Alpine anew: Crawford Pierce, John McMurtry launch alpine-only Rocky Mountain Ski Racing club
A pair of longtime, elite-level alpine ski racing coaches — with decades of coaching experience between them — are launching what they hope will be another top-notch club option for teenaged and young adult alpine ski racers.
National and Colorado Ski Hall of Fame inductee John McMurtry, of Silvethorne, and former U.S. Ski Team coach Crawford Pierce, of Vail, have teamed up to create what they’ve dubbed “Rocky Mountain Ski Racing.”
The duo hopes the club will be the kind of smaller, alpine-focused program that can provide the best fit for ski racers between the ages of 14-24, regardless of their skill level and personal/professional goals.
“We thought, ‘maybe our idea of an alpine-only focused team, this would be a good time,’” Pierce said. “‘So, let’s do it. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we’re just going to do it.’ And, so far, it’s working out really nicely.”
Pierce will serve as the team’s head of coaching and development while McMurtry will undertake the executive director’s role. The co-founding duo has also recruited the former strength and conditioning director of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, Jake Wurth, to work as the team’s director of movement performance and sports medicine. The coaching staff will also include American-born Mexican National Ski Team member Sarah Schleper.
Between the four of them, Rocky Mountain Ski Racing, in its first year, will possess the kind of veteran coaching wisdom that can rival the top entrenched clubs from around the state. With the kind of proven track record the club provides, Pierce and McMurtry have already recruited elite local and seasonal alpine racers such as Abigail Murer, Zoe Simpson and Japan-native Kayo Denda to race for the program this winter.
Just this past weekend at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association’s Rocky Mountain Division Fall Festival, Denda was honored as the Colorado Ski Cup’s overall and Super-G champion while Simpson was honored for her Colorado Ski Cup downhill championship. Both skied with Team Summit last year en route to those honors. Murer, who advanced to last March’s U.S. Ski and Snowboard U-16 Junior National Championships in Washington state, skied for Team Summit as well. Pierce also coached with Team Summit last season.
Though they want to grow the program in the coming years, Pierce and McMurtry said they expect about 10 to a dozen racers this year, maybe more. Eventual growth doesn’t mean expanding into the hundreds of athletes, similar to other local winter sports clubs. Considering the fact the team is alpine-only, the co-founders also hope racers find Rocky Mountain Ski Racing as a more ideal fit for those who only do alpine.
“I think what’s kind of unique for the both of us is we’ve both been around from participant, coach, administrator and now as parents,” McMurtry said. “We’ve seen every dimension you possibly can. So we’ve seen all the challenges, all the wonderful opportunities. And putting these things together to create something that will be unique — a model.”
“We’ve been in this business a long time,” Pierce added. “We know what works, what doesn’t work, and we want to set up a ski team, a ski club that focused on the athletes.”
Considering both Pierce and McMurtry have bounced around coaching a who’s who of the top alpine ski clubs and programs in Colorado and across the nation — including McMurtry’s time running the U.S. Ski Team’s national alpine program — they both have opinions on how winter sports clubs have evolved over the years. Long gone are the days of club’s like Team Summit — formerly known as the Summit Race Team — having the vast majority of their team made up of ski racers. With the advent of new events such as freestyle and big mountain — which Pierce’s son has competed in — the very face of winter sports clubs has changed to be more all-encompassing. Hence, the switch to alpine-only.
“If somebody’s mission is to ski on the World Cup, we know how to do that,” Pierce said. “If there mission is skiing in college, we know how to do that. If their mission is to go as far as they can but they don’t know where that is, we support that too.”
Pierce and McMurtry also hope Rocky Mountain Ski Racing can serve as the kind of club to help ski racers in their early teens and late 20s continue to improve their skills despite the fact that they may not be at the top of the Olympic and World Cup shortlist for the U.S. Ski Team.
“It’s not about making the national team or the World Cup team,” McMurtry said. “It’s about building good citizens and people for the future. And I think we are losing that. I really do.”
“We want to make it fun,” Pierce added. “The best athletes I’ve ever worked with, who skied all the way up to World Cup and Olympics, it’s come from the heart. And I’m literally the person who, sort of, helped got ’em there — prepared them, drove the van, even maybe got them their bib or airline tickets — so they can succeed. We have a lot of that experience training athletes and keeping it fun. But also how to teach people how to ski better, how to race better, and I feel like we are very good at working with the families. Because if you are going to stay in this sport a long time, it involves your whole family.”
The duo said training venues this year — conditions and lane space permitting — include Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Copper Mountain Resort, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Loveland Ski Area.
The three programs offered this year will be an invitation-only post-graduate team, a U19 high-performance International Ski Federation team and a U-16 U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association team for those aged 14-15.
The tuition for the post-graduate team is $14,500, or $12,500 for Colorado residents. The tuition for the U19 FIS team is $7,500 or $6,500 for Colorado residents. And the tuition for the U16 team is $7,250, or $6,250 for Colorado residents.
For more information, visit RockyMountainSkiRacing.org.
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