A driven group of Summit County youth ski mountaineers to represent the U.S. in Switzerland
You want to know the kind of kid it takes to qualify for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Junior National Team?
Summit County local and ski mountaineering coach Jaime Brede is happy to paint you a picture. After all, Summit County is sending 10 youth athletes to next week’s International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Villars sur Ollon, Switzerland.
What it takes is the kind of kid who texts their coach the night before practice if he or she can show up an hour early, at 5 a.m., instead of 6 a.m. It takes the kind of kid who wants to know what kind of interval workout he or she will be doing the next day so he or she can start it an hour early. It takes the kind of kid who wants to practice so badly that he or she will re-arrange a pre-dawn schedule to fit in both ski-mountaineering practice and a Summit High School National Honors Society meeting before classes begin.
That kid, that’s the kind of kid that’ll be representing not only Summit County, but the United State of America in Switzerland.
“I was just thinking about this today at practice,” the Summit Endurance Acadmey coach Brede said on Saturday. “There are so many mornings, it’s -15 degrees and we are doing intervals and, yet, they show up. And the crop of kids that continues to show up and do this sport, they are just — these are amazing human beings. They are not just good kids, these are the ones that are going to go on to do great things.”
When the 2019 World Championships commence on Sunday in the mountain village in the western Swiss Vaud Alps, the following Summit County locals will be ready to lock into their alpine touring bindings. In the cadet men’s division, there’s Sam Burke, Mark Jardim, Paul Hans, Connor Albin and Jeremiah Vaille. In the junior men’s division, there’s Finn Remias, Max Bonenberger and Sam Wescott. And in the women’s cadet division, Elsa Bates and Grace Staberg will compete.
Ten Summit County youth athletes skiing up to the start line in Switzerland — that would have been a far-fetched dream for Breckenridge local and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association head coach Joe Howdyshell just 18 months ago.
Back when Howdyshell was thinking about launching a ski mountaineering component of his Summit Endurance Academy, in the fall of 2017, he simply held a meeting to gauge interest.
“I wasn’t sure whether any kids would be interested in skimo,” Howdyshell said, “knowing none of them had done more than backcountry a couple times with their parents. I was expecting and hoping for five kids. I had 14 kids at that first meeting, and then nine signed up. Then, once we started practicing, they learned fast, came to practice in the cold and dark, didn’t complain, and started crushing.”
Since then, Howdyshell said what has worked about his academy is the reality that adult and youth athletes have helped to motivate each other and strengthen each other’s skills. One clear example of that this winter has been the informal pairing of Staberg and senior women’s national team skimo competitor Sierra Anderson. Anderson and Staberg both acknowledge that they have experienced eerily similar athletic roads, even if they were nearly two decades apart. Like Anderson once was, Staberg is now an elite Summit High School athlete with an extensive running background who has transitioned to ski mountaineering. It’s that kindred connection that has helped the two grow closer this season as they each have trained for Worlds.
Case in point: Early last Saturday morning, Anderson texted a group of local girls to see who would be interested in practicing before the lifts started spinning at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Staberg was game.
“I told her and she kind of told me the same thing, ‘Sierra, if you didn’t text me I wouldn’t be here,’” Anderson said of Staberg. “And I was feeling the same way. I needed that push, because I was pretty tired and it’s pretty hard not to hit snooze at 4:30 a.m. Sometimes you need that accountability, and Grace has been good for me in that way.”
Staberg has also been a help to her fellow Summit Endurance Academy youth teammates. She doesn’t mind waking up at 3:30 a.m. — in order to drive from Silverthorne to Summit Cove to pick up her teammates who can’t legally drive — before arriving at Beaver Run for pre-sunrise practice in Breckenridge. She credits Brede and Howdyshell for helping to instill in her that kind of commitment to a sport she only tried for the first time last winter.
“I love having a plan and being held accountable to my training, both when I need to go hard and when I need to take a day off,” Staberg said of the academy. “Because I have a hard time telling myself I need to chill out for a day instead of just going hard. Joe is really good at helping you understand that this is what is best for you and personalizing training for everyone.”
Heading into Worlds, which runs from March 6-10, Howdyshell said he’s curious to see how the entrenched, high-level European competition affects his American athletes’ mindsets and future training. That said, he is encouraged enough to think this crew is mature and mentally strong enough to be inspired rather than intimidated by the European athletes.
As for results, Howdyshell knows all too well how strong of skimo competitors Europe’s best are. But the reality also is that the U.S. has never taken this many youth athletes to Worlds, and certainly not youth this strong and focused. What kind of results that means for next week is up in the air. But, looking big picture, a group exhibiting this kind of quantity and quality at an early age only means more success for the future of U.S. — and Summit County — ski mountaineering.
“This is certainly the first time we’ll be able to have athletes get to peak physical age and have trained for a while in the sport,” Howdyshell said, “meaning we’re much more likely to have sustainable world class talent across several athletes at once.
“I think the rest of the skimo world is very excited to see us bringing big teams,” Howdyshell added, “and getting more competitive, as they see a competitive U.S. team making Olympic inclusion more likely. And I think the large and strong team we’re taking there will just make everyone more excited.”
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