Newest SSWSC member, Pat Deneen, is top American mogul skier | SteamboatToday.com

Newest SSWSC member, Pat Deneen, is top American mogul skier

Luke Graham

— It took all of four years for Pat Deneen Sr. to realize his son was something completely different on skis.

As he tells it, when Pat Jr. was just 4 years old, a good, old-fashioned duel broke out with his 7-year-old sister, Amy.

Pat Sr., who was the general manager of Hayak Ski Area in Washington at the time, looked over, and his two children were skiing the bumps, battling each other with their ski poles.

"They had their poles out skiing fast," Pat Sr. recalled Saturday, while taking in some of the Winter Carnival events. "These kids were going through the moguls beating on each other. I went, 'Huh, this is pretty good.' Then by the time Pat was 7, he was doing things others can't do."

Now, at age 22, Pat Deneen Jr. — the newest member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club — might be the United States' best opportunity for a medal in men's moguls.

He is the reigning World Champion, was the FIS Rookie of the Year in 2008 and has been on the fast track to skiing's peak since he first strapped on skis at 11 months old.

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But what makes Pat Jr. so scary and one of the top challengers for a podium spot in Vancouver, British Columbia, might be something different.

It's something Pat Sr. — who coached his son for most of his life — said could make the biggest difference when the men's moguls event takes place Feb. 14 at Cypress Mountain.

"He's at peace," Pat Sr. said. "He knows he's skiing well, he knows he's jumping well and he knows he's the top skier in the United States. He's at peace. He's ready for Vancouver."

To Steamboat with love

Pat Deneen Jr. started Alpine skiing competitively when he was 7 years old and was introduced to freestyle skiing in 1999. A year later, he decided to solely concentrate on mogul skiing. In 2004, at just 16, he made the U.S. Ski Team. By 2008, he had three World Cup podiums, and in 2009, he won a World Championship gold medal in Japan.

He qualified for an Olympic spot in December at the U.S. Olympic trials in Steamboat. With his spot locked up, Deneen decided that if he wanted to give himself the best possible chance at a medal, he needed to refine his skiing.

He'd met Timmy Meagher when Deneen was a forerunner at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Meagher, who once was a top-25 freestyle skier in the world and has worked with the Winter Sports Club for more than two decades, told Deneen he'd coach him under two conditions.

One: the two would travel to World Cups together in order to build trust in each other. The other: Deneen would have to join the Winter Sports Club, where Meagher said he'd get the best training in the country.

"We started working together," Meagher said. "Things started to click."

The two focused on Deneen's turn scores and consistency.

With his spot on the Olympic team assured, the two spent the next months at World Cups refining his skills.

Although Deneen didn't get a podium, he did get a top five and two top 10s while changing techniques.

"Timmy really is an incredible coach," Deneen said. "He's a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and that was one of the biggest reasons I went with him."

Podium seeking

Two runs.

That, in essence, is what it all comes down to for Deneen. The men's event starts with qualification runs at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 14 with finals at 7:30 p.m.

"Here's the way we look at it," Meagher said. "Especially being on the World Cup, it's tough. There are six or seven guys, with us being one of those six or seven. If you were to put them in a ring and let them duke it out, any of those seven could be on top.

"But with the consistency and confidence and speed he's skiing with, he's going to be a handful for the rest of the world."

Deneen understands this maybe better than anyone. Going into Japan, where he won his World Championship, Deneen was ranked 11th in the world. He said the reality is that any skier can win on any given day.

"When I went into the World Championships in Japan, I knew exactly what I needed to do," he said. "I won by almost two points. Consistency doesn't win medals. It's the top run at the right time."

Pat Deneen Jr., Pat Deneen Sr. and Meagher were scheduled to leave for Vancouver today. In less than a week, they'll all know exactly where Pat Jr. stands.

Going to the Olympics, Pat Jr. said he couldn't set results-based goals. But he's a guy who understands the game.

Many variables go into it. From the course to the judging, all he knows is that he's going to ski — something he's been doing since he was 2 months old, skiing every day in a pack on Pat Deneen Sr.'s chest.

"I don't know what others are doing or how the judges are judging," Pat Jr. said. "I'm going to ski the best I can possibly ski. If I ski my run and the best I can, I'll be on the podium."