Near the end of June, three Far West juniors and I loaded up my car and headed for Park City, Utah. We spent a week there attending the USSA Western Regional Elite Group training camp; myself as a coach, and Austin Meng, Jordan McElroy, and Katrin Larusson as athletes. Athletes had to qualify to attend the camp, so our athletes were among a selection of the Western region’s most promising junior skiers. The Western REG is a big group, consisting of skiers from the Far West, Rocky Mountain, Intermountain, PNSA and High Plains regions — essentially, skiers from California up to Washington, across to Montana, down to New Mexico, and everywhere in between! It was really cool to see such a range of juniors so passionate about their sport working together to become athletes.
All in all, there were 31 athletes at the camp in addition to eight coaches, one camp coordinator extraordinaire, our own personal chef, and numerous guest appearances by U.S. Ski Team coaches and athletes. But everyone came together with a common purpose: working to put U.S. skiing at the top of our sport. That is our mission as U.S. junior athletes, coaches and supporters. But having some fun and learning along the way are important too! And we did just that.
Throughout the week, athletes completed a variety of training, including skate and classic rollerskiing, running, strength work, hillbounding, and some “extracurricular” volleyball, kickball, baseball, swimming, water sliding and general mayhem. The focus of each session varied, from technique to endurance to speed and interval training. Some sessions were more “low-key,” while others demanded top performance. While the greater goal of the camp was to have top athletes training with other top athletes, striving to learn from one another and improve their skills, another purpose of the camp was to assess the athlete’s ability levels in order to determine who would qualify for the National Elite Group camp put on by the U.S. Ski Team in September (the camp combines the top skiers from each of the four Regional Elite Groups across the country). The assessment included three sessions of testing: the infamously brutal and appropriately-named “Agony Hill” time trial; skate rollerski sprints that also tested skiers’ agility and coordination by including obstacles; and the Canadian strength test, which tests skiers’ strengths in several areas.
Austin and Katrin turned in some impressive times on Agony Hill, each placing third in their respective fields, and showing that Far West skiers don’t shy away from uphill running (Drifter time trial, anyone??). The skiers fared well in the skate sprints, with the exception of a little carnage by Katrin, who would later earn the distinction of “most blood” at the camp. (Being her determined self, she got right up and kept pushing hard). Completing the strength test just a few hours later that same day was tough, but the athletes pushed through and turned in some impressive performances. I was tired just watching! With the camp taking place in Park City, we were fortunate enough to be able to use the U.S. Ski Team facilities for our strength test, which was really cool. The atmosphere in itself was inspiring, not to mention having some of the nation’s best skiers and snowboarders of all disciplines working out simultaneously in the same gym. Additionally, after the strength test, interested athletes got a chance to try out the rollerski treadmill, which was a pretty unique opportunity and quite a treat.
In addition to the training sessions, Bryan Fish, U.S. Ski Team Continental Cup Coach, gave three inspiring presentations to the athletes throughout the week, focusing on goals, preparation, training and more. In addition to Bryan, who led and observed the group through several workouts, U.S. Ski Team coaches Pete Vordenberg and Matt Whitcomb provided valuable assistance to the athletes at numerous sessions. Also, U.S. Ski Team athletes Simi Hamilton, Tad Elliott, Noah Hoffman, Ida Sargent, Jessie Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen, Erik Bjornsen and Skyler Davis each joined the group at some point for kickball/baseball, barbecue, frozen yogurt, a presentation and/or a workout. It was great to have them around a bit for some extra motivation.
After the testing was complete, we wrapped things up with a beautiful classic ski up Big Cottonwood Canyon and one final morning run before departure. The ride home was quiet, with Jordan, Katrin and Austin sleeping the majority of the way. But it gave me lots of time to reflect on all the things I learned as a coach over the week, and all the fun memories that had been made. A big thanks to all who helped make the camp a great success, and congratulations to Katrin, Jordan and Austin on a job well done!