West Yellowstone Ski Festival – An Observer's Perspective

FasterSkierNovember 28, 2008

They come from all over: Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah. College ski teams: Montana State, Michigan Tech, University of Minnesota, University of Colorado/Boulder, Dartmouth, Middlebury… Club ski teams: Sun Valley, Mt Bachelor, Far West, Bogus Basin, Steamboat Springs…

They come even though the snow lies a scant foot deep, and only high on the plateau above the Rendezvous ski trails. They come for the first on-snow training camp and races of the 2008-09 Nordic ski racing season. Vans blazing with team logos disgorge skiers into bright sunshine, reflecting off snow. The air crackles with excitement and energy.

Uniformly lean, whip cord strong, explosively powerful, skiers fly over the snow, ablaze in the reds, blues, yellows of their skin tight uniforms. Teams flow by in waves of 10 to 20 skiers, identified by team logos: Far West, Boulder Nordic, Sun Valley. Some of the juniors have jackets from prior years’ Junior Nationals, identifying them as Intermountain, Pacific Northwest, Far West team members. Skiers past the junior and college programs, fast enough to be sponsored, wear high performance logo wear from Craft, Fisher, Rossignol, Toko.

It’s the start of a new ski season, and the athletes brim with anticipation that dreams will be realized this season. The coaches have been here many times, but they seem excited too. They are here with skiers they have coached for years and with skiers new this year. Rick Kapala, head coach and program director with Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), is here with some of the strongest skiers. Observing and volunteering to help out as needed, as a parent of a SVSEF J2, I wonder: Is being here intimidating for the young skiers? Is it inspiring? Are coaches checking out the young skiers from other clubs in their division and considering already which skiers are likely to qualify for Jr. Nationals?

Meal time: SVSEF’s Kapala has a brilliant arrangement: he hires a cooking staff and kitchen at one of the motels to prepare healthy, satisfying, all-you-can-eat cafeteria style meals for athletes from many teams. Skiers pay a reasonable fee per meal, which might include fajitas, soup, pasta salad with vegetables, endless trays of brownies and peach cobbler.

Skiers from various teams take turns with clean-up duty, overseen by SVSEF parent volunteers, who keep the whole thing running smoothly. The parents joke w/the kids that the time on dish duty in the restaurant kitchen should motivate them to stay in school! The dedication of some of the parents to the team, and the camp as a whole, is impressive: their kids are alumni of the team, not even at West this year, yet still these volunteers come to help run the kitchen.

Wednesday morning: 9:00 am, 16 degrees and sunny. Teams on the Plateau are testing skis in preparation for Friday’s classic SuperTour race. Dozens of pairs of ultra light race skis lie out on the snow, narrower than the boot that will step into the binding. Skiers wearing electronic monitors around their ankle glide repeatedly over the same short stretch of snow, timing the glide speed with different waxes. They worry if a bit of wind throws the comparison.

The first, hopefully the only, injury happens on Wednesday. Not on skis but in the parking lot! An Olympic Development Team skier slips and falls on the ice and dislocates his shoulder. Teammates attempt to relocate, succeeding only in adding to the significant discomfort of the injured athlete. Fortunately the next car arriving at the trailhead carries 2 orthopedic surgeons from Sun Valley, who relocate the shoulder quickly.

Back at the cafeteria: lunch includes salads, butternut squash soup, fresh corn muffins, pasta. Over a hundred and fifty skiers come thru the line, loading plates high and coming back for more. Laughter and excited chatter fills the room.

Wax time: Coach Kapala’s masterful organization and planning is evident here also: SVSEF has arranged to use a warehouse across the street from the motel as a wax room. 8 waxing benches are set up in the large, well lit, heated, hangar-like room. Boxes overflowing with wax, irons, brushes, and scraping tools sit beside each bench. Athletes and coaches come and go, working on skis. Skiers who haven’t lined up an indoor wax facility are out in the cold, in the parking lot, with their benches.

Tomorrow, Friday, is race day. Let the season begin.

Kathryn Tucker is the mother of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Junior Torin Tucker.


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