OpinionProduct NewsA Regional Approach

FasterSkier FasterSkierApril 25, 2005

Editor's Note: Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We will be wrapping it up in the next couple of days with a final response from the US Ski Team and our own thoughts. Feel free to continue posting your own comments at the bottom of each article. Many new comments have been added recently, so we encourage you to browse through all of the “Current State of US Skiing” articles (at right) and read all of the latest comments.

I have only been in this country for 5 years, and as a result I am not totally familiar with the history of US Cross Country skiing and what has been tried in the past. The following comments are based on what I have observed in the last 5 years locally and nationally.

My general impression is that there are a lot of good things going on in this country regarding cross-country skiing but even at the local level it is all very uncoordinated and unorganized. There are too many people that “know best” and no consensus of what to do which results in a few people trying to do it all from one place.

I believe one of the greatest hurdles and the main reason why we can’t copy other countries is the size of the US. This country is as large as all of the European countries that we try to emulate put together. Because of this the ski community is not really a ski community but as James Southam describes them “pockets”, and one of the problems is that these “pockets” speak different ski languages.

The distances are so great that the best juniors only race against each other twice a year instead of twice a month. As a result we have one or two good juniors in each pocket that think they are good enough because they are not pushed by their peers, win all the races and forget the importance of getting better. Communication is poor because the coaches don’t meet often enough and education is hard because it’s expensive to travel to clinics.

To solve our problem the US needs to create its own ski culture and identity that accommodate these challenges, It’s not a training problem it’s more a organizational problem — I think the best US skiers today are as fit as the rest of the nordic world — but there are very few of them.

Yes the economy is bad and the funding even worse, but does that mean that we can’t develop good skiers? My answer is no.

There is a lot of talk about uneducated coaches and athletes not training enough and the lack of knowledge of or understanding what it takes to be competitive. I think there are a lot of well educated coaches out there, and there are certainly a bunch of talented athletes. The coaches in our regional “pockets” are resources the US ski team should use; our athletes need to be taken care of today, not tomorrow. I am not saying that the US Ski Team is the only entity responsible. We the regional coaches need to become better at coaching and educating our skiers to train year round. Trond Nystad is right on the money with his training philosophy but he and the other people in Park City need to look to the regions for help. You are not going to do it alone. In the US you can win 2-3 gold medals at the US National Championships and still not get on the National team, there is hardly a development team there are no regional teams. We can only imagine the negative signal this sends to our young athletes and those who have put down countless hours of training to win national titles.

I know this is an economic issue but it doesn’t have to be. Luke Bodensteiner says we do have a system in place but it is for a very few athletes, and in my opinion the system is following the athletes instead of the athletes going through the system. “ and after that we may have to start from the beginning again”, says Bodensteiner. It’s an easy fix of the problem and what happens if we don’t win “the medal” we are all talking about?

Decentralize

I believe the solution lies out in the Regions. The US ski team must decentralize. Stop bringing the athletes to Park City. Stop trying to do all the work yourself. Trust your fellow coaches and leaders; let them do a main part of the development job. Spend your time educating them if you are worried that they are not able do a good job. Use the resources we already have, where they are — out in the regions. The athletes should stay in their region with their club, high school, college and a regional development team. A skier should not be taken away from their local support system just because they get on a team — any team. Their years of training that has taken them to a regional or national team should not be changed because they got on a team — there is more than one way to the gold medal. They need a home base and an environment that always is there. A national team or a regional team should be a supplement, a bonus or a camp institution that develops the athletes further for competition at World Cup and Olympic level. Training could happen at camp and then athletes could take this knowledge home to their regional teammates. This also insures that the best athletes are role models, recruiters and help to raise the level of competition in local races.

For some athletes a regional team might be the only option and it will be their team or base and the regional coach will be their year-around coach. For others that are already in a system the regional team should be a supplement, a team that meets for camps and train with skiers at the same level and get new ideas, but not at the cost of their exciting club team, school or 0thrtsystem

I hear often from coaches and athletes that there are few opportunities after High School and very few opportunities after college. A lot of skiers quit after High School and the rest quit after college.

In my opinion there are many good alternatives after High School. There are about 23 college and university nordic ski teams governed under the NCAA and many more under alternative college skiing organizations. A lot of these teams offer year-round training programs and the most competitive race circuit in the US!!

There are a few very good alternatives after High School that offer fulltime coaching and year-round training programs, and travel and waxing support. There are programs in Alaska, Park City, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Maine. We have factory teams but I don’t think they offer year-round coaching and support.

I am a college coach, and I honestly believe going to college is a great way to build your base as a future Olympic skier. The average age at the world cup level is close to 30 if not over 30. What do they have to loose? The greatest challenge in this country is to get skiers to ski past age 25, why not develop in college first and then ski full time. Nina Kempell and Carl Swenson went this route. Maybe parents would be more willing to accept that their kids are ski bums if they have an education already??

Why isn’t the US Ski Team endorsing these programs?? Why isn’t the US Ski team using these programs in their development and education of young talented skiers all over the United States? The clubs, schools and the US Ski team must work together better; work with each other not against each other. Training methods and technique training is pretty similar all over the nordic world. We need to trust and communicate with each other, to the point that we are all talking the same language and coaches feel good about sending their athletes to camps or races with the US ski team.

Trond Flagstad is the head nordic ski coach at the University Of Alaska Anchorage.


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