The Northwest as a region had one of the driest winters on record, keeping the brand new Seattle-based development program Momentum Northwest to no more than a couple of weeks of on-snow training locally. Despite all that, nobody is leaving the program, and more athletes are joining.
“Locally, it was a terrible winter in terms of snow and opportunities to get on snow, but the silver lining is that we’ve been able to do a lot of dryland training together and really build the team and the team spirit,” said Momentum Northwest head coach Sam Naney of the first season with the program.
Perhaps part of that good attitude comes from the fact that the team isn’t used to having snow in their backyard. Seattle itself receives just over six inches of snow per year, on average. Momentum Northwest lists their home ski area as the Cabin Creek Sno-Park, about an hour west on Interstate 90 and also the home of the Kongsberger Ski Club.
So Naney knew that dryland would be a big part of his work anyway. With that in mind, as well as frequent trips to Cabin Creek and a Thanksgiving Camp to Silver Star and Sovereign Lakes, British Columbia, Momentum Northwest offers two different programs: a fulltime program for skiers 12 years of age and older, with training sessions trains four times a week in the summer and fall and three to five times a week in the winter, and the “Mavericks” program for skiers aged eight to 11, which meets only on Saturdays during the winter.
“I think in some ways, the bad winter has made us better prepared to meet whatever conditions come our way, and the kids are mentally tougher for it,” Naney said of the low-snow winter. “We had some really good results despite the conditions and the lack of on-snow training, and that has given our kids the confidence that you can be competitive even though much of what they did all winter was dryland drills and short out-and-back ice skiing.”
The first line of Momentum Northwest’s athlete handbook is about excellence. The team’s goal, it says, is “Creating a national-caliber cross-country ski racing program in Seattle.”
But right after that, there are some other goals. The handbook lists core values: speed isn’t amont them. Instead you find personal growth, community and team building, commitment to excellence, and enjoyment.
Teaching those core values of sport doesn’t require snow.
“I quickly came to learn that those experiences come as a product of simply participating,” Naney explained. “If I can make the program fun, provide interesting workouts, fun van rides, and build a good team dynamic, the athletes will adapt to the changing circumstances with remarkable ease.”
Building a program from scratch is no easy undertaking. The team got a van, a banner, and bright blue race suits, but those are the tangibles – the intangibles like community involvement and name recognition are a bit harder. No matter: Momentum Northwest has found an underserved niche in the Seattle region.
“We are not competing with other programs, but we have to show people that Nordic skiing can be a complimentary part of the endurance lifestyle,” said Naney. “Even if you are already committed to track or cross-country running, Nordic is a good fit in that environment. And our program is no small commitment, so we have to show the families that they get something out of it.”
Naney had a roster of more than two dozen motivated and eager athletes in his program when he launched Momentum Northwest’s first winter season last November. The kids were hooked in one season – with or without snow. But with no other full-time, performance-oriented Nordic programs in the Seattle area, Momentum Northwest also has to build a culture and a community around the sport.
However, several Washington areas with consistent snow have racing and development programs, such as the Methow Valley, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Ellensburg and Spokane. Other regional programs include The Bend Endurance Academy, XC Oregon and Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation in Bend, Teacup Nordic at Mount Hood in Oregon, and Sandpoint in Idaho.
“Snoqualmie Nordic (based on Snoqualmie Pass, 50 miles east of Seattle) is the closest program, but they have more of a focus on beginner skiers and introducing families to the sport,” said Naney. “So far, we’ve actually been quite complementary with one another… Leslie (Hall), who is the Program Director of the successful Methow Nordic Team, helped connect me with some skiing families she knew in the Seattle area. That type of inter-program support is so beneficial and welcomed when you’re first getting started.”
At the moment, Naney is the only paid coach in the program. He’s helped by three assistant coaches: Jordan Goldwarg, a former Williams College skier and Dartmouth College development coach; Alexandra Sonnabend; and Halvard Berg, a former Norwegian junior racer. But those three work strictly on a volunteer basis.
Adding another paid coach is a big goal for the program in the next year. Naney seeks a ratio of about six to eight athletes per coach.
And while the roster is likely to grow, so too might the level of performance and the range of abilities of the athletes. Momentum Northwest may have been hurt by the lack of snow, but Naney believes that his athletes have high performance potential.
“When we have really good conditions and can ski three to four times a week on snow, you will see several of these kids go to Junior Nationals,” Naney said, adding the program is only losing two athletes from this year’s roster, simply because they are moving out of the area. “The kids realize that there is no limit to where they can take their skiing beyond our program. Some of them are kids you are going to see at the Junior Nationals in the future, some will ski in college and some will just enjoy the lifelong sport of skiing.”
The new coach’s favorite memory from the 2014-15 season was the team’s first race trip, where he took 10 athletes in the team van to Bend, Oregon.
“We competed against a huge field of PNSA juniors at the first Junior Nationals Qualifier of the season,” Naney recalled. “In the final race, Cooper Jackson, who is one of my U14 athletes, landed on the podium in a tight finish. When they held the medal ceremony, all the Momentum athletes were crammed in the front row and were excitedly discussing how they were committed to being the loudest cheering, most exuberant teammates of any of the medal winners, to show their support for Cooper and Momentum.”
That comes back to those core values and the team spirit that are as much a part of the goal as the podium was.
“It was a validation for me that what we’re doing here is working,” Naney explained. “These athletes are learning not only how to ski well, and even win medals, but how to be on a team and how to support one another in times where it is often all too easy to begrudge a fellow teammate their success. It was a great moment, and many more of them followed throughout the rest of the season.”
-Chelsea Little contributed reporting.