The U.S. Ski Team announced on Wednesday that Pete Vordenberg — a leader on the team for the past 10 years and the man who literally wrote the book on modern American skiing — would be leaving his post as the men’s head coach. He became a new father this winter, and felt that he couldn’t be both a great parent and coach simultaneously.
USST head coach Chris Grover said the team plans to find a replacement to lead the men’s team next season. The team will take the time to find “the right person for the job;” someone who will come from outside the team’s current staff.
Vordenberg will stay on through the search process and help with the transition. He didn’t elaborate on his future plans, but along with spending more time with his family he expects to continue his work with the National Nordic Foundation (NNF), the precursor of which he helped found in 1997.
“I do want to summarize some of the experiences and lessons at some point,” Vordenberg wrote in an email. “But I’m not ready to do that yet.”
His colleagues and athletes, though accepting of his decision, are sad to see him go. They credit him with setting a new tone for US skiing in the course of his time with the team as an assistant coach, development coach, head coach, and most recently the men’s coach.
“He’s been really instrumental in telling the story of US skiing,” said Grover. “He’s been the guy that not only wrote Momentum and started… NNF, he’s the guy that has been one of the people out there laying out for all the young skiers in the US the demands of winning an Olympic gold medal.”
Andy Newell, whose first year on the USST came at the beginning of Vordenberg’s coaching career, cited Vordenberg’s ability to get inside an athlete’s head as part of his effectiveness as a coach for both USST athletes and developing juniors.
“He’s definitely in touch with that side of the sport — not only the physical, but also pushing people to be the best mental skiers,” said Newell. “That came out in his book, and it’s the way he coaches; it’s the way he’s connected with young skiers in the US. He has that no-nonsense approach to skiing.”
Greatness in skiing has been the object of Vordenberg’s work since he was himself an athlete. Before becoming a coach in 2002, he represented the US in two Olympic Games, and his goal of reaching the podium there has driven his passion for skiing ever since — a passion that he chronicles in detail in Momentum: Chasing the Olympic Dream, which was published in 2002.
“He had the unique perspective on our staff of having been a USST athlete himself,” said Grover. “I think he clearly recognized the things he did well as an athlete and the things he did poorly that prevented him from reaching the next level in his own career. He was really passionate about telling that story.”
The level of skiing in the US has undoubtedly changed since Vordenberg started coaching, but achievements along the way — the first American World Cup medal in 25 years, the first World Championships medal for a US woman — only made him hungrier for more.
“Since I started racing in 1984 I wanted to win at the Olympic level,” said Vordenberg. “In my day and for years on either side of my day we were not even close. One top 30 World Cup result a season for the whole USA was the norm.
“When Andy was on the World Cup podium in 2006 I was very happy for him and realized that we had all truly helped set US skiing on a new course, but I was surprised by how unfazed I was personally by his success. This was a dream since 1984 so it was a big deal yet I only wanted more. And so rightfully did Andy. The work went on just like before.”
That work, he says, is how the US finds itself in possession of a crystal globe in 2012.
“If you want to know how Kikkan [Randall] got where she is — she trains ungodly hard and a lot. That is the answer,” he wrote.
Vordenberg preaches giving nothing less than 100% to training, and since he no longer believes he can do so in coaching, he is stepping aside. Asked to reflect on his own career, he continued to look forward and express his philosophy:
“Do not be fooled into thinking you can succeed by doing this half way, or three-quarters of the way. You have to do it all the way if you want to win at the highest level. Forget about the general USST motto All Out. For us going all out is a foregone conclusion. That’s what we do. For years the XC motto has been: All In. And that is hard. That’s complete commitment. I knew I couldn’t be all in, and so I’m out.”
At the end of the day, Vordenberg emphasized that for both athletes and coaches, enjoyment of the process is critical to the goals it works towards.
“You must enjoy the work and the process because even for those that succeed the work is what makes up 99% of this thing,” he said. “And for most it will make up 100% of it!
“Similarly, on the day-to-day level it doesn’t matter how the race goes, as an athlete you start getting ready for the next race. And as a coach win or lose at the end of the day you are cleaning klister from skis. So you better enjoy cleaning klister and you better enjoy those you are cleaning klister with. I am lucky. I enjoyed the work and I loved my co-workers.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.