Former Olympic skier Chris Puckett stepped into the role of Alpine director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club this week driven by a single goal:
"I want to get more of our own kids back to the Olympics," Puckett said. "I want to see kids who were born and raised here on the U.S. Ski Team."
The 34-year-old Puckett was selected to run the program after Tony Nunnikhoven stepped down from the position last month. Rick DeVos, executive director, said Nunnikhoven's resignation came as the Winter Sports Club began restructuring its expanding Alpine program.
"I think he looked at our plans for reorganization and how his job would change before making a decision," DeVos said. "He told me he wanted to spend more time with his family and look at some other options."
Nunnikhoven said he put everything he had into the program but, after discussing it with his wife, decided it was time to move on.
"I loved working for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club," Nunnikhoven said. "But it's not the type of job you hold onto forever. I invested my time, but when I looked at my family's future, it was clear that it was time to step aside."
It's also a time of mixed emotions for DeVos and the staff members of the Winter Sports Club. Nunnikhoven led the Alpine program for four years and has made it one of the strongest in the country.
On one hand, DeVos said he is sad to see his friend leave, but he can't help but be excited about the arrival of Puckett.
"Tony was instrumental in the growth of this program," DeVos said. "It doubled in size under his leadership, and we can't thank him enough."
Puckett was a member of the U.S. Ski Team for 13 years and competed in the Albertville Olympics in 1992 as well as two ('93 Japan and '95 Spain) World Championships. There is no doubt he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the programs.
Puckett first was hired as a full-time coach with the Winter Sports Club after retiring from the U.S. Ski Team at the end of the 2001 season.
He worked as an ability coach for two seasons, before taking a break last year. Still, Puckett volunteered one night a week to work with the club's J3 skiers.
'This is a tremendous opportunity," Puckett said. "I have a lot to offer, and I know I can make this program even stronger than it is right now."
He hopes to use his connections with the team to keep his programs up-to-date and make sure Steamboat skiers have the advantage when it comes to gaining U.S. Ski Team spots.
DeVos said the Alpine programs, which had 460 skiers enrolled last season, have seen a huge amount of growth recently. Since the 1998-99 season, the Winter Sports Club's overall membership has grown from just more than 400 to nearly 900 athletes.
Because of the rapid growth in the Alpine program, it will be split between Puckett overseeing the some age-class and ability-level skiers (J3 and up) and a new director handling the programs for younger skiers. Those programs, including the younger age classes, Little Toots and master's program, have about 80 percent of the club's Alpine skiers.
"We didn't want to get so focused on our younger programs that our top skiers were leaving town to go to different programs," Puckett said. "Both parts are important to our success in Steamboat. We don't want to be a feeder. We want our older skiers to set the examples that our younger ones can follow."
DeVos hopes the changes will allow the Winter Sports Club to continue to absorb new skiers at the younger level and also focus on helping the older athletes reach their goals -- whether to reach the high school team, college or skiing in the Olympics as a member of the American team.
Puckett was busy interviewing candidates for open coaching positions Thursday, but said he is confident that the program will be back in full swing before the start of dry land training this fall.
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