How Copper Mountain became a hotbed for international ski team training
December 14, 2015
Just about everyone who's anyone on the World Cup circuit has been to Copper this November.
For several years now — at least since the debut of the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center in 2011 — the resort has been the go-to training ground for ski clubs and international pro teams early in the season. There's a little something for everyone: A giant slalom course on Copperopolis, a full-length downhill at the speed center, the year-round foam pit at Woodward, a superpipe for the Revolution Tour qualifier on Dec. 2. The lucky few freestyle teams that are already in town can start training in the pipe by Nov. 30. That makes it the first superpipe in Colorado.
"Word has caught on around the world," Copper communications manager Stephanie Sweeney said. "Over the years our early-season training has grown significantly, and I think that comes with the partnership we've created with the USSA, the ski clubs and the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center. That has been the culmination of this early-season focus for us."
It's now the place to be for alpine athletes. Earlier this November, just after several snowstorms blanketed the resort, the entire U.S. Ski Team spent a few days at Copper running the speed center downhill. Marquee names like Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety split time on the course with the team's developmental squad before heading to Aspen, where the first North American World Cup races of the season got underway on Friday. Even Julia Mancuso was there, recovering from recent hip surgery with physical therapy sessions twice daily.
While in Copper, the Americans were rubbing elbows with (and studying up on) international skiers from 30 different countries, including Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Norway. Three-time Olympic medalist Aksel Lund Svindal took a few runs to prep for the men's World Cup in Lake Louise this weekend, and dozens of coaches from across the globe lined the downhill fences to film, critique and fine-tune their athletes before the season truly kicked into gear.
"This has put us on the world stage," Sweeney said about early training at Copper, which oddly enough doesn't host any World Cup races. "That's really the biggest effect it's had for us. These international teams are looking at Copper and seeing the only full downhill course in the world right now. This catapults Copper into the world eye, per se, for ski racing."
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Pros and ams
The superstars get the majority of attention at Copper, but they're far from the only skiers taking advantage of stellar early-season snow and amenities. The resort is also a hotspot for dozens of ski clubs from across the nation, including clubs from the Midwest and East Coast, where the snow isn't quite ready for racing even though race season is just a few short weeks away.
"A lot of these young kids get excited because they get to rub elbows with Olympians and World Cup athletes, and we have ways to accommodate everyone from professionals to amateurs," Sweeney said. "Copper also really prides itself on being a place for progression. We want to provide a place for all athletes to train."
While the pros stuck to the speed center downhill, alpine athletes with Copper's home team, Team Summit Colorado, were working on slalom and GS technique on the Copperopolis course. It's home to the NorAm Cup from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, one of just three NorAm events in Colorado and the only one in Summit County.
"We've been doing lots of drills early in the season and now we've worked into full-length GS, just trying to get faster," said Megan McGrew, a U-19 technical skier with Team Summit. "The speed track is pretty technical, but it's also just a blast."
First pipe of the season
Beginning this week, the Team Summit alpine skiers will be joined by their freestyle counterparts. They'll get in a few days of practice runs before the Rev Tour qualifier and the first Rev Tour competition from Dec. 6-11. That means the superpipe and slopestyle course are two of the first to open in North America, which has also made Copper an early-season mecca for international freeski athletes. It's an eclectic group, including freeski and snowboard teams from Canada, France, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan.
"The halfpipe is always the first really good halfpipe of the season, probably the only one," said Greg Guenet, ski halfpipe coach for the French national team. "There is snow, there is a good halfpipe, there is Woodward — perfect trainings conditions."
Guenet and his team, four males and two females, come to Copper on Nov. 30, just in time for a solid week of practice before heading to Breckenridge on Dec. 7 to compete in the Dew Tour. For the coach and his crew, Copper is the highlight of November. After all, it's their first taste of snow since last season — and it never disappoints.
"My athletes need Copper," Guenet said. "They always look forward to being there and training with all the other best riders in the world. For them, Copper means the beginning of their season."
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