Colin Rodgers, a longtime member of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Olympic Development Team (ODT), has been named its head coach. He is taking over for Travis Jones, who stepped down this spring after three years on the job.
“I am very fortunate for this opportunity,” Rodgers told FasterSkier in an interview. “I am going to be able to work with some great athletes that I already know really well.”
A native of Vermont and a graduate of Middlebury College, Rodgers replaces Jones, who was looking for less time on the road and more time with his family.
“I decided it was time, both for my sake and my kids sake and also for the sake of the athletes on the team,” Jones told FasterSkier in an interview earlier this spring.
“They need somebody who can be psyched and ready to travel with them that much every winter, and who can really make the team their number one priority.”
Jones cited the nearly 120 days on the road scheduled for the 2012 season, and a desire to spend more time with his young family as the primary reason for leaving the ODT.
Rodgers made his mark on the elite ski scene as a sprinter. He had his best season in 2009, winning the SuperTour sprint title on the strength of two victories and two second place finishes.
He also started five World Cup races that season, including three European events. His Olympic hopes were dashed by injury and he missed the second half of the 2010 season, but came back strong in 2011.
Coaching has not been a major focus as a potential career for Rodgers, however.
“I have always like spreading the enthusiasm I have for ski racing to other people. I have always been passionate about skiing since I was very young, but I never said to myself that I would be a coach – this year or down the line. It is something that justhappened.”
He described the opportunity as “too good to pass up,” and sees the biggest shift in the transition from athlete to coach as an altering of focus.
“It is about taking a step back about thinking about what I need for myself to succeed as an athlete to thinking about each individual on the team and their needs to reach their potential,” Rodgers said.
Despite his new role, Rodgers did tell FasterSkier that he may have a few opportunities to pull on a bib over the course of the season.
The elite ODT is the top level of the robust SVSEF pipeline. Last year’s team consisted of, among others, US Ski Team athletes Simi Hamilton and Morgan Arritola, SuperTour Sprint Champion Mike Sinnott, and collegiate standout Reid Pletcher.
Rodgers does not see the quick transition from teammate to coach as an issue, noting that coaching is always a challenge, but one he is looking forward to.
He sees his relationships with the ODT members as a plus, telling FasterSkier that “I think this is…a good opportunity for me because I know them so well as athletes. I have a good idea of what they need to take the next step.”
Recognized as one of the top senior-level race teams in the country, the ODT will see a number of other changes in addition to the switch at the top.
In an interview this spring, SVSEF Cross Country Program Director Rick Kapala told FasterSkier that a search was on for a full-time service technician to work the five-month competition season.
Rodgers confirmed that this was still the case, but indicated that the position might not be filled.
“We are hoping to have someone else help us out, but if we don’t, we have Chris Mallory, who is a huge asset. Between he and myself we can make it work,” Rodgers said.
Mallory, however, coaches the SVSEF Comp Team – the program for high school aged athletes – a role that he will continue, limiting his availability for the ODT. According to Kapala, SVSEF hired a technician, Cory Wubbels for several projects last season, and he recognizes a need for a season-long staff member.
“One of the things we think we probably did to Travis unfortunately is that we burned him out a little bit,” Kapala told FasterSkier. “He was on the road oftentimes alone with the ODT guys, carrying the huge load of both coaching those athletes as well as having to do ski service. And we gotta change that.”
But Rodgers points out that it isn’t always easy finding the right person for the job.
On the athlete front, there is also some turnover. Nicole Deyong will no longer be competing as a member of the ODT.
“She won’t be somebody who will be exclusively chasing ski racing a whole lot longer here,” Kapala said, adding “I think the world of her. She is super-legit in every way. If we can keep her around in any capacity that would be great.”
Chelsea Holmes, who posted excellent results while skiing for the Far West Farm Team and coaching with Sugar Bowl Academy joins the squad. She spent the spring in California working with coach Jeff Schloss according to Kapala, who sees the benefit of athletes maintaining relationships with multiple coaches.
“Whatever she can get from our team and whatever she gets from Jeff, we want her to have the best of both relationships,” Kapala said.
Holmes’ impressive 2011 campaign included two victories at the Canadian National Championships and a tenth place in the overall US SuperTour standings.
While Holmes is the only brand new face on the team, veterans Morgan Arritola and Alexa Turzian will both have a bigger presence.
Turzian will spend the summer training in Sun Valley before completing her studies at the University of Colorado in the fall and traveling with the ODT in the winter.
Arritola, like Turzian, a native of the Sun Valley area, declined a position on the US Ski Team B-Team. Arritola spent four years with the US Ski team, including two on the A squad.
With possible plans to pursue her education, Arritola may not be based out of Sun Valley for the entire year, but she will be racing with the team.
Another returning ODT member, Katie Bono should be back at full strength after missing significant time in 2011 with mono.
In addition to Holmes, Arritola, Turzian and Bono, the 2012 roster consists of Simi Hamilton Matt Gelso, Mikey Sinnott and Reid Pletcher, who is in the process of recovering from a climbing accident.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.