Take 5: Gunnar Sorensen, Loveland Ski Club Academy coach
Gunnar Sorensen knows his way around speed.
At the start of his career, the former Staemboat Springs Winter Sports Club slalom racer took a job with the U.S. Ski Team as a ski technician. He spent a season traveling with the World Cup women’s team, tuning skis for Olympians like Paula Moltzan, Mikaela Shiffrin and the rest of the technical athletes as they traveled from the U.S. to Canada to Europe and back.
Today, the 31-year-old Sorensen is in his eighth season with Loveland Ski Club, where he brings World Cup know-how to the club’s year-round Academy program. It’s a relatively small group — just 11 athletes from Summit County, the Front Range and a few other ski hotspots, including the Midwest and East Coast — but that only means Sorensen and his assistants have more time for one-on-one coaching.
“I like to say I’m a much better coach than I was a skier,” Sorensen said. “I like being around it and working with kids. That’s the part I like the most: the teaching aspect.”
His approach is shining through this season. At the Bolle age-class races in early January, held on the club’s home mountain, his group of U-10, U-12 and U-14 racers came away with several podiums. He’s hoping for more of the same as the season winds down to a close with several more races at Loveland, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain.
A week after the Bolle races, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Sorensen to hear about his coaching philosophy, the club’s Academy program and why skiing is a perfect introduction to life in general, especially for his young skiers.
Summit Daily News: You spent a season coaching with the U.S. World Cup women. How did your time with high-level athletes prepare you for a ski club?
Gunnar Sorensen: I think it gave me more perspective on the sport in general and on the highest levels. They have an incredible attention to detail. Coming back to Loveland, the coaches here were all about quality — a small coach to athlete ratio — and I felt like I could bring a lot of that ski team detail into coaching. I also like working with younger kids because there’s so much potential. With older athletes it’s more management: making sure they’re fed, getting them where they need to be. With the younger athletes you’re actually coaching more, helping to shape them more.
SDN: What have you personally brought to the Loveland club over the past eight seasons?
GS: I feel like I have an attention to detail. I also do lots of planning early in the season, choosing the right competitions for the right athletes. With my technician background I can also help the team’s fulltime tech. I like to diversify our training too, keeping things constantly varied and challenging. That just takes a lot of planning and looking ahead. I actually built a management program in Google Docs that looks at how many sessions our athletes are getting and how many turns they’re getting.
SDN: Your system tracks exactly how the athletes improve over the season. How does that feed into the entire Loveland system?
GS: The environment here is second to none. We have a great relationship with the mountain and our grooming is incredible. We also have a great team that just allows me to be a coach. That comes back to the small coach–to-athlete ratio. The other day we had six staff members on the hill and seven athletes. That sets it up so we’ll have one coach that’s coaching (and) two others that are filming, and then we can come in and watch video right away. That’s something we’ve been striving for and continue to strive for, especially with the academy program.
SDN: Talk about the academy program. How is that different than the rest?
GS: It’s the flagship program, a year-round thing. We have skiing in April, May and June at (Loveland) Basin — we don’t pay to travel anywhere — and then we move into conditioning. We get back on snow in October and have great access to lanes very early. The people at Loveland do a great job getting us lane space so we can get out right away.
The fact it’s a year-round program is great. Ski racing, unfortunately, isn’t getting cheaper, and a lot of that is because the cost of chasing snow around the world is so high. We have athletes who have already put in 70 days just here, with no travel, and that’s very cool.
SDN: How does year-round training help young athletes? I’m sure you have to find a balance between progression and pushing too hard.
GS: You just see lots of improvement in the kids who take advantage of this unique opportunity. We’re looking at going other places, but that’s really just for the experience, not because we have to. A lot of other clubs are going to Mount Hood or South America or anywhere else because they have to. We don’t.
SDN: As a coach, how does it help to have nearly year-round access to Loveland?
GS: It just allows you to feel more based. Ski racing is such a travel-intensive sport, especially at the higher levels, so it’s nice to have a home base. You don’t feel forced to get on yet another plane to head off to yet another place. It’s not exactly more routine — it’s just consistent. And that’s nice because I’m always having close contact with the athletes. They’re never too far away.
SDN: Like you said, ski racing requires a ton of travel. How do you balance training with your skiers’ schedules?
GS: Some kids are half in school, half online, others are completely online, a few others are going to schools that are built around an athletic schedule. We’ve had a few athletes going to Golden High School that get out early in the afternoon and can finish classes online. We just make sure we work out a schedule that allows them to get on the hill and ski. Generally our kids are all very hardworking. That’s the thing with ski racing — it really does teach time management and independence. You have to go to school, get in the van, come train, head home, do homework and then do it all over again. These kids learn a lot about how to manage themselves as a person while managing a competitive ski schedule with school and the rest. If kids start to fall behind in school, we will take them off a training schedule. School is the priority.
SDN: Now that you’re at the halfway point of the race season, what are your biggest goals for the kids in your program?
GS: Our main philosophy is that we spend time on the process and the results will come from that. We obviously look forward to qualifiers — championships, all of that — and our goal is to perform our best on the snow. But the real goal is to make sure the training is good, the coaching is good. That came forward last weekend. The kids have had enough training volume that we’re now preforming. I want to see wins, no doubt, but the approach we have (taken) has led to results. It’s all part of the plan.
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