Steamboat Springs It’s not that it’s simple. No one is advocating that — certainly not the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club officials in charge.
It’s just that it’s not all that different from traditional Alpine ski racing. That’s what stuck out to head coach Tom Davis and assistant coach Scott Wither when they sat down to consider taking up the empty coaching position atop one of the Winter Sports Club’s newest programs.
There’s the importance of a fast start and a good tuck, the need to get through the air efficiently and to pick the best line at all times.
Davis added that from his own experience on the national cycling team, which he said often mirrored the head-to-head-to-head-to-head battle that is a cross race.
The conclusion was, even though they were short on ski cross experience themselves, this was a job they could do.
Finding a fit
Steamboat’s ski cross program grew out of the sport’s inclusion in the 2010 Olympic Games, and at first, organizers didn’t have to look far or hard for a coach.
Brett Buckles grew up in the Winter Sports Club’s Alpine program, and she competed internationally in Alpine and ski cross before taking to tutoring Steamboat’s aspiring ski cross racers.
This fall, however, she moved on to a position coaching the sport with the International Snowboard Training Center, based at Copper Mountain.
“Brett was an integral part to building the program, and she moved on to start her own program,” said Jon Casson, who oversees the group, which is folded into his snowboard division within the club.
“I was looking for coaches, and I’ve known Tom for years, and he was intrigued,” Casson said. “He’s a great coach who really gets the mental and psychological aspect of sport. He’s a super smart Alpine coach, and he can apply that knowledge to ski cross.”
Davis learned the ways of Alpine skiing growing up on the East Coast. He attended high school at Mount Snow Academy in Vermont, where he fine-tuned his skills, but ended up on the U.S. Cycling Team, traveling the world for road biking competitions.
That led him to Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and he followed that up by enrolling at the University of Colorado, where he continued biking with the team — earning 12 national championship medals — and participated with the school’s ski team.
Eventually, he took on coaching with the Winter Sports Club, guiding the program’s Alpine ability (16- to 19-year-olds) program from 1999 to 2007.
“Ski cross is a blend of my two sports,” he said. “It’s a blend between the head-to-head combat of bike racing coupled with the skill you gain from ski racing, and so skier cross seems like a perfect fit.”
Wither, too, packs plenty of skiing experience. He’s a fourth-generation Steamboat resident, was on the U.S. Ski Team for five years and won the 1995 NCAA National Championship while skiing for the University of Colorado.
He hasn’t lost his need for speed, and he showed as much in a Wednesday night practice with the ski cross team, ripping down ahead of his athletes in a drill that called for them to jump over bamboo obstacles while screaming down the face of Howelsen Hill at top speed.
“If they ever say, ‘I can’t do that,’ I just say watch,” he said, chuckling at the base of the downtown Steamboat training facility.
“The real key for these kids is to get a lot of real fast freeskiing, to get them used to making fast turns and working terrain and trusting themselves,” Wither said. “We want them to learn to be good skiers in all conditions.”
Casson said he realized there was a need for two coaches to guide the program, which is split into two parts. A more dedicated regimen is available for older, more serious athletes hoping to soon crack the top tier, and a more relaxed, less-frequent class is available for skiers approaching ski cross more casually or strictly as a second sport after their primary focus on Alpine racing.
“It’s about making your skis go fast,” Casson said. “These guys have been there, and they know what it’s like to compete at the highest level. I have a ton of respect and gratitude for Brett, but she had to do what was right for her, and these guys are the perfect ones to step in and take what she started and keep building on it.
“Our goal here, just like we do in every program, is to be the premier program in all America.”
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com