The Loveland Ski Area base was a ghost town Friday morning. Rows of picnic benches that were filled by beer-swilling spring skiers a week ago stood empty.
However, there were signs of life. Chairs 2 and 6 were running and a very exclusive group had gathered.
This week, it’s time for the professionals, or at least those with professional ambition, to have their run of the place.
Loveland may be closed to the rest of us, but the lifts are still spinning through next week for the Loveland Ski Club and a few select visitors. It’s a time for those serious about honing their downhill skills to get extra practice.
Only a handful of skiers were on the slopes Friday, as Rich Hadley, one of the Loveland Ski Club’s full-time coaches, and I rode up the Chair 2 lift. The quiet was serene as we reached the top and joined a group of three young-adult skiers joking and chatting with another coach.
It was a sunny May morning, but the snow conditions felt more like peak season. With the warm sun, clear sky, empty slopes and fresh snow, the draw to spring ski camp was immediately apparent.
The group of three was demoing next year’s models of racing skis and boots, another club perk. Starting next ski season FIS-level competitive skiers (16 and up) will be switching to a longer model ski with less sidecut. These guys were getting a trial run.
The new skis look more like old straight skis. It’s a move that Hadley says is in part for safety, making it harder to catch an edge. It will also force athletes to focus more on good form.
For the members of the club, it was a guided free-ski day with their coaches, a chance to work on fundamentals like edging and pressure control. Next week they’ll be working on gate training for a various alpine events.
With the mountain almost to themselves, the 13 club athletes were split into smaller groups, each with his or her own coach, and spread around the ski area. A small group from Winter Park and an additional private coach were the only other skiers on the mountain.
Former U.S. Ski Team coach and Loveland Ski Club director John Hale soon joined us to give me a guided tour.
“You don’t realize what’s here,” said Hale of the opportunities at Loveland.
For aspiring athletes it’s an opportunity for more on-the-snow time, both in early and late season.
Repetition is key, according to Hale. The skill disparity becomes clear in competitive skiing, if aspiring young skiers don’t get as much time as possible on the snow.
We ski up to a group standing at mid-mountain. They’re gathered around an iPad watching video their coach just shot of them skiing. Instant movement analysis feedback, Hale later told me. Seeing what skills they need to work on immediately makes it easier for the athletes to make adjustments to their form. Access to this kind of on-site technology is a powerful teaching tool, Hale said.
Both the venue and the opportunity to work with youth programs drew Hale to Loveland three years ago. And with a growing club, Hale cites the cooperation the club receives from the ski area as crucial to the its recent success.
One of the biggest benefits of the club, according to parents like Andrew Berget, whose 13-year-old son joined this year after skiing with Team Summit, is its affordability. Hale says that’s part of the design of the club. The program caters to youths ranging from elementary-school age through college age. It’s an affordable alternative to traveling to places like Oregon for offseason programs.
Its close proximity to home is a major advantage. By contrast, Berget and his son Cameron went to a ski camp at Mount Hood, Ore., last year. For a 10-day clinic, Berget says it cost around $2,500 dollars in camp fees and travel and lodging expenses. The equivalent at Loveland costs around $550.
“I almost feel like we’re stealing something, it’s that good,” Berget said.
While the club operates all season with about 150 members, full-time members also can participate in as many as 21 on-snow days in the spring camp. The club provides transportation for members coming from Denver and next year will offer shuttle service from Frisco and Silverthorne.
Berget says the Summit School District has been incredibly supportive, allowing Cameron to have early release in order to attend.
For his son it’s an exciting opportunity to improve. “I like to work hard, and I want to get better,” Cameron said.
In just a five-minute conversation, his ambition is clear.
“It might sound crazy, but I’d like to race World Cup races,” he said of his goals.
With a former U.S. Ski Team coach running the show, it could be a realistic goal. Just a few weeks earlier, future Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin said she used to say the same thing.
In October Cameron will have an opportunity to train shoulder to shoulder with future Olympians, as Loveland attracts some of the best athletes to train early season.