Ski club spotlight: Alpine skiers Jordan Watts, Zach Elsass and Jenna Sheldon with Team Breck and Team Summit
Editor’s note: This is first in a three-part series on local ski club athletes. For all three installments, plus more photos and extended Q&As, check the sports section at http://www.summitdaily.com.
When the snow falls in Summit, the future Olympians come out to play.
This season, Team Summit Colorado and Team Breckenridge Sports Club play host to nearly 800 combined athletes from across the state and country. Both clubs are home to developmental and competition programs for almost every discipline imaginable: alpine, freeski, moguls, freestyle snowboard, big mountain. Just about the only thing missing is old-school ski jumping.
Summit has long been a Mecca for up-and-coming ski superstars, and the local clubs are no exception. Both teams have produced dozens of top-tier athletes over the years, including Olympians, X Games medalists, Dew Tour winners and dozens of U.S. team members in both sports. The programs are even coached by bona fide pros, like former ski halfpipe champ Chris Hawks of Team Breck and ‘90s mogul veteran Chris Carson with Team Summit.
Before the season kicks into high gear, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with a few of the most promising athletes from both clubs. Here’s what they had to say about their sport, training in Summit and the season to come.
Jenna Sheldon, Team Breck alpine
After 9 years on skis, 12-year-old Jenna Sheldon is ready to go head-to-head with the big girls. The Summit Middle School sixth grader had a stellar season on Team Breck’s U-12 Rocky Mountain Regional team last year, finishing at the top of her age group. This winter, she jumps up to the U-14 alpine division. She’s a slalom and GS specialist with lightening-fast reflexes and a promising future in the gates.
First skiing memory: The first time I skied I was 2 years old. It was at the bottom of Four O’Clock run in Breckenridge, behind my grandparent’s house. I don’t really remember this because I was so young, but I have photos of it!
First competition memory: My first competition was the annual TBK cup. This is an annual race for all athletes at Team Breckenridge and Team Summit. I didn’t know what I was doing — I didn’t even have a race suit! But I knew I loved going fast and I loved to compete.
Ski club highlight so far: Making the RMD team at state championships last year. I couldn’t have done that without the support and guidance of my coaches, Chelsea and Chuck Roth, and of course my title sponsor (my parents).
My biggest goal this season is…: I am really looking forward to Prater Cup in Crested Butte this year. I was a forerunner for the GS and slalom two years ago and it was so much fun. I’m very excited and hoping to make it to Junior Championships.
Favorite training site: I love to train on Cimarron on Peak Ten in Breckenridge. Even though it is a tough hill I love that each section is a new challenge.
Favorite place to ski when I’m not competing: I like to ski in the trees with my team, especially when there is powder and moguls. You never know when someone is going to fall in a fun way — every turn is an adventure.
My alpine skiing hero: I respect and admire Lara Gut because, like me, she is petite, but she doesn’t let that affect her skiing.
When I’m not on the snow…: I love to play soccer. I was on a soccer team for six years. I quit two years ago so I could ski train full time.
Pre-race meal: A breakfast of protein pancakes and a banana.
Pre-run ritual: I don’t have any superstitions or rituals before a run, but I always do a 5-10 minute warm-up before I start training and a 5-10 minute warm-up before every race run.
Pump-up music: I listen to different songs based on the event I’m skiing. For slalom, I listen to “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because the beat is fast, like slalom. For GS and super-G, I listen to slower songs like “Demons” by Imagine Dragons and “Hall of Fame” by The Script.
Secret (or not-so-secret) tuning tip: Sorry — I can’t give away my competitive advantage.
Zach Elsass, Team Breck alpine
At 15 years old, longtime Team Breck member Zach Elsass is ready to stake his claim in the tough U-16 division. He took first against nearly 200 competitors at the Ski Cooper super giant slalom last season, then made a trip to Hintertux, Austria (home to the U.S. Ski Team’s early-season training site) this fall for gate training. After five years on the team, the GS and SG (super giant slalom) specialist and home-schooled 10th grader is looking for top-30 finishes and a few more podiums.
First skiing memory: I first learned to ski at Keystone on vacation. When I was 7 years old we moved here and I started to learn more about skiing. I have vague memories of a time when I was on the bunny hill, but other than that not really. I loved it right away and I still love it, especially on a powder day.
First competition memory: The first race I did was a team race (I was on Loveland Ski Team at the time). I got one first place and several top-10s. I remember doing it for fun and just enjoying myself — the medals and ribbons were not that important to me.
Ski club highlight so far: The best I have ever done was at Ski Cooper SG, where I ran the course dead last after 200-plus people went before me and I won first place. After the run, I looked at my time compared to the others and couldn’t believe I had won.
My biggest goal this season is…: My biggest goal this season is to consistently get in the top-30. I also look forward to having my best season ever!
Favorite slope for training: I like almost all training places, but GS gate training on Dukes in Breckenridge is one of my favorites.
Favorite place to ski when I’m not competing: In Breckenridge my favorite place to ski is off of E Chair in the trees, but on other mountains it is wherever there is powder.
My alpine skiing hero: My skiing hero is probably Kjetil Jansrud from Norway. He won the 2014 Olympic gold in SG.
When I’m not on the snow…: I enjoy archery, rock-climbing and e-sports.
Pre-race meal: The night before a race, one of my favorite home-cooked meals is chicken tortilla soup. It is hot and tasty and also healthy.
Pre-run ritual: Before every race I do my warm-up. I basically get my heart rate up and get pumped. Most of the pre-run is mental, like visualizing the course and generating a fearless attitude.
Pump-up music: Anything with a fast and upbeat tune, such as the artists Macklemore and Flo Rida.
Secret (or not-so-secret) tuning tip: Before every race I tune my skis to the best of my ability. When we are at a far-away race, we tune together as a team and analyze the video from the race. Tuning consist of sharpening edges, waxing bases, scraping, brushing.
Jordan Watts, Team Summit Colorado alpine
Jordan Watts, a recent graduate of Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, makes her debut on Team Summit’s post-graduate alpine squad this season after several years qualifying for the Junior National Championships. The 18-year-old Austin, Texas native learned to ski in Vail at 2 years old and now returns to Colorado for U-19 competition. With any luck, the all-around alpine skier will follow in the footsteps of her father, former World Cup racer Troy Watts.
First skiing memory: I was actually born in Austin, Texas, so skiing wasn’t too convenient at the time. However, my father was a World Cup ski racer, so it would have been tragic if his daughters didn’t ski. We visited his family and roots in the Rocky Mountains every now and then, with my mom and dad attaching leashes to us as we skied down Vail Mountain. The leashes didn’t last for long.
First competition memory: Before I was 3 years old, my family moved to Lincoln, New Hampshire, about five miles from Loon Mountain. Almost all of my child memories come from northern New Hampshire, where I raced for the Loon Race Team. When I was younger, I felt more joy when I was freeskiing rather than training in gates. It wasn’t until a U-12 northern division qualifier, when I produced some podium results, that I thought to myself, “Racing is a blast.” From that moment on, I started applying myself more than ever before and it grew into my passion.
Ski club highlight so far: Last year, I was traveling to Calgary and Nakiska for some Canadian Nor-Ams. Right after this series, I would head down to Copper for U-18 Nationals. These were two of the most important races of my season.
On the way to Canada, the airlines lost my ski bag, consisting of all my skis, poles, shin guards, race suits, jackets, et cetera. This had never happened to me before, and I had absolutely no idea how to react — let alone perform — without any of my belongings. With the help of friends on my team and even other ski teams, I gathered enough equipment to race.
In the Nor-Am slalom in Calgary, I was very pleased with my results under the circumstance. I went from bib 50 to 22, and 21 on the second day. I realized then that you can’t control everything, but when things do go awry, you can do the best you can to adapt. Hilariously enough, at the beginning of May, they sent me back my ski bag. The lemons/lemonade paradigm is a constant reprise in this sport!
My biggest goal this season is…: This season, I want to further progress towards mastery by continuing to correct the technical and tactical errors in my skiing, which are starting to become really subtle at the level I’m approaching. Hard work will have to be present in order to accomplish these goals, but mastering my skiing is the only way I will reach my competition-oriented goals. I want to be extremely competitive in the Nor-Am circuit this year, and the top for my birth year in either GS or slalom. In addition to this, I want to either make criteria for the U.S. Ski Team or ski onto the CU-Boulder Division I Ski Team.
Favorite slope for training: The training hill at Burke Mountain has always been my favorite place to train slalom. The terrain is fairly average, but the Poma is what makes the hill so desirable. In addition to the copious runs you can ski in just one session, the atmosphere is really cool. Everyone’s cheering each other on, yet still very competitive with the clock. You’ll often hear, “C’mon, one more run, coach.”
Favorite place to ski when I’m not competing: Beaver Creek and Vail are by far my favorite mountains to “soul shred.” Since I’ve been skiing in New England for so long, I’m grateful for the wide-open trails with perfect corduroy. In the East, Sugarloaf is definitely my favorite mountain, especially the race hill.
My alpine skiing hero: Marcel Hirscher of Austria has always been my favorite World Cup skier. I am constantly amazed by his athleticism and consistent results. It’s also hard to find a turn that he doesn’t carve. And, of course, Mikaela Shiffrin has been my hero ever since she won New Hampshire states by 10 seconds as a U-14.
When I’m not on the snow…: I’m a pretty big biker. In Colorado, the road biking paths are beautiful and not directly next to cars, which is a relief. Also, while most of my training consists of ski-specific exercises, I really like to play tennis and soccer.
Pre-race meal: Thai and sushi are definitely among my favorite foods.
Pre-run ritual: As old as I am, I am still trying to figure out what works best for me at the start. I am always listening to music, but some days I feel over-amped, some days I feel nervous, and other times I feel the need to get more amped in order to race well. Marcel Hirscher is often over-amped, so he does a mini-workout before his run. Mikaela Shiffrin, on the other hand, will sometimes lie down and close her eyes. There are different methods for everyone, and for me it’s definitely based upon the mood I’m in. And, if I had a certain ritual, would I not race as well if I didn’t have enough time to perform it before my run? In my opinion, racers need to get away from superstitions because race circumstances are usually never as perfect as racers want them to be. It’s one of the things I love most about the sport.
Pump-up music: Kanye West has always been my go-to music before my run. Something about rap music in general gives me confidence on race day.
Secret (or not-so-secret) tuning tip: Sharp, smooth skis and fast wax give me immense confidence. In a sport with so many uncontrollable variables, tuning your skis is the one variable you can control, so why not nail it?
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