U.S. Teamers seek precision at Loveland
LOVELAND – There’s no such thing as the offseason for members of the United States Ski Team. While Summit County residents are dusting off their boards and getting their snow legs back this time of year, U.S. Team skiers are already refining their tactics and getting ready to race.
Nearly every World Cup and Europa Cup racer from the U.S. Team is working on giant slalom training this week at Loveland Valley. America’s race season kicks off there Nov. 13 with the 2002 Alpine Cup, which features World Cup athletes competing in men’s and women’s GS and slalom.
“We’re ready to race,” said U.S. men’s alpine coach Mike Morin. “The boys have had between 40 and 45 days on snow since May. We’re going to dust off the cobwebs now.”
Coaches point out that speed skiers and slalom skiers can each benefit from intensive training on the GS course.
“We use giant slalom to refine our technical base,” said U.S. men’s alpine head coach Phil McNichol. “In good giant slalom skiing, you use the same biomechanics, the same techniques as every discipline. You can use it for any downhill skier, as long as they have the added components – that balance with the terrain, and the balls or courage to go fast. Having the basics and sound techniques in giant slalom helps them take full advantage of their speed attributes.”
The speed team training at Loveland includes Frisco’s Jake Fiala, fellow 2002 Olympian Marco Sullivan, Scott Macartney, Brett Fischer and Wade Bishop. The technical team, including Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves, begins training next week prior to the Alpine Cup. Most skiers from both tech and speed disciplines are trying out new gear, for which service technicians are on hand during the long training days also preparing for the competition season.
“For training sessions like this, we have more than one pair of skis for every athlete,” said Dave Coombs, who, as a service technician, goes everywhere with the U.S. Team. “They’re trying out brand new stuff. At this level, it’s pretty specialized. The way ski design has gone, there’s a consistency with everything, especially with the tech skiers. It’s pretty standard, but incredibly precise.”
As much as people will say “equipment doesn’t matter,” it does, especially when it comes to World Cup racing, according to U.S. coaches. The U.S. Team skiers have the newest and the best of big-name gear, and for good reason.
“The material that comes out of the factory is our biggest tension,” McNichol said. “We see that we get the best material and the newest technology. Still, the pilot is what dictates the speed. But, if you take (Michael) Shumacker, and put him in a crappy car, he probably wouldn’t win. That’s the reality of it. As you’re developing racers, if they’re bitching about the equipment too much, they’re probably not focusing enough on their job of steering and tactics. It’s a delicate balance. But you have to admit that equipment is going to have some ramification on winning and losing.”
With their new equipment dialed in, U.S. Ski Team athletes’ training will consist of race simulation from now through March.
After the Nov. 13-17 Alpine Cup, the men’s team continues the World Cup circuit in Lake Louise, Alberta, then on to the infamous Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, then at various locations in Europe through February.
“We trained all of August, some of September, most of October, and from the first of November on, it’s pretty much the silly season,” McNichol said. “We add a lot more intensity in the training. Speed from top to bottom is what matters. We still give technical feedback and look at video tapes, but it’s a lot of tactics. You want the best speed formula to run with the fall line down the hill. There’s so many variables when it comes to speed and timing. Everything is separated by hundredths (of a second). The precision is mind-boggling.”
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