hard work race committees and staff invest in "saving" events, sometimes its just futile. On those days its very frustrating to be slipping perfectly good powder down a race slope all day while listening to the customers hoot and howl in the trees.

So this morning was spent skiing some pretty nice powder. The Utah kids told Scott they wouldn't even bother going to the mountain for powder this heavy, but for us Northwest guys this was champagne!

As nice as the skiing was, Scott's pretty disappointed to have lost a Super G start. We're hoping tomorrow pans out, but there's another six inches forecast. Keep ya posted...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Not exactly roughing it...

Another day at Beaver Creek, another freshly baked cookie. This is the playground for the rich and pampered. In addition to having great race venues, it features fresh chocolate chip cookies served in the lift line, hot chocolate (with whipped cream) served in little cups at the top of the lift, and even escalators.

I remember the first time we came here in 1998 for NASTAR Nationals. Scott and Bonnie, who were then 7 and 10, lived up to the North Idaho reputation by riding the escalators repeatedly. The only caveate placed on them was not to grab a cookie each cycle.

As I think about it, I need to talk to Schweitzer's GM, Tom Chasse, about installing an escalator from parking and serving warm cookies... I wonder how that would fly?

Scott skied well today. No score, but two more solid runs, each better than the one before. He did well bringing the pressure to the top of the turn, but his line was a bit too round. That comes with timing, and he just hasn't had the slalom practice recently to refine it. I think his confidence is good right now though and he'll do fine in the slalom part of the Combined.

Tomorrow he races Super G at Breckenridge where they got 6" of snow today and are predicting more tomorrow. I'm hoping the forecast is wrong. Regardless, Scott starts 19th so the course should still be fine.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good training...

For those of you following this blog, you might have thought today was a race day. It was, sort of... Scott was only permitted to free ski this week, instead of the program proposed by the docs at Park City. Therefore, he never got into the slalom gates with the other guys. Yesterday he worked pretty hard at slalom skiing and ran "virtual" courses in his mind's eye. As a consequence, his race today was the first time through slalom gates since March 6th. He was a little rusty.

He had a better start number than normal, 44, and the snow was decent. The field was a strong one with USST A,B, C and D team members present, plus a host of NCAA Div I guys. Scott skied two solid runs. His timing was a little off and he was pressuring below the gate on the pitch, but it was OK for his first time in Slalom gates for 20 days. He also took advantage of the warm-up gates all day, so this was a good training event. He has another Slalom here at Beaver Creek tomorrow, then it's off to Breckenridge for Super G and Combined. The weather has been cooperating so it looks like a few good races ahead.

For my part, it was a great day. I skied with our great friends, Kent and Heather, who instruct here at Beaver Creek. The inside scoop was that Birds of Prey was groomed last night. Kent and I caught an early chair and were the first ones there. It was covered with 4-6" of fresh snow -- sublime! We capped that off with another 25,000 feet of vertical over the day, in addition to watching Scott's races, eating lunch and having a beer. A great time was had by all!

Monday, March 21, 2011


The decision to go to the Center of Excellence proved worthwhile. Scott took another IMPACT test this morning. Afterwards the three sports physios had him bike 30 minutes, do agility ladders and lift some weights. After reviewing his test and observing his workout they have cleared him to start skiing again.

He will begin by free skiing tomorrow, which was to be a day off anyway. Wednesday he can run gates, but must do the courses in sections. Thursday he can train full length courses. The coaches and physios will monitor him through all of this. It sounds like a reasonable plan.

So Scott is elated and relieved. He was very concerned about missing any more races. We are now in Dillon, CO. The next races will be this weekend at Beaver Creek, CO

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Still on hold...

Scott spun on the bike with the sports physiologist Friday, then was examined by the on-site team physician. He was cleared to race and came over to visit our condo with a huge smile on his face. Unfortunately he got a call about an hour later telling him that the docs back at Park City had decided against it. A real let down...

After some consideration and discussions with the physio, Scott decided to depart early and head to Park City. The plan at Whistler would not have included any racing, just rest, light exercise, and "maybe" a little skiing the final day. Not to say there was anything wrong with the plan, but from Scott's perspective he was concerned it wasn't moving towards anything definitive. He's pretty worried about missing any more of the races remaining in the season. So instead we packed out early and drove to Park City, where we are tonight. The plan is for Scott to spin the bike a little, get a really good night's sleep, then retest tomorrow morning. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Friday, March 18, 2011


After sitting out one day, Scott retested and they decided to have him sit out another day. He passed all of the mental acuity portions of the IMPACT test again, but his reaction time remained slow relative to his baseline tests.

Scott's very depressed and frustrated -- sitting around all day with no physical or mental activity is not his normal state. It's also disappointing to miss these important races. He's now very worried that he'll also miss the Super Combined and Super Gs.

The Doctors, and the review team at the IMPACT center, are unable to say that he had a concussion. His tests do not so indicate, plus he was never unconscious and never suffered mental confusion. However, the reaction time thing is causing them to be cautious. From Scott's perspective, he feels great and ready to go. I can only imagine how hard this was for some of the guys that had to sit out a year, or more. I recall Scott McCartney, a USST athlete who suffered a severe head injury a couple of years ago, blogging about feeling great three months after the accident, yet not being allowed to exercise or do any physical activity. Killer....

Tonight they're having Scott spin on a bike for 30 minutes, then retake the test to see how he reacts. It all sounds pretty open ended and we're inclined to cut our loses, save some money, and drive out of here tomorrow. His next race after this series is Mar 26th in Colorado. We'll see what the verdict is. It would be nice if he was cleared to race tomorrow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It started out well... Yesterday Scott started teh Giant Slalom bib number 73 in soft conditions at the NORAM Cup Finals here in Whistler, BC. Although the likelihood of scoring in this situation was low, he went out with a smile to take it on. He had a very good first run, moving up to 24th and in position for a major result. He started 7th the second run and was skiing well when it all came undone. On the final pitch his outside ski got stuck in soft snow and he straddled the next gate at full velocity. The gate shattered and Scott spun, snapping backward to the ground. I was there were it happened and after he slid some 200+feet he sat for awhile before getting up. This was out of character since he normally leaps back to his feet so others won't worry.

When he skied down to me I could see something was "off," although he tried to act normal. I decided to keep an eye on him all the way back to his hotel, then had him come spend the afternoon awake with us in a quiet room downstairs.

That evening the Team doctor examined Scott and administered an IMPACT test (explained below). The outcome was that Scott's mental faculties were fine, but his reaction time was .007 seconds slower than his norm. After consultation between the doc, the trainer and Scott, it was decided he should sit out a day, especially since today was to be slalom. I was very pleased with how the Team handled this, and the decision. Scott's taking it seriously and understands the importance.

The IMPACT test was adopted by the US Ski Team several years ago. In fact, it was one of the first major sports federations to fully commit to the program. Scott took his first IMPACT test three years ago when he went to the Trofeo Topolino with the Team. Since that time nearly every college athletic program, and many school districts, have also signed up. Last year our division, the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, bought into the program for all of its athletes.

The IMPACT test is computer driven and takes 20-30 minutes to administer. It measures cognitive, retentive and reaction abilities using a variety of interactive programs. The test is mentally demanding (at least for me) and must be administered in an environment without noise or distractions. Here's how the program works:
-- Athletes 11 and older take the test and form a baseline.
-- Athletes age 11-19 should retest at least every two years due to how rapidly the brain changes during this period.
-- If an injury occurs, the athlete takes another IMPACT test and the results are compared to the baseline. Doctors are able to determine the extent of the injury, what parts of the brain are injured and estimate approximate recovery times. Of course, recovery times differ greatly between individuals, so subsequent tests are administered to monitor progress.

Scott's "chillin" right now and looking forward to tomorrow's slalom races. Guess I'm "chillin" too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I just received an e-mail from USSA the topic of which was "Time to Update Goals." A timely reminder for an important element of athletic success. Oh, the picture... This symbolizes that I'm home for a week with time to reflect on things such as goals.

Lou Holtz says, "You must have dreams and goals if you are ever going to achieve anything in this world." And Michael Jordan, a man of significant athletic achievement, says, "I'm a firm believer in goal setting. Step by step. I can't see any other way of accomplishing anything." The US Ski and Snowboard Association invests considerable time and energy in educating coaches through clinics and literature about the goals process and how to integrate it into everything we do. I'm a strong advocate, having used the process while a military leader as well.

There are two cartegories of goals, Outcome and Performance. When the layman considers the subject, Outcome goals come to mind, for example: I want to be a big league ball player; or, I want to win an Olympic Gold medal. Outcome goals serve a purpose and give general direction, but the meat and potatoes of the process is in the Performance goals. These are the baby steps, the many small skills, that contribute to success and have to be mastered to achieve the lofty outcome goals.

I've used goals on our ski team since it's beginning. We start the process with the J6s, although the goals may be as simple as, finish in the top ten at half of my races; or, be able to ski every slope on Schweitzer in powder. However, by the time an athlete is Scott's age, the goals may be 2-3 typed pages long. A funny story. Although Scott and I had played catch daily in the summers, and he went to a 3 day baseball camp here in town every June, he'd never played organized baseball. At age 11 I told him he had to give me one season, just so he wouldn't embarrasse himself at the company picnic as an adult. He had a great coach and the first day he came home exclaiming that he loved baseball. He sat at the kitchen table and said, "I need to set some goals." His outcome goals were to bat 4th, play shortstop and make all stars. He then broke down the performance goals that would lead him there. We practiced hard every day that summer and he achieved all of his goals. He applied the skills he'd learned as a ski racer to achieve in another completely different sport. I can not overstate the importance of goals.

I couldn't do my job as a coach without goal setting. How could I coach with no idea what my athlete was trying to accomplish? Goals give me a chance to understand my athlete, see the world through his or her eyes. They also give me a chance to render a reality check and ensure goals are practical. Perhaps at age 11 the Outcome goal should be to nail down a starting position on the home team and be selected for all stars. Let's save the big leagues for later. Goals should be clear, measurable, challenging and attainable. Goals that are off-the-charts difficult are counter productive and discourage, rather than focus and encourage, the athlete.

Once a good set of Outcome goals is agreed upon, we get to the heart of the issue. For each Outcome goal we identify the key ingrediants and break them into definable parts. We jointly assess where the athlete stands on these and what improvement is needed. Then we write each of these as a separate Performance goal. I like to categorize goals as Technical/Tactical, Mental, Physical and Equipment. The Technical/Tactical category is further divided into Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom.

I like to formally review goals three times per season, as follows: After Christmas break, which is the end of the intensive fall training and initial competition period. Early March, which is between the heart of the season and what I call the "Championship grind" of 15-20 races. And at the end of the season so we don't forget what has been acheived and what's left on the plate for next year.

We treat the goals as a living document. During the reviews we type comments in italics after each goal, noting progress or achievement. If the younger athletes achieve a goal there's normally a new one which can be added in it's place. I try to be careful not to start out with so many goals that they become oppressive.

Goals form a contract between the athlete, coach and parents. They are the roadmap to success. They are also a buffer when one falls short. Scott will not achieve half of his outcome goals this season -- its been a hard year for a variety of reasons. But he can look at his goals sheet and see the many places he has succeeded. WIth that knowledge he can start forming next year's plan.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


We spent last week at Red Mountain, BC apart from the rest of the US Team. Scott had a break and he had not done any races other than those prescribed by his coaches. His understanding had been that he could only race those events scheduled by the USST. Over Christmas, after he noted his teamates racing in regular FIS races and scoring, Scott scoured the FIS schedule for good tech opportunities. It was already too late to schedule anything in January or early February. This series at Red Mountain was the only good fit.

The race originally promised to have a good points profile. However two weeks before the event a number of top athletes pulled from the event due to a conflicting Canadian training camp. Fair, understandable, disappointing. So suddenly we were left with a seed including a few 20 point racers and Scott. If any athlete in the seed failed to finish (which some did each day), the points handicap grew exponentially. And so it was.

Notwithstanding it was a very valuable weekend for Scott. He completed all eight runs, skied very well, and restored his confidence in his technical skiing. He experimented with softer boots in Giant Slalom (and liked it), and closely monitored his edge sharpness relative to effectiveness (an issue this year). It was nice not to have a start bib in the 70's or 80s. Scott skied right with the 20 point racers, lowered his FIS profile by a few points and had a great time with all of his Canadian friends. As a bonus, his good buddies from our sister team at Schweitzer were in the same hotel. Good times!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Board

It's a slow news day so I thought it would be good to explain some of the admin stuff surrounding FIS ski races.
The day before each race the organizers host a "Team Captain's Meeting." The meeting is mandatory and all athletes must be represented. Amongst other things, the meeting is used to verify who will and will not compete and discuss things such as the daily schedule, the medical plan, referee assignments, course setter assignments, safety issues, the time and location for awards and the start order.
The photo above was taken today and is the "Board" for tomorrow's races at Red Mountain, BC. Each athlete's name, nationality and FIS points is placed on a card which is placed on the Board in descending point order. As discussed in an earlier blog, ski racers start in point/world ranking order.
The top ranked 15 racers are known as "The Seed." These athletes are randomly given start positions somewhere between 1 and 15 using an arcane methodology involving numbered ping pong balls. Hey, it's part of the process and it is fair. Once these athletes are ordered and the participants confirmed, the referee does the "Bib Toss." Each bib is literally thrown into the crowd in the general direction of the athlete's respective coach.
Life on the road revolves around the daily Captain's Meeting. Coaches get all the bibs and information, then in turn meet with their athletes to pass it on and tailor their own team schedule. Athletes get accustomed to not knowing exactly what will happen tomorrow until 6-7PM the evening before.
The Captain's meeting is also a place where the coaches cajole each other, have a little fun and get a brief chance to socialize together. It's generally a good time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jiggetty jog...

Home again, home again... actually, home for the first time in eight weeks and it feels great. Suitcases are overrated!
We left Aspen immediately after the final Super G (Scott was skiing great before bouncing out of the course) and headed West. We drove late in order to reach Salt Lake City where Scott caught a flight to Lake Tahoe to visit his girlfriend.
The original plan was for him to train tech there for three days with Sugar Bowl Academy while visiting, however they just received six feet of snow. I immediately started developing a plan "B" at Jackson Hole since he has only skied two days of tech since Jan 25th. I was concerned about his preparation for four tech races in Canada next week. What was I thinking? Upon reflection I realized he hasn't had any days off since January. It's so easy to forget rest. Better he just free skis and relaxes for a few days and we'll take whatever comes in Canada.
This has been a hard eight weeks for all of us. Travel, hotels, stress, water drainage issues at home. It's nice to be here with Joy and just relax for a few days. That also means no blogs until Canada!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Out of his mind

Ooops, it wasn't over after all. Scott skied a disappointing National Championship Downhill on Wednesday. In fact, people he routinely beats by a second finished ahead of him. He was devastated and surely didn't need any abuse from me. But I worried that perhaps he really wasn't over his doubts of the day before. I'm sure it was a long night of reflection for him.

This morning he told me he'd lost confidence in his skiing and couldn't shake that feeling off. With only about two minutes for us to talk before going our separate ways, I did the drill sergeant routine. I explained that there isn't room for those negative thoughts if he intends to make a career of skiing and that he might as well buck-up right away and take charge of his emotions.

I won't take any credit for it, because whatever he accomplishes comes from himself. However, Scott had his best result ever today, scoring a 29 in Super G on a soft and rutted course. I'm proud that he faced his doubts and overcame them. Naturally, he's on cloud nine tonight. Hopefully he's slayed this dragon. He has a final Super G tomorrow in similar conditions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mind Games

After great training runs and solid skiing, Scott was poised to put down a significant result yesterday. He was skiing well and exactly on the line he'd planned when he hit an unseen rut in the shade and got bucked hard out of the course. He recovered without crashing, but not without some fancy footwork. It was a disappointment, but I thought nothing more of it. Tomorrow's another day, right?
Scott acted pretty normal (for a 17 year old) this morning and went through his race day routine. He swung by my position as Finish Referee to say good morning and seemed excited about the race. He watched the top women to monitor how the course was running and was exactly at the point of a major crash. The top seeded woman went headlong into the "A" net at full speed. It took 20 minutes to get her off the course on a backboard. Scott swung by my location again and relayed the accident status.
He had an OK race. Probably 1.5 seconds slower than expected, but still finished 14th (third amongst Juniors), and lowered his FIS points. When he came by to visit I asked him the same question I always ask, "How was your head at the start." For the first time this year he said, "Messed up." Evidently the thought that he was going to get injured entered his mind at the start and he battled it all the way down, losing focus at one point and making a costly mistake. We talked about it for a while and it occured to me that yesterday was the first time he'd ever failed to complete a run through a downhill. That, plus witnessing the accident, must have put doubt in his mind. The good news is that he's thought that all through and put it behind him. He's really excited about the National Championship Downhill tomorrow.
Scott also made another mental error today. He was so disappointed with his run that he didn't even consider where he'd finished relative to the other Juniors. Instead he headed to his room to catch-up on schoolwork. Later he got a pointed text from his coach with a photo of the podium missing one athlete. He got a well deserved butt chewing at the evening meeting as well.
Every day is a lesson...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

America's Downhill

That's what it was dubbed when Aspen became the original US Downhill World Cup stop. Since then it's been supplanted by the Birds of Prey track at Beaver Creek. Rumor has it the locals are a bit upset, but that hasn't dampened their passion for big races; Aspen has been hosting NORAM and championship downhills on a regular basis.
The Aspen track is a classic, dropping 2800 feet in elevation with a mixture of glides, jumps, micro-terrain and extreme steeps. Scott loves the venue -- he took Silver and Gold here at Junior Nationals two years ago.
Scott's here for the NORAM speed week, which will include two Downhills, two Super Gs, and a Super Combined. Additionally, the US National Downhill Championship will be run on Wednesday. Scott's in heaven... back-to-back speed weeks. Downhills are like a trip to the amusement park for him. Top it off with good snow and sunshine, and it just can't be beat!
We were concerned about the surface watching the weather last week. Aspen was enjoying a powder cycle with frigid conditions. But the Aspen Valley Ski Club and mountain operations have been down this road before. The track is now solid, and speeding up each passing day. Today's training run results were on average two seconds faster than yesterday's. I suspect we'll pick up 4-5 seconds over the course of the week.
Scott's skied well each day. Yesterday he tied for 11th in the first training run, with a substantial mistake on the steepest pitch. He essentially was off line coming in and had to suffer through 4-5 gates on the low line... not the fast choice. He fixed that today and finished in fifth place, one second off the lead. He still sees another half second he can clean up, so he's hoping for a big day tomorrow. He'll have NORAM downhills Monday and Tuesday, followed by the national championship on Wednesday.
An exciting sideline for me is that about 25 athletes in this field of 100 are on Podium Wax products. The buzz is slowly growing and we are being recognized as a bonafide player. I'm tired of "glacial" growth...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm goin' to Jackson...

We're now in Jackson, WY training with our good friends at the Jackson Hole Ski Team. You may recall we sort of based out of here last year to simply travel and create bigger training windows. I asked my friend, Mike Syrovaka, if we could swing by for a little training between Big Sky and Aspen. He and the team Director, Bridger, were very accomodating and even shifted some things around to meet our goals.

Today Scott trained Giant Slalom in the morning, then he had a five run Slalom session this afternoon. His USST coaches want him to experiment with his softer, speed, boots in GS, so he did that this morning. The vote's still out, but Scott thinks they may be onto something. He's looking forward to testing the concept on ice and also in warmer temps when the boots are even more flexible.

Slalom went very well in the afternoon. He'll get another Slalom session tomorrow after an early morning Super G session. The we'll load the car and knock off a chunk of the trip to Aspen. Instead of doing the pain in the butt morning pack out, I've paid the hotel a little extra so we can load after training. Creature comforts!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Helping out

Speed... Scott likes nothing better. As a coach, I prefer speed events as well. Although the skiing is fast, the daily pace is far slower because there's only one run per day. Nice!

We spent last week at Big Sky, MT where Scott raced two Super Gs and two Downhills. It's good to be home and even better to be back in the Western Region. It's been fun seeing all the coaches and athletes we've worked with for so many years. As an added bonus, the race was near MSU so Bonnie came up for the weekend and Joy drove out from Idaho. A regular family reunion! We rented a house near the mountain and had a good time.

This race represented several things to Scott. First, there was an outside chance to score FIS points given the fact that the field included several current and former USST members. Second, this was an excellent warm-up for next week's NORAM speed week at Aspen. Finally, this was a chance to help our Region with points. If you haven't read it yet, go back to the Nov 30th blog entitled "What's the Point?" For these young racers to progress they need to face athletes with lower points than their own. Many of the racers in this field had 990 points (none) and needed Downhill results in order to qualify for championships later this season. I can remember the days when we hoped for a good points field.

The snow was great the first four days. There was a deep (-27F) freeze for two days following a week of warm weather yielding a hard, fast surface. Scott finished second and first in the two Super G's, and scored some good FIS points. He was also second and first in the two Downhill training runs on the same surface. Then the snow came. On Saturday we all slipped and worked for about seven hours to no avail. The jury correctly postponed the race for safety concerns. Sunday wasn't any better and the wind was pretty fierce. However, after a few hours of work the crew was able to get the races off. Scott finished fourth, .12 of a second off the lead after a bauble on the final flats. The organizers decided to try and get a race off Monday despite a discouraging weather forecast. Scott stayed on to help with the points and incredibly the race was completed, albeit quite late. Scott finished second in that Downhill by .09 of a second.

It was a very profitable week from the racing standpoint. Scott just switched to the doubledeck Atomic speed skis and was able to get dialed in on how they handle. He's really fired up about next week in Aspen. We'll be there seven days for two NORAM Super Gs, two NORAM Downhills and the National Championship Downhill. All we need is some hard snow. Unfortunately, Aspen just received a big powder dump. They've got a great race department though, and very supportive mountain management, so I'm sure they'll work it out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Europe 2011

Scott arrived in Europe Jan 13th. He’s spent the past six days training at Paganella, Italy, near Trento. Unfortunately he has limited (almost none) internet access, so don’t be looking for blogs at his site.

Paganella is where the USST stays to train while in Europe. I don’t know all of the details, but they have a support relationship with the community and ski area which nets lodging and training at either no, or greatly reduced, cost. They have a dedicated ski trail for training, which by all reports is very steep.

Scott’s schedule changed numerous times before flying over here, and when he arrived he discovered that he will only race three Giant Slalom races during these two weeks. Although disappointed, he’s focused upon capitalizing on the good training venue while trying to enjoy Europe. He’s working hard on his German as well.

His first race of the trip was today at Kirchberg, Austria, which is in the Kitzbuehl valley. It was a Giant Slalom on a fairly steep pitch. It rained last night and intermittently today, with foggy patches coming and going during the race. Scott started 78th in a strong field. The course was pretty chopped by the time he ran, but he climbed to 51st after the first run and 38th overall after the second. He skied conservatively at times “to miss the biggest holes…”) but finished both runs without major incidents. Given how his tech races have gone thus far this year, he was most interested in having a solid finish.

Scott ran into his two Austrian friends from the 2008 Trofeo Topolino today. He’s been staying in touch with Christian Juffinger and Christian Steiner via Facebook and they were the impetus for him studying German. I hope he got to regal them with his linguistics – forgot to ask.
He returns to Paganella tonight and I’ll see him again the 24th and 25th for two more Giant Slaloms at Zell am See, Austria. In the interim I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted; I’m going to Kitzbuehl during Downhill week. It should be an amazing experience.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Giving Back

Instead of flying clear across the USA after the Quebec NORAMS, we headed South to Virginia for a week of rest, recovery and repacking. Half of the time was spent at Bryce Mountain, where Scott first learned to ski at age two. It’s a great hill with only about 600 feet of vertical, but a dedicated 63 member alpine racing team. We spent four days there with two devoted to training with the local team and spending lots of time with kids and parents.

The head coach, Phil Perkins, is a long time friend of mine. He and his wife Karen head the staff and devote all of their time and energy to these kids. They had Scott and I work as guest coaches. The biggest challenge was ensuring Scott spent an equal amount of time with each group. The kids loved it and Scott got writer’s cramps signing autographs. Saturday night Scott met with the parents and athletes for a brief talk and Q&A session which lasted about 45 minutes. There were lots of good questions about everything from diet to training and ski preparation. They take their racing seriously down here.

Management also used Scott as the NASTAR pacesetter (like he did at Schweitzer in December), thus saving the mountain the expense of sending their pacesetter to trials at Round Top, Pennsylvania later this month. NASTAR at Bryce is a different bird. Instead of being open for a period of time with customers showing up whenever they wish, this mountain has always treated it like a race. An entire run is closed off, numbers are issued, lots of speed suits are worn… one guy even carried to the start line. Folks stop what they’re doing to watch the “race.” Good fun!

We ended the visit Monday morning with a private slalom training session on a slope all to ourselves. After two days resting and reorganizing in DC at my best friend's house, Scott boarded the plane to Munich on Thursday.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Val Saint Come

This is an interesting region. I’ve never been here and I find both the terrain and the people fascinating. The mountains are small, but often rugged, laced with bands of vertical granite. The area is a network of small villages, connected by valleys, each with their own small shops and restaurants. It reminds me of where I grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The region has numerous small ski areas, many within 10 km of each other. Back in the 60’s the Northeast US also had bunches of small ski slopes, but they’ve since been run out of business by the conglomerates. This place is definitely a throw-back.
The people here are very Euro. I didn’t realize how acutely English is a second language up here. Everything starts in French. Many of those who speak English have difficulty with it. This has been a great dress rehearsal for me before heading to Europe next week. But so much for the window dressing.

The snow was great for competition this week. The cold temps persisted and the courses held up pretty well considering the level of competition. The slalom hill here has varying pitches and winds its way down the hill providing many interesting options to the course setters. By all reports, the slalom sets were challenging yet fair.
Scott suffered another two frustrating days of competition. He’s skiing really fast 95 percent of the time. It’s those times he either stops completely or has to hike uphill that are killing him. He’s in that spot where there’s really not much he can do but keep plugging. Unfortunately, after several frustrating weeks, it’s hard to stay upbeat and believe in oneself. Yesterday did end on a high note. Scott had a great first run going when he straddled a gate. By the time it registered and he stopped, he was left with about 30 meters to climb uphill. He finished 8 seconds behind the leaders, which may give a clue how well he’s skiing when pointed downhill. He was the last to start the second run, on a chewed course, and really threw it down the hill. He finished the second run 1.3 seconds slower than the winner, which is doubly impressive when considering their relative start orders. Scott was elated and it was the best smile I’ve seen from him in weeks.

It’s not a win or a score, but it was a much needed boost for the boy. It’s hard to keep plugging when you lose faith. Yesterday restored his faith.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I had a slow day with nothing to do but read and hang out. I drove to both mountains to look at the tracks, got some food, unpacked skis, etc. The temperatures dropped today and are supposed to be in the high teens tonight, so there should be a good race surface this week.

Travelling across the northern plains is an interesting experience, no matter what the weather. The people are amongst the friendliest I’ve met. Once I left North Dakota, I was off interstates and on secondary roads, so got to see lots of small towns and enjoy home cooking at a few “Mom and Pop’s.” All good.

I’ve never driven across Wisconsin and Michigan in the dead of winter. The country’s pretty flat, but the lack of major ski hills doesn’t relegate the folks to the indoors. Snowmobiles are everywhere. People drive them to town, fuel them at the truck stops, park them outside diners. The road shoulders and ditches are so tracked they look as though a groomer came through. And in Michigan they run plastic strips across the roads where most snowmobilers cross, presumably to protect from wear on the skis. Different.

Scott arrived in Burlington at 11 last night, and the team got here around 1:30PM this afternoon. He skied a little this afternoon, which is a good thing. Tomorrow will be slalom on what looks like a good hill.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Grind

I love to drive. I just plug in a good book (four this trip), turn on the cruise control, and veg. I really enjoy seeing our country, close up, and meeting new folks wherever we go. This is my second trip across the US for ski racing and lots of folks look at me like I’m weird. Of course, I got the same looks when I drove to Alaska for US Alpine Championships two years ago… until Mount Redoubt erupted then stayed active and I had the only reliable way home.

In addition to being fun, driving saves us money and simplifies things from my perspective. For instance, this trip would have involved another plane ticket, lots of excess baggage fees, rental cars, etc. And then there’s the pleasure of dealing with the airlines and TSA. I’ll stick to driving whenever possible. Scott flew across country, which allowed him to spend more time at home. His trip to Vermont (where he linked-up with the Team) took all day and involved three flights. Fortunately he only had carry-on bags to worry about.

As you might have guessed by the title of this blog, the drive wasn’t as relaxing as I’d hoped. Watching the weather closely, I left home the afternoon before I’d planned in an attempt to beat a vicious cold front. I never quite got away from it and sort of “surfed” the leading edge. As a result I was in high winds with very limited visibility the first three days, averaging only 50 MPH. Fortunately I broke out in Michigan, then spent two days in driving rain and thick fog with temperatures in the 40’s. Anyway, I arrived in Quebec one day ahead of Scott.

From a race perspective this rain is a good thing. It appears these folks got a lot of new snow recently. With all this rain it’s settled and smooth. If it freezes we’ll have a great ice layer. If it doesn’t the snow is now ready for salt to harden it. Either way the athletes will have a good race surface. With nothing else to do tomorrow, I’ll continue this travelogue.