The following is an interview with Sugarbowl’s new head nordic coach Jeff Schloss. Sugarbowl Academy is a private high school for skiers located right near the site of last year’s Junior Olympics, on Donner Summit near Truckee, California. Financial aid is available and the school has rolling admission, meaning skiers can enroll mid-year for the winter semester, for example.
The Sugarbowl Academy has long been a top choice for downhill skiers, and has launched a cross-country team this year. With a prime location near one of the biggest cross-country ski areas in the country (Royal Gorge, site of the well-known California Gold Rush marathon), an enthusiastic and hard-working group of young xc racers, and one of Far West’s most experienced and gifted coaches leading the way, the future looks as bright as the spring sun on the 20-foot snowpack in the Sierras!
Shortly before the team headed to West Yellowstone last month, coach Schloss took the time to answer some questions and provide some insight into the program at Sugarbowl Academy:
Can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to becoming an xc coach, and your prior coaching jobs?
I have been a full time XC coach for the past 20 years including being the head Nordic coach for the University of Nevada Reno from 1993-2000 and the head Nordic coach at Auburn Ski Club and Far West Division from 2000-2005. I came to coaching because of my own love of ski racing and I still compete in racing at the Masters level. I have been involved in outdoor adventure and recreation my whole life and have worked as a river guide in the Grand Canyon, as a climbing and mountaineering instructor for the Yosemite Mountaineering school, and as an outdoor educator for the Yosemite Institute.
You’ve given a lot of time to coaching. What keeps you at it, and what made you decide to take this opportunity to coach at Sugarbowl?
I stick with coaching because I love it and cannot think of any better job in the world! The chance to turn people on to the joys of ski racing, and to see athletes pushing towards their goals keeps me young and motivated. As far as the job at SBA goes, I took it because I saw a great opportunity to build a program that could really have it all for young Nordic skiers: a super supportive school and staff, an awesome location, and a school philosophy that recognizes the value of balance between academics, athletics, and life experience. I am blown away by the commitment of the school to helping each student/athlete get the most out of their skiing and academic experience.
It seems like the Sugarbowl Academy is in a pretty ideal location for training, with the Pacific Crest Trail out the door for hiking and running, Old 40 for rollerskiing, and Royal Gorge just down the road for endless kilometers of skiing. Do you usually end up training right from the door? What are some of the other training locations for the team?
Yes SBA is in the perfect location for training. Most days we train right out the front door with great rollerskiing and trail running all around us. Once the snow flies we will ski right from school onto the trail system of Royal Gorge’s hundreds of kilometers of trails. Just to mix it up we can choose from four other great Nordic Centers in the area and we can usually be on snow from Late November into late April.
There’s always a lot of talk in xc skiing about the benefits and drawbacks of training and/or living at high elevation versus at low elevation. With Sugarbowl Academy being at about 7,000′ elevation, what kind of approach do you take or what kind of training modifications do you make?
We are using the altitude of the Sierra Nevada to maximize our training. As you said the school is at 7,000 feet so we live high but then often drive 40 minutes down into the foothills to do high intensity intervals at low elevation. We can get down to 1000 feet in 40 minutes so we are taking advantage of this to “Live High and train Low.” It is especially important to go low for intensity to build the quickness we will need for racing at sea level at the junior Olympics.
What would you say is your basic philosophy when it comes to coaching, in terms of the social aspect, or working with the athletes as people?
My basic coaching philosophy revolves around a few main points: one is that every one is different and we need to individualize the training to help each person with what they specifically need. Another is that xc ski racing takes a lot of training so you better enjoy the process! I love to add adventure and spice to the training by doing all different kind of fun things in the outdoors while still getting quality training in. At SBA we are surrounded by great rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, trail running, alpine lakes, etc so why not use all of that while we are training. Finally I believe in looking at the big picture. It takes a long time to reach your peak in xc ski racing so I believe in patience and not looking just for quick results. Embrace the lifestyle, love the process of training in the outdoors, and keep balance in your life and you will eventually reach your goals while enjoying a rich journey.
How about the training itself? What kinds of workouts do you tend to prioritize or emphasize the most? (Distance vs. intervals vs. strength vs. technique etc.)
As far as the training itself goes, I strongly believe that you need to train in a variety of intensities and distances. There are many ways to the top but I think a training plan that emphasises a mixture of volume and different intensities with good easy over distance, lots of threshold intervals and solid VO max building level 4 intervals, will achieve great results. Training at altitude it is important to go easy enough in the distance training but to put in a lot of very short speed bursts to keep the body aware of how to go fast.Technique is 100% important and we focus on it in every workout. Strength is important and we have a great gym at the school but we place the most emphasis on specific strength in the field. I believe you must train your weaknesses-this goes along with individualizing the training. For some of the SBA athletes upper body power endurance is a limiter whereas for some it is aerobic capacity. Everyone likes to train at what they are good at but it is the coaches job to get them to train what they need to train!
Can you tell us about this year’s xc team – how’s the team looking in this first year of having an xc team again?
I am really excited about this year’s team. Austin Meng, Evan Dion, Kelly Habibi, and Corey Talbott enrolled in the school this fall and have been training great all fall. This winter they will be joined by two post graduate racers, Adam Wright and Junior National Champion Joanne Reid, so we have a team of six which is pretty good for the first year of the program. I would ideally like to see the Nordic team grow to about 12-18 athletes.
What are some of the training highlights so far this fall? Any training camps yet?
Training highlights this fall have included kayaking the length of Lake Tahoe, mountain biking the legendary Flume trail, canyoneering through Yuba Gap, and tons of quality rollerskiing. Our first big trip is to go to West Yellowstone for Thanksgiving where we intend to put in a huge volume of training along with some early season racing. After that we have US Nationals for some of the team and the Soldier Hollow Super JOQ in January. Of course the Junior Olympics in March is a big focus for the whole team. Throughout the winter we will be competing in the local high school race league and in all of the junior Olympic qualifying races. We plan to stay on snow well into May with some April racing and then lots of crust cruising and maybe even some ski mountaineering. There is so much to do around here!
Where do you see the Sugarbowl xc program going in the future?
I see SBA growing into a real center for motivated XC ski racers. It is the perfect fit for academically oriented skiers who want to push themselves in skiing while being in a great college preparatory environment that understands the challenges of ski racing.
Ok last but not least, who is your pick to win the overall World Cup this year? How about the overall SuperTour title?
I will have to go with Petter Northug for the guys overall and maybe Petra Majdic for the women. For the SuperTour lets go with Freeman and Randall. My big prediction is that the US will win two medals in cross country at the Olympics this year!
More information on the Sugarbowl Academy can be found at http://www.sbacademy.org/