Terry Delliquadri, Head U-14 Coach at Ski Club Vail, responds here to “Less Can Be More and Enough is Enough.” Terry is the real deal: 4-time NCAA All American for Dartmouth, USSA Level 300 coach, USSA Coach Instructor and Technical Delegate who served as USSA Rocky/Central Regional Development Director for 7 years. He makes some great points about both the need and challenges of getting more skiing, and ways to make the most of days on snow. This is also a great example of how a coach or program might answer questions about the team philosophy and goals. Thank you Terry!
“…Skiing is not merely a sport. It is a way of life.” ~Legendary Dartmouth Ski Team Coach, Otto Schniebs.
Bryce Astie’s father wrote an article recently about his late son: What separated Bryce Astle from most others. Some saw this as an argument against high skiing volume (summer training). I read it differently, imagining a kid who loved skiing so much he put in maybe 150 days a winter before he was 12 (1000 days with no summer skiing) and someone who finished training and went out free skiing to get some more. 150 days is a lot, 1000 days by age 12 is a lot. Skiing a lot is exactly what is needed to become elite and to get to the highest levels of ski racing.
Sports science experts tell us that there are windows of opportunity in every athlete’s growth and development where skills can be learned. Youth need to practice the skills of their chosen sport during those time periods in their life. If not, it is very hard to build the basic platform needed to excel. Some kids live where they can ski a lot. Others live where they only get to ski weekends or have a short season. If you can get in those 100, 125, 150 day seasons, you are getting it done. If you’re only getting in 50 or 60 days during the winter you need to ski in the summer.
I’m a ski coach not a sports scientist, but this makes sense to me. Below are the graphs showing those “windows of opportunity”:
Back in the early 90’s I was involved a little with Sci Club Sestriere. I went to Les Deux Alpes to help chaperone and coach 7 and 8 year olds at a ski camp in July. This was normal even so long ago. While in Italy I discovered that there really is no off season for ski racers. Their Juniors I noticed skied almost every month of the year. Norwegian men’s World Cup coach, Christian Mitter mentioned recently at a presentation to our Ski Club Vail coaching staff that everywhere he travels around the world the lines at the lifts are filled with eager and excited kids training for racing. More of these kids than ours here in the USA are growing up and competing on the World Cup circuit. Mitter’s Norwegian men’s team will train 75 days this off season. He’s been training the same core group since they were 15 and said they always practiced more than anyone else. Every time they moved to a higher level (FIS to Europa Cup to World Cup), he added more and more practice to their schedules. He explained that the Norwegian system below Europa Cup level was the perfect environment, a Wild West situation with little qualifying or selections, nothing to get in the way of focusing entirely on practice just to get faster. The reality is that even here for junior skiers there are really no important races. Those Junior Championships in March that everyone stresses out about become meaningless after 4 or 5 years. All that really matters is how fast you ski when you’re older. U14 and U16 trophies don’t carry a lot of weight at a FIS race, Nor Am or Europa Cup.
USSA has set training guidelines for the different age groups in the “Alpine Training System.” This has been put into a diagram which is below:
The group behind these recommendations were world renowned experts in sport, the sports scientists behind USSA’s record breaking Olympic performance in Vancouver in 2010. As head coach for Ski Club Vail U14s I use this chart as a guideline in planning our training for the season. We ski as soon as resorts open in Colorado in October. When local training opens up on Gold Peak in November we start full-time, 5 days a week until just before the last race weekend in April. We shoot for 50% free skiing as advised. Free skiing hones athletic movements not specific to any one discipline, consistent with what experts say is gained from kids playing other sports. These movements transfer well to elite level ski racing competition.
We schedule 26 days of skiing during our “prep period” from that last race day until we get back on snow again in the Fall. Most of this is local, free skiing weekends at A Basin during late April and May or morning camps on lingering snow left over from snowmaking stockpiles at Vail or Beaver Creek. An A Basin season pass costs $159 and Vail’s Epic Pass works there. We travel only for 15 days of summer ski camp in Oregon. Then we take 4 months off snow. Note, only 71% of our current U14 team skied during the off-season. The average number of prep period days skied by those who were with us even one day was 13 days.
Most of our U14s are exceeding those A.T.S.target numbers of days on snow (100 days). One major problem with following these guidelines and counting days is defining what exactly is a “day of skiing.” Many training days are partial day sessions, morning or afternoon. Some parents pick their kids up early and other kids spend a lot of time in the lodge. Some kids, like Bryce Astle, ski a lot on their own before or after training. It is possible for some kids to get enough extra runs in during any given training session that their effort after a week or two equals another “day” of training.
The most important thing within any program is building a culture of wanting to get things done, wanting to ski. Ski training shouldn’t be a burden. This is not swimming laps in a pool or running around a track. I love Buck Hill Ski Team’s culture of counting slalom gates. In that culture it is an honor to get in the most runs during a training period, a night, a week, summer. Go skiing when the lift opens and ski until it closes, ski a lot in season and you won’t need to ski as much in the off season. Clubs with a postive culture don’t have as many kids sitting in the lodge or getting picked up early. The kids I work with are asking for more camp opportunities, asking why they have to take days off in the winter and bummed when the ski season is over.
Summer camps are the ideal time to improve because of their very nature. It is all about the skiing. During in-season training the distractions are immense; school, homework, tests, parental pressure, sibling rivalries, results from the last race, stress about the upcoming race, qualifying, not qualifying, travel, winning, losing, fitting in socially with non skiing friends and more. At a good ski camp things narrow down to focused ski training with coaches and other racers, rest, conditioning, fun activities, tuning and repeat. So very much can be and is accomplished in this environment. Some coaches feel they can get the equivalent of another season with a good training block in the off season.
Probably my fondest memories are the times spent at spring and summer ski camps as a junior racer over 30 years ago. Summer ski camps were and still are a blast. On those trips we experienced so many new and exciting adventures. We were a bunch of small town Colorado kids skiing in June, July and August. Along the way we got to visit the beaches of Southern California, body surfing, trying to surf and playing beach volleyball and soccer. We explored the coast of Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge and we had killer dryland training sessions in the spectacular forests around Mt. Hood, Mt. Baldy and Mammoth (lots of running). We went rope swinging into the Salmon River, cliff diving into the Hood River, we climbed Mt. Hood and skied back down and we skied the backside of Mt. Baldy in Southern California after a day of GS training. We did so much more that had nothing to do with skiing.
My parents did not have a lot of money, nor did those of my friends but somehow we all were able to go to these camps. Somehow our coaches made it work by paying attention to the costs, going cheap, camping out, sleeping on floors, finding inexpensive housing, car pooling, who knows what. When we couldn’t afford the camps our coaches put us on kitchen crew or we cut firewood and built rock walls to pay our way. We even had one camp where we took 4 wheel roads into the Laramie Mountains on the border of Colorado and Wyoming, camped out and hiked to ski. We pushed each other on the hill, learned how hard we could push ourselves in dryland and gained the skills which took many of us far in the sport of skiing. The whole process of getting better was so much fun. We didn’t fly to New Zealand, Europe or South America but we got so much out of those days on snow. We all got a lot faster.
Go skiing—it is fun!! And you can’t get better without skiing.