OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — When Julia Mancuso stepped onto the podium to receive gold at the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, her childhood coach, Dick Banfield, watched from the stands and cheered.
Before Marco Sullivan placed ninth in his race at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Banfield rode the lift with him to the top.
Over the course of 30 years coaching skiing at Squaw Valley, Banfield has watched athletes grow up on the mountain to enjoy the most golden of international successes.
“What we’ve always tried to do is teach kids to love the sport,” Dick said. “I never set out to create Olympians — it was just to go out and have fun.”
Jim Hudson, director of Youth Development at Sugar Bowl, remembers skiing with Mancuso before she moved to Park City, Utah. He said he learned a lot about coaching from the young skier.
“She was always trying to do things that would help her to be better,” Jim said. “The way she would ask questions or do things really allowed me to be a better a coach.”
Both coaches remember skiing with Mancuso, Sullivan and fellow skier Travis Ganong at Squaw nearly 25 years ago.
“We deliver really good skiers and they all feed off of each other,” Banfield said.
In the last 30 years, Squaw Valley coach Mark Sullivan said he has watched 70 Alpine skiers advance to the U.S. Ski Team, and more than 20 have gone to the Olympics — Mancuso, Marco Sullivan and Ganong included.
“Success leads to success — it’s cool to be around,” Mark Sullivan said.
From a young age, ski team children are able to watch accomplished skiers on the same mountain and find inspiration in their idols.
“I think the fact that they can be training right next to people who are Olympians is inspiring,” Mark Sullivan said. “It shows them that it’s possible, it’s not just something you see on TV.”
At Squaw, many kids start skiing about the same time they start reading or riding a bike. They join Shooting Stars and Mighty Mites, Squaw Valley’s youth ski programs, at age four, and many stay on well into their teenage years.
“To watch the whole process is fantastic,” Sullivan said. “You get to ski with these kids and watch them grow up.”
Sullivan has watched the program grow tremendously during his three decades as a coach. Today, nearly 100 coaches work with 1,700 kids on the Squaw Valley team.
The satisfaction of watching an athlete win a race is a small part of the job, Hudson said. Helping skiers develop confidence and a belief in themselves is the most fulfilling part.
“I enjoy it thoroughly,” he said. “Just getting to see them smile … it’s just an enjoyment of being around youth.”
Banfield agrees that his career skiing with kids has been fun every day. Both he and his wife have coached skiing at Squaw for 30 years and don’t have plans to retire.
“I always thought I’d quit when I coached the kid of a kid,” he said of the second and third generations now coming through the program. “But it turns out it’s even more fun.”
Banfield volunteered at the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Torino and in 2010 in Vancouver. This year, the coach won’t be at Sochi, Russia. He wants to stay close to Squaw and ski with the up-and-coming athletes.
“There’s a whole bunch of kids out there knocking on the door, just behind these three athletes, who are poised for the next Olympics,” he said.
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.