The snow is falling and there’s a hum in the air, which can only mean one thing: it’s almost ski & snow- board season. Whether you’re making shaky pizza wedges on the bunny slopes or optimizing your training for your third Olympic bid, fresh snow always pulls at something in the winter-lover’s soul. Colorado is especially renowned for producing top level athletes from every snow sport discipline, and many of the stars start young—really young.
We chatted with Stephanie Zavilla, MA,. CMPC, who is the Director for Sports Performance at the Winter Park Competition Center, and Olof Hedberg, head coach of the Summit Nordic Ski Club in Frisco, to find out who this year’s rising stars in snow sports are, what exciting technology is being used to up performance training, and how focusing on fun is imperative to keeping youth in competitions.
1. Who are the local youth who are taking the Winter World by storm? How did they get started, and why are they so badass? Winter Park locals Birk and Svea Irving are taking the freeski scene by storm. The siblings, both now on the U.S. Ski Team, bring a style to the halfpipe that is smooth and seamless. With rails built all over the backyard, the two are endlessly dedicated to pushing themselves and the sport forward.
Another up-and-coming pipe skier is Winter Park local Hunter Carey, who took 5th at Jr. Worlds in Wanaka, New Zealand, accompanied by teammates Connor and Dylan Ladd, Hannah Blackwell, and Svea Irving. This year Winter Park Competition Center will be represented at IFSA Big Mountain Jr. World’s by Mia Farley in Kappl Austria! She follows in the footsteps of Stacy Gaskill, who currently rides for the U.S. Boardercross Team, as well as serves as a teammate on the U.S. Ultimate Frisbee Team! Max Williams is one to watch when it comes to Snowboard SlopeStyle; look for him on the Revolution Tour. In the world of Freestyle Moguls, Winter Park Competition Center sent 17 athletes to Jr. Nationals at Sun Valley and have many athletes looking at NorAm and World Cup starts this coming season.
2. What cutting-edge training models is your organization using this coming winter to help the youth achieve the best possible results? What new methods are you excited to try? At the Competition Center our goal is to develop the athlete through a holistic lens, addressing every possible factor within our control to pro- mote success. We have invested in an all-inclusive Sports Performance Program that dissects an athlete’s performance and creates action-oriented roadmaps that strive for excellence on every level. It addresses the athlete’s ability to fuel themselves appropriately and how to restore glycogen to the muscles after a particularly grueling training session. It addresses an athlete’s mindset, their focus, their ability to bounce back after a mistake or poor performance, and their emotional regulation.
We use a state-of-the-art biofeedback system that allows us to monitor an athlete’s heart rate, respiration, heart rate variability, muscle tension, skin conductance, and peripheral temperature under simulated stressful situations so that we can teach athlete’s how to physiologically self-regulate and prepare their minds and bodies for optimal performance. We also use a 3D motion capture system com- posed of 8 cameras and a green screen room that pick up an athlete’s every move, analyzing asymmetries, compensations, power, strength, and degrees of rotation. With this information we can give the athlete preventative correctives so they put themselves at a lower risk for injury. It can also help us capitalize on their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses. It informs periodization and Long Term Athletic Development. The Sports Performance Program also has a unique protocol for supporting athletes
3. What direction(s) is the future of the sport going? Where is it headed this year, what’s changing, what’s new, what should people know about your discipline? Statistics say that by the age of 13, about 70 percent of young athletes will drop out of sport. Why? Simply because they aren’t having fun any- more. Pressures get to be too high, travel and extensive training blocks make playing the sport too exhausting, and environments can be negative and unmotivating. That being said, I think the future of the sport lies in pre- serving this idea of FUN; creating opportunities to create memories and an environment that builds people up. Freeskiing instead of running gates. Enjoying a powder day with your friends. Playing soccer once in awhile instead of doing a structured training session. The cool thing is that the sport [snow sports] is in such an amazing position to positively affect youth – it’s getting more creative than ever, and there are more resources now to help athletes experience success, but most of all, it instills the long tradition of culture that comes with skiing/snowboarding, which in turn creates healthy, highly functioning human beings that find peace, adventure, and challenge in the mountains. These kids go on to do truly great things in life.
4. What events & breakthroughs should people be watching for this year? As far as events happening at Winter Park, definitely be sure to check out U.S. Team Selections happening in mid-December. This is always one of my favorite events to watch; the athletes rip down the moguls and throw some truly spectacular airs. U16 Alpine Regional Championships will also be happening in Winter Park in early March, which is a really fun week of slalom, GS, and speed, with talented athletes from all over the Rocky and Central Divisions. Otherwise, stay tuned into the Wholeshot Tour for some sick boarder cross action, the Revolution Tour for snowboard and freeski slope- style and halfpipe, the IFSA Jr. World Championships in Kappl, Austria, as well as USSA, URTUR, USASA, and Sync events! These kids are really incredible at what they do.
Olof Hedberg, Head Coach of Summit Nordic Ski Club
1. Who are the local youth who are taking the Winter World by storm? How did they get started, and why are they so badass? The U.S. as a whole has taken huge steps in cross country skiing. On an adult level the U.S. took its first Olympic gold last season with Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall. Behind these two women are amazing up-and-coming juniors. Colorado’s Hailey Swirbuhl took two medals at Junior World Championships last year and shows that the future for cross country skiing in the U.S. is brighter than ever. On a local level, Colorado has many great cross country ski clubs, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, Boulder, Durango and us – Summit Nordic Ski Club (SNSC) are all working to shape the next generation of U.S. skiers. SNSC has grown tremendously over the past 5 years in both numbers and quality. This year I expect SNSC will send roughly ten athletes to Junior Nationals (high school aged). Some of these athletes have been a part of SNSC since they were elementary school aged and have trained on average 500 hours per year over the past few years to achieve this level – this is in addition to school, work and being a teenager. Nordic skiers basically never rest – we usually give them the month of April to take a break then its straight back into summer training.
2. What cutting-edge training models is your organization using this coming winter to help the youth achieve the best possible results? What new methods are you excited to try? As training technology has improved it has become more and more important to integrate it into our programs. We utilize heart rate monitors during training and races and rely on the data to help customize the training plans for each athlete. In addition, Nordic skiing has become a faster and faster sport demand- ing more strength and power from athletes. We have a very long race season so maintain- ing strength throughout the winter is critical, but a challenge. We have implemented the use of B-Strong bands for strength training which allows athletes to gain strength without the typical muscular breakdown we see with normal strength training. This improves recovery time and allows us to maintain strength without compromising performance.
3. What direction(s) is the future of the sport going? Where is it headed this year, what’s changing, what’s new, what should people know about your discipline? Race courses continue to be more technical, much faster and demand much more strength and power from athletes. Nordic skiing has changed dramatically over the past thirty years, which makes it exciting.
4. What events & breakthroughs should people be watching for this year? I expect to see exciting things on the world stage this year, but will focus on our local athletes. The Colorado region for Nordic ski- ing is called Rocky Mountain Nordic (RMN). Last year RMN ranked second place at Junior Nationals as a region, which means that we are moving in the right direction for creating a strong local race culture. This season I expect to see more junior skiers who are competitive with NCAA skiers (collegiate) and will see RMN looking to take a top spot in the country. This season SNSC is gunning for the top spot in Colorado – we finished last season in 2nd place with a 1 percent margin. With our growth and the athletic development we have seen in the off season, I expect some very exciting results this winter.
5. Anything else you want to add – anything at the intersections of exciting & new in your field! Growth!! – With the Olympic gold the interest for cross country skiing is blowing up. Our learn to ski program sold out in 10 minutes. It is one of the first winter endurance sports where the US is at the same level of Europe. I am seeing a shift in a developing Nordic culture in Colorado and the broader U.S.. The more young people we can expose to Nordic skiing, the better for the future of the sport. I think the next 5-10 years will be an exciting time to be a Nordic skier in the U.S