After a massive wave of spring skiers left Bend, Ore., last month, the groomers at Mt. Bachelor hardly packed it in. The U.S. and Canadian national teams and several elite squads were gone, but nearly the same amount of skiers – 150 – were expected to flock to the snow-covered trails in June.
The Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and its club, the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation (MBSEF), planned accordingly. On June 16, the MBSEF greeted about 55 juniors to its five-day Fire and Ice camp, an annual tradition that’s followed national-team visits for years.
Lars Flora, a two-time Olympian and Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier, made the trip down from Anchorage for his third-straight year to serve as head coach. He worked with MBSEF Nordic Program Director Dan Simoneau, who coordinates the camp, to attract six competitive skiers to Fire and Ice as coaches.
After all the 9- to 18-year-olds said their goodbyes last Wednesday along with coaches Matt Liebsch, Torin Koos, Tyler Kornfield, Sylvan Ellefson, Ollie Burruss and Zoe Roy, Flora talked about the experience on the phone from Eugene, Ore., while watching the Olympic track and field trials on Saturday.
FasterSkier: How long has the Fire and Ice junior camp existed?
Lars Flora: Four years, I believe. It’s been going on for, off and on, forever. Now with two periods of skiing and Mt. Bachelor way more behind it, they are really getting interest from skiers. There were 300 skiers between the two periods of skiing this year, so that was really good. When the national teams were there, they were at 150, and around another 150 in the second period in June. The town’s really excited about it. It’s awesome.
FS: What’s the goal of the camp?
LF: Dan [Simoneau] and I came up with the idea to bring more top athletes to help coach and train while they’re in Bend. This was the third year we did it. This year we had a really good group of coaches. Sylvan volunteered his time because he was out there training and Matt Liebsch and Torin and Tyler Kornfield were asked early on. It was really cool that Sylvan just stepped up and wanted to help out.
FS: Where do the participants come from?
LF: Most of the skiers were from PNSA [Pacific Northwest Ski Association], so Washington and Oregon. There were around 55 [junior] skiers who did the camp and they range from 9 years old up to 18. It’s a pretty big range of ages.
FS: How did they respond to having so many talented coaches?
LF: Sometimes I wonder if they always realized what kind of lineup of coaches they have. You know how it is, you’re always skiing and then you just hang out with your friends and you kind of forget who these skiers are. But it’s the time we spend with athletes; we spend from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day with them. We do a lot of fun stuff like rafting and paddleboarding and running and playing games, playing soccer and whatnot. I think it’s just a lot of good time to observe the top athletes and watch them and the inspiration to be around the best athletes in the U.S.
Like Matt and Sylvan and Torin, from an athlete’s standpoint, they’re great around kids; all three of them are amazing. [A University of Alaska Fairbanks skier,] Tyler’s just getting into that stuff. He’s young, he’s only 21, so it was really good for him to be there. It’s good for athletes to learn how to coach and put on clinics.
FS: How was the coaching and group size structured?
LF: It was a free-for-all (laughs). Nah, it was small groups. Sometimes we would split the group into two: the young ones, everyone under 13 and then everybody above 13. Other times we would take 10 to 15 skiers out at a time [with] one coach. It varied throughout the camp.
FS: They were on snow for all five days?
LF: Five days on snow and five days of dryland activity.
FS: How were the snow conditions and weather overall?
LF: It was really good. The first half it was a little dirtier than usual and then it snowed one night midway through and cleaned it all up. Driving over the pass [Saturday], it was snowing pretty hard. …
I would say [it was around] 50 to 60 [degrees] when we were skiing and then in town it was 70 to 80.
The first day after the camp ended it started raining so we lucked out with 10 days of sun. I say 10 days because the first five days the coaches were there training and then the second five days was the Fire and Ice camp.
FS: What were some of the most popular camp activities?
LF: They loved to play Sharks and Minnows on skis. Sylvan actually said he might want to put that into his training plan next year. He had a good time playing Sharks and Minnows with the kids. The older ones respond to intervals with the coaches. We’ll pop into intervals with the 17- and 18-year-olds and I think that’s one of the best activities with 18-year-olds.
Everybody loves the raft trips. We had eight boats going down the Deschutes [River] and jumped in the water; a lot of water fights. I was with the 10- to 12-year-olds so that was fun to go down the Big Eddy with a bunch of young kids.
FS: And paddleboarding?
LF: Paddleboarding and rafting is with Sun Country Tours, [which] is owned by Dennis Oliphant who’s the president of MBSEF and used to be the nordic coach when I was younger. We paddleboard right down by Old Mill on the Deschutes.
FS: You mentioned the first camp sleepover this year. How did that go?
LF: Dan had this whole idea that he was going to do the first-ever sleepover at the nordic center and all the other coaches were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It ended up [being] great. We had a barbeque up there [on Tuesday night]. All the kids brought sleeping bags and pads, about ten of them slept out on the deck. It was a nice crisp night up there, and just kids everywhere camped out. They had a dance party.
It was pretty mellow actually, I was surprised. We had all of them to bed by 12 [a.m.] and woke up around 7 o’clock and had breakfast. We did a night ski around 10 p.m. and it was just rock-hard, perfect skiing so that was fun.
FS: How tired were you by the end of camp on Wednesday?
LF: I was pretty tired. It wasn’t so bad. It’s so much different now that I’m not training so coaching, you have way more energy. We used to do this camp while we trained, so we’d get out in the morning, and that’s what Matt and Tyler [were] doing, and Matt coached the whole time. Tyler coached two days, Torin coached two days, and Sylvan coached one day. Zoe coached one day.
FS: What draws you to these types of programs?
LF: I just think it’s really good for everyone. It’s a really good for development to get the top athletes in front of the younger skiers more, and Bend camp is the perfect place to have that happen.
FS: What do you think the impact is for the skiers and coaches?
LF: Some of the athletes were saying they’re going to spend a month out there next spring skiing and stuff. Sylvan was really excited about that and Tyler was just blown away. It was Tyler’s first time down to Bend so it was fun to bring him down there and show him a new place. He’s spent a lot of time in Alaska training in Fairbanks and Anchorage and he’s kind of at that point in his career where he needs a bit more. For him to go down to Bend and just see the resources that are in Oregon for skiing is a pretty good time. He was telling all his friends about it and sending them emails.
FS: Thanks. Are you spending the rest of the day at Hayward Field?
LF: Yeah, definitely. Rooting on the hometown boy from Bend. Ashton Eaton is leading the decathlon right now. (Note: Eaton not only qualified for the London Games this summer, but also broke the world record on Saturday.)
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.