VAIL – When World Cup overall winner and Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin was just an 8-year-old kid who liked to ski, she was skiing with Simon Marsh at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
Marsh has been with the program for decades and says seeing young kids discover the joy of arcing a perfect turn has been a constantly rewarding experience, from the Shiffrin days and beyond.
And while Marsh may very well have the next Mikaela Shiffrin in his program in any given season, he says creating an Olympic gold medalist is not his goal.
“We do work toward races that we go to, but I think the biggest focus that we’re really trying to bring is solid skiing skills that aren’t just geared toward the race season, but more toward longevity in the sport,” Marsh said. “Lifelong skills that will build them up through the years.”
Marsh said the club’s youngest program started with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail introducing grade-school kids to the club by working on fundamentals, race skills and on-mountain skills.
“The only races we’d have were the local Vail Cups,” he said. “Now that things have branched out in the club, the U10 program is more toward the Alpine side, and we work toward races that we go to.”
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Those races also focus on the fun factor of the sport, and allow the kids to get to know other ski areas in the region.
“We go to a really fun event in Steamboat, where the kids get to explore the mountain and try different things – a dual race and a skills contest,” Marsh said. “It’s a low-key atmosphere where they’re getting to enjoy the mountain.”
In March, the U10 program heads to Telluride.
“They’ll get to spend three days in Telluride. One of the days we just get to go enjoy the mountain and ski,” Marsh said.
‘Focusing on the right stuff’
Former U.S. Ski Team member David Viele says his 9-year-old son Wyatt has benefited tremendously from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s U10 program.
“I think they’re focusing on the right stuff … making sure the kids are having fun, focusing on self-reliance, time management, all of those things,” Viele said.
Viele said the true motivation for many parents in enrolling their kids in the U10 program is to pass a love of skiing onto their children.
“I want my son to have some of the experiences that I had, but mostly I want to be able to go skiing with him when he’s older,” Viele said. “He’s becoming a very good skier, and that’s a gift that he’ll be able to take with him for the rest of his life.”
Along the way, Viele said, Wyatt is developing some impressive fundamentals that could serve him well should he pursue ski racing.
“I think the club’s also making a concerted effort to put higher-level, talented coaches at the younger levels, so (Wyatt) is getting a program that most programs don’t offer until much later in the progression, and I think he’s really benefiting from that,” Viele said.
In compiling that staff, the club is taking a big step toward meeting its stated goal of providing the best-possible coaching experience to all athletes, said Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Chief Operating Officer John Hale, who oversees the youth alpine department.
“Within this journey lies the goal of not just merely performing within in the Rocky Mountain Division, but genuinely meeting the critical need for true fundamental skill development within U.S. alpine ski racing,” Hale said. “We are focused on providing expert coaching throughout the youth alpine ranks, not merely within specific groups.”
Enhancing the youth ranks
For the 2018-19 season, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail has placed some of its top coaches within the U14-and-younger programs.
Veteran coach Rob Worrell returned to SSCV to oversee the club’s full-time age class programs, including U14 and U12 alpine. Worrell was formerly the alpine program director for Team Summit, a U.S. Ski Team regional coach, and the top alpine coach at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. He previously held the roles of men’s Alpine director and U16 head coach at SSCV. For his efforts, Worrell was named USSA Alpine Coach of the Year in 2016. Worrell’s presence on the U14 staff will be enhanced by Shawn Smith, a 28-year member and captain of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Demo Team.
Assuming technical leadership of SSCV’s U12 program, Patrik Jaerbyn has a broad background in ski racing, including 20 seasons racing on the World Cup Tour, during which time he competed in five Winter Olympics and 11 world championships, winning three medals.
Also joining the U12 staff, Martin Bell has more than 25 years of coaching experience and a tremendous background, including World Cup, world championship and Olympic competition. Bell is credited as one of Britain’s most successful ski racers, finishing eighth in the downhill at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary — a British record that still stands.
Alissa Consenstein has continued her work as the youth Alpine prrogram director with a concentration on the U10 program, YSL teams, the part-time U12-U14 program, and the entry-level Future Stars program. Prior to joining SSCV last season, Consenstein served as competition manager for the Eastern Region of USSA, a youth development coach at Stratton Mountain School, and as U16 coach for Green Mountain Valley School.
And finally, as the newly-promoted U10 head coach, Marsh will continue to bring the positive energy that affected Shiffrin and so many others.
“With these enhancements in place, SSCV is compiling a youth Alpine staff with an exceptional pedigree and expertise in the sport of Alpine ski racing,” Hale said. “Combined with a fantastic returning roster of coaches, the club is becoming increasingly well equipped with a youth Alpine coaching team that is unrivaled anywhere in the country, if not the world, and we couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds, both this coming season and in years to come.”
In making this effort to bolster its youth Alpine coaching staff, the challenge for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail — and for all ski clubs — has always been cost, as the best coaches are usually paid more. The question asked over and over again is, “How can a club provide top-tier coaching talent in younger age groups without making the programs financially inaccessible?”
In Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s case, the answer came in the form of a group of anonymous donors, who agreed to do what it takes to support Alpine ski racing development in the Vail Valley.
At these age groups, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail has also partnered with Red Sandstone Elementary School to provide a customized academic program that caters to the unique schedules of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who ski race on a full-time basis. Modeled after the popular Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, the Red Sandstone partnership provides a public-school option, making the ski-racing lifestyle more accessible to more families, according to the club.
In a further effort to reduce cost, the club also recently launched a new, preseason training program for its youth Alpine athletes. Rather than encouraging costly travel to places like Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor, youth Alpine athletes will now be achieving all 65 of their preseason training days at home in Colorado. By better utilizing high-elevation snowpack at Keystone Resort and Loveland Ski Area during the spring and fall, these athletes will enjoy a premium preseason training program for roughly one-sixth the cost of out-of-state camps.
The club’s fee for the youth Alpine preseason program is a flat rate of $1,995 – an aggregate cost of roughly $45 per day. Compared to out-of-state camps, which routinely cost upwards of $300 per day, plus travel expenses, the home-based preseason training package marks a new dawn for high-performance alpine ski racing that’s also affordable.