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.