Organic development. That’s how Justin Beckwith is describing the new era of the Green Mountain Valley School’s nordic ski team.
Beckwith, who serves as head coach for the rural Vermont academy, is overseeing the addition of an elite and postgraduate program to the team, which has historically found its successes in junior racing.
However, this is no traditional elite team. Instead of partaking in the tedious process of athlete applications, selection, and community placement, GMVS is recruiting from its own ranks.
If anyone is a poster child for the GMVS transition it’s David Sinclair. Sinclair, who graduated from Dartmouth College in May was a product of the GMVS program as a junior. During his time at the school he found much success at the junior level. At Dartmouth College, Sinclair earned several Junior National Championships and attended the 2014 NCAA Championships where his best result was 17th.
Once the Waitsfield, Vt. native graduated from Dartmouth he returned to his roots and joined Beckwith and the rest of the GMVS team.
According to Beckwith, the return of Sinclair is promising for his team of 12 skiers.
“One of the best things for a program is when an athlete returns,” Beckwith said in a phone interview with FasterSkier. “With David it was a natural progression because he was one of our athletes.”
In addition to Sinclair the GMVS program also boasts two postgraduate athletes, Ian Moore and Nick Gardner. The two are taking time to focus on skiing before they attend the University of Vermont and Williams College after the 2014/2015 season.
The three skiers aren’t the only new additions to the team. Earlier this year GMVS hired Shane MacDowell who will serve as the assistant coach to aid in the continued development of its nordic program.
MacDowell, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2009, has a long history in the ski community.
After spending a season coaching the Cape Elizabeth Nordic High School Team he founded the Boulder Nordic Sport Acceleration Team where he served as the Head Coach in 2012. During the winter of 2013 he was the head wax technician for the J1 Scandinavian Trip in Trondheim, Norway in addition to his duties as a technician for the OPA Cup Finals in Madonna Di Campiglio and Toblach, Italy. Most recently, MacDowell was the assistant coach and wax technician for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.
Beckwith said that with the help of MacDowell, the GMVS program has the infrastructure to support both junior and higher-level athletes. For years, the alpine team at GMVS has been providing elite support for athletes and according to Beckwith the nordic team is ready to do so as well.
The recent developments at GMVS are part of its head coach’s approach toward training and racing. Beckwith explained that a key component of a successful team is its ability to create an environment that promotes skiing as a long-term project. He said that he’s seen too many skiers focus on lofty short-term goals that can make racing tedious and repetitive.
“I want to have kids who want this to be a lifelong sport versus focusing on very specific cross country training when you’re 13, 14, or 15 with the goal of winning junior nationals when you’re a J2 or J1. Sometimes we’re seeing that these athletes get to college and they’re burnt,” Beckwith explained. “We’re obviously trying to make them fast ski racers, but that’s what I want to do to set my program apart from the other programs.”
By adding more adventure and diversity to his training plans Beckwith said his athletes are more likely to continue skiing in college, and are thus more likely to return to his program as high-level athletes.
Beckwith said that takes his athletes to the local alpine areas or explores off-trail training opportunities in the woods surrounding the school.
Sometimes the adventure is further from home. In September, the 12-member team traveled to Italy’s Stelvio Glacier for a two-week training camp. Not only did the team find favorable training conditions, they also befriended 2014 Olympic medalist Ilia Chernousov of Russia, who was one of the only other skiers on the glacier at the time.
As the team continues their fall training, Beckwith said that one of his main focusses will be to create a presence on the national circuit this year. As in years past, GMVS will travel to West Yellowstone and Bozeman, Mont. in November for an extended camp and to race in the SuperTours.
If everything goes according to plan, the team will unveil a new wax trailer in January at the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich. GMVS will use the trailer throughout the season for Eastern Cups and other SuperTour races.
For now, however, Beckwith and the rest of the GMVS squad are focusing on building excitement for the sport while working to keep their athletes close to home.
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Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.