Team Summit’s Greg Needell dies at Mammoth Mountain | SummitDaily.com

Team Summit’s Greg Needell dies at Mammoth Mountain

Greg Needell wasn't the sort to mince words. But, when he did, people paid attention.

In his first year as alpine director for Team Summit Colorado, the 30-year veteran of ski club coaching quickly won the respect of parents, coaches and athletes, not to mention the resort executives his team of 200-plus skiers relied on for training venues and snow — the lifeblood of any ski club.

"He was a student of the sport," said Crawford Pierce, another veteran of the U.S. ski club scene who regularly ran into Needell over the past three decades, from East Coast clubs to the U.S. Ski Team to Team Summit, where Pierce debuted this past season with Needell. "Working with Greg was exceptional because he didn't have to say much. He just knew what we needed as coaches and athletes, and, as a director, he was incredible."

On June 7, just a day after 25 Team Summit athletes and four coaches arrived at Mammoth Mountain for summer training, Needell unexpectedly died of "a medical emergency" while riding the chairlift to the training venue, according to Team Summit executive director Jerry Karl. Needell traveled solo to Mammoth over the weekend and stayed with friends he knew from coaching at the California resort, Karl says, but, after arriving, he admitted he didn't feel well.

The exact cause of death will be released pending a coroner's report. Needell is survived by his wife, Shannon, and son, Coen.

"We were extremely excited to have Greg join us," said Karl, who hadn't met Needell before the 2015-16 season but knew him well by a sterling reputation. "He's a high-level coach, very passionate about his athletes and he knew his stuff like nobody's business. He could watch an athlete for two runs and pick up exactly what was going wrong and then relay that. He wasn't a man of many words, but what he said was very important."

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See, Needell approached alpine coaching and his relatively new role in administration — the desk job, the one that took him away from the snow and kids he truly enjoyed — the way he approached skiing. The Vermont native fell in love with super-G as a teen athlete at Stratton Mountain School, where he stood head and shoulders above the field for his dedication, technical prowess and, of course, quiet dominance on the snow.

Troy Watts remembers him well from those tough, formative years on the ski circuit. At 16 years old, Watts first raced against him while skiing for Vermont's other heavy-hitting club, Burke Mountain Academy.

"I was a super-competitive kid at that age, but he was always open and welcoming," said Watts, who went on to race on the World Cup circuit and competed in slalom at the 1989 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek. "He treated me the same way, no matter if I was ahead of him or not, and that was a lesson I needed at that time."

Needell turned his tempered attitude into an NCAA Division-I ski career at St. Lawrence University in New York, while Watts tried his hand at World Cup racing. Watts admits that his peer made the smarter decision — he left the World Cup circuit after suffering several nasty injuries — but, as it happens in the ski industry, the two couldn't stay away from their passion.

Over time, he and Needell rose through the ranks of the ski industry to become respected coaches. After working with a successful youth program at Mammoth in the late '90s, Needell was invited to join the U.S. Ski Team as a men's national team coach. He stayed with the team from 2002 to 2009 before joining Aspen Valley Ski Team in the early 2010s, which led to his position at Team Summit shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season. Watts joined at the same time and admits his old friend from Vermont was a major draw.

"The skiing community is a very tight and relatively small one," Watts said. "It spans internationally, but it's very tight; so when he came to Summit County, that was one of the main things that made me want to work with Team Summit. It wasn't just his reputation (as a coach) — it was knowing him personally."

In just a year, Needell not only managed to win respect from his club — he also set it on a new and exciting path. Team Summit sent slalom and giant slalom athletes to the Junior Championships, U.S. Alpine Championships and NorAm Finals, where they regularly placed in the top-30 against hundreds of the best skiers in the nation.

The 25 Team Summit athletes arrived in Mammoth Mountain shortly before Needell passed away, which left coaches and athletes alike with a sense of "melancholy," Pierce said. But, rather than cancel the two-week training camp, everyone decided it would be best to continue — Needell would want nothing less.

"His wife encouraged us to continue with camp," Pierce said. "She knew how proud he was of Mammoth, and she said, 'By no means should you stop; he would not want you to stop this.' So we decided to press on in his honor, his spirit."

Athletes and coaches will remain in Mammoth until the original end of the summer camp, and, despite such a staggering loss, Pierce, Karl and Watts expect the team to grow even stronger.

"If we have the audacity to call ourselves coaches and mentors of young people, anything that happens is a teaching moment," Watts said. "That's the mode we went into, as tragic as it is. Maybe kids can look back at this in the future and not be freaked out by death or dying like our society tends to be."

Greg Needell Scholarship Fund

Team Summit’s Greg Needell was a student of ski racing, and, as a lifelong student, he loved giving back to the next generation of alpine athletes. His family has created a scholarship fund in his name through the United State Ski and Snowboard Association, with the goal of raising $5,000 or more in the next 60 days. To contribute, see the Rally Me donation page.

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