The life of a ski coach — alpine, Nordic or freeride — might not be as James Bond as it sounds on the surface.
It’s putting up gates in the cold and snow before first light. It’s sleeping for several nights on pullout sofas in a condo unit shared with four athletes. It’s driving long hours, and dealing with the emotional highs and lows of racers who have experienced victory and defeat. It’s making sure everybody is well fed, rested and ready for optimal performance on race day.
Eight Far West Nordic ski coaches recently returned from a week with 28 local athletes at Junior Nationals in Stowe, Vt.
It was the culminating, high-stakes event of the season for all the coaches and racers, and it was cold in Stowe for much of the week. Very cold.
On race days, coaches Martin Benes, Mary Ellen Benier, Caitlin Bernstein, Gustavo Johnson, Mark Nadell, Jeff Schloss, August Teague and Holly Whitney could be found elbow-to-elbow in a 40-foot trailer that served as the Far West ski waxing station.
The pace was frenetic, with coaches wearing respirators to protect their lungs from the fumes while working five wax benches, trying to give their skiers the competitive edge by matching the wax to the most current snow conditions.
Sugar Bowl Academy senior Bria Riggs said that Benes gave much more than elbow grease throughout Junior Nationals. When it comes to easing the tension of competing on the big stage, the interpersonal tools in the coaches’ toolkits can be difference-makers for the athletes, too.
“No matter how my race went, I was always greeted with a hug and a ‘good job’ at the finish line,” Riggs said. “And even after endless hours of waxing to ensure that Far West had the fastest skis in the nation, Martin was meeting with everyone of us individually to make sure we all could be well prepared for the morning’s race and cracking jokes to lighten the mood at meal time that was otherwise suppressed by the nerves of all of us athletes.”
Truckee High sophomore Lizzie Larkins offered her praise for Nadell, saying: “Whether he is capturing stunning photos or working on the wax bench or making you laugh at a witty remark, he is always there for support and has an infectious attitude and outlook on life.”
Hannah Halvorsen, a Sugar Bowl Academy sophomore who came home with two podium finishes at Junior Nationals, said that Schloss was, and remains, “an amazing inspiration for me as a coach and as a person as well.”
“He demonstrates kindness, selflessness, dedication, and joy in everything he does,” she continued. “He has been a crucial figure in my improvements as an athlete.”
Common themes emerge from the comments about their coaches made by athletes who qualified and competed at Stowe to represent Team Far West, which had one of its best overall score totals in years.
Jenna Rohlf said of Benier: “You can always count on her cheering you on and picking you up when you are down.”
Dylan Syben cited Teague’s “untiring positive energy,” while Casey Jobe was grateful for Bernstein’s “support and helpful advice.”
Aaron Deeter recalled a story about Johnson: “After a long day of coaching and wax testing, Gus was still able to find energy to share a laugh with our roommates as we joked at the ridiculousness of WWE wrestling on TV.”
They may not feel like it when they’re working away at the wax benches in sub-zero temperatures, but, to their understudies, ski coaches are much more to them than a James Bond figure. They are calculating, but they are anything but cold — unless talking about the temperature outside.