America’s Snowboard Team carving new territory
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Visibility was minimal as the snow swirled at the top of the Copperopolis run Friday morning, but the smile on Chris Klug’s face wasn’t too hard to see.
With his boots ankle deep in fresh powder, the 36-year-old Aspen snowboarder was doing his pre-training calisthenics, which he said “elder statesmen” like him need before heading full-speed through the slalom gates.
“But experience is everything,” Klug said, claiming his age as an advantage.
Well, his experience may have been the reason he – or the rest of his teammates, for that matter – were even at Copper Mountain on Friday, training for the upcoming season.
A regular over the years on the U.S. Snowboarding Team’s alpine racing roster, Klug found out last spring that the national program was cutting down its funding to his sport. Rather than struggle while trying to compete out of his own pocket, Klug decided to go in a whole new direction.
The result? America’s Snowboard Team.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve created,” Klug said. “It’s an athlete-founded organization. … We’re an independent professional snowboard team.”
And this new program couldn’t have come at a better time for Klug and his three alpine teammates, as they are all trying to secure an elusive spot in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February.
For Klug, it would mark his third time competing in the Winter Games. After competing in the first-ever alpine snowboardnig Olympic competition in 1998, he earned a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, while carrying the “9/11” flag during the opening ceremonies.
Punching his ticket to Vancouver was a goal of Klug’s back when he first learned of the U.S. Team’s financial woes. Along with fellow alpine boarders Zac Kay and Josh Wylie, Klug was coaching his annual snowboard camp in Aspen last spring when he found out.
“I think we were all just a little frustrated by that announcement,” Klug said, “but at the same time, we decided, ‘Let’s do this right. Let’s hire the best coaches. Let’s hire the best tech we can, and let’s work hard these next few months to create the best training environment we can that can ultimately help us to win medals in Vancouver in February.'”
That’s exactly what the three boarders did, and with the addition of one of the country’s top female riders Erica Mueller, the team’s roster was quickly set.
Together, the four boarders build up sponsors and secured coaches.
With everything in place, their only concern now is on their training.
All four riders said that, in terms of volume and intensity, their preseason sessions have been unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
“I’ve never trained this hard in my life,” Kay said. “We used to go just four or five runs a day, and now, I don’t think we’ve had a day where we’ve just done four or five (runs). It’s usually like 10 or 11 or 12 runs in the course then a couple free runs. We just maximize every single day, and it becomes second nature, and that’s what we need.”
Do they ever.
Qualifying for the Olympics in alpine snowboarding isn’t quite the same as in other sports. In snowboarding, countries are limited to 18 total athletes for men’s and women’s freestyle, boardercross and alpine combined. And no more than 10 athletes per gender may compete.
With the success of American boarders in the pipe and boardercross, there will likely only be three or four men and one or two women representing the U.S. in alpine.
The team is decided through finishes in World Cup races.
“You’ve got to be on your ‘A’ game,” Mueller said of making the Olympic team.
“For me, it’s motivating. … With all that motivation and the America’s Snowboard Team behind me, to be No. 1 or 2 is definitely feasible.”
Ian Price, who coaches the team along with Rob Roy, mentioned during training on Friday that each of his riders has a chance of qualifying if they ride well.
For those unfamiliar with alpine snowboarding, simply imagine a snowboard version of slalom and giant slalom ski racing. Riders wear boots visually identical to those made for skiers and travel courses between triangle-shaped gates. (The shape of the gates is to account for a boarder’s angled turns.)
In parallel racing, boarders compete one-on-one down the mountain.
“It’s fun to watch, because if some people might not understand some of the tricks (in freestyle snowboarding), you know what’s going on with us,” Kay said. “You know if one guy wins or one guy loses.”
Though alpine snowboarding hasn’t hit the main stream of American sports in the way freestyle riding has, Klug said one of the main focuses of his new team – beyond helping its athletes achieve their goals – is to promote the sport.
“(The sport has) provided me an amazing experience of competing on my snowboard all around the world the last 20 years,” Klug said. “It’s been fun and I’d like to continue, but I’d also like to provide that opportunity for the next generation of riders.
“Our goal with AST is to not just achieve our individual pursuits, but also to provide a really positive image and try to raise the profile of alpine snowboarding.”
For now though, the focus is on the task at hand.
And the team’s training at Copper the past couple weeks should help give the riders the early season boost they need, Klug said, and the work of the new team may end up being the difference between a run at another Olympic podium.
“There’s no guarantees that I’ll return to my third Winter Olympics or win another medal, but I think I’ve put myself in the best possible position to achieve that goal with putting together this independent team and working together with my team and new coaches,” he said.
For more information on America’s Snowboard Team or its athletes, visit http://www.americssnowboardteam.com.
Copper Mountain, which is currently playing host to teams from all over the world, officially opens on Nov. 6.
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