Coach of the Year isn’t a bad title, but King of the Shovel may be a bit more realistic, if you ask the US Ski Association’s current top coach, Jere Crawford.
To be named No. 1 in a large and talented field is a great honor, but not terribly relaxing, with the Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships fittingly staged on Coach Crawford’s home turf this past weekend. Held yearly, the best skiers in the nation competed in moguls, dual moguls and aerials for the coveted National Champ title.
Crawford was the man behind it all.
“Having Nationals at Heavenly is great, but it’s a lot of work,” said Crawford, who is head freestyle coach at the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard Foundation. “We have to build the aerial jump, which we start with a cat, but then there’s a lot of handwork to finish it. Same thing with the moguls course; we spend a lot of time with shovels doing the handwork. As Chief of Course, it’s my responsibility to make sure everything is safe, that the landings are good, the jumps chopped. It’s going to be on TV, so if something has to be on at 11, it has to be ready at 11 – not 11:01.”
Under the Chief of Course title, Crawford has previously designed and built courses for World Cup, Nationals, Junior Nationals, pro events and countless regional events in his 19-year coaching career. Last spring, he was selected top Domestic Coach of the Year by the United States Ski Association.
“They have another category for International; the domestic just means we don’t travel outside the US. The little plaque they were supposed to send me must have gotten lost in the mail, because I never got it,” said Crawford with a laugh.
During his career, Crawford sent several athletes to the U.S. Ski Team to compete at the World Cup level. Names like Brooke Ballachey, Travis Ramos, Chris Hernandez, Travis Cabral and currently, Sho Kashima, have all graduated from coach Crawford’s tutelage.
Jim Plake, father of legendary skier Glen Plake, is the Board President for the Foundation.
“In a nutshell, the Foundation and certainly our South Shore area, is privileged to have Jere here,” Jim Plake said. “There isn’t anyone more dedicated. He works diligently on the mogul course and has a tremendous amount of dedication. He works literally every day of the winter. I was out free skiing on Waterfall, and there was Jere with his shovel. We are unbelievably fortunate to have someone with this strong of a work ethic. Besides that, he’s a pretty darn good coach too.”
Crawford, who competed on the Pro Mogul Tour in his early days, claims he couldn’t do it without his right-hand man, Travis Woodcock.
“Travis was on my very first team the day I started coaching,” Crawford said. “He grew up on my freestyle team and now he’s been back coaching with me for six years. We work very well together and we co-coach everybody. I believe the more exposure the athletes can get to coaching, the better. Sometimes another coach will see something you’ve looked at all year, but can’t figure out.”
Several Crawford/Woodcock protégés competed in the Freestyle Championships —Kashima, Shanti Payne, Taryn Baker, Zach Shearer, Josh Sullivan and former Heavenly Foundation skier Jake Hickman. Hickman took sixth overall in single moguls, and Baker advanced to dual finals.
“My little team are pretty much specialists at moguls,” explains Crawford. “We usually get to train on Waterfall, which the resort has been nice enough to let us have for a practice hill. The kids like that there are maintained jumps, since air is such a big part of moguls competition.”
On a mountain with many good athletes, Crawford at age 57 and a veteran of two knee surgeries is still one of the best. But don’t tell him that…
“You must have seen me on one of my rare occasions away from the shovel,” he said with a chortle. “You know, when you get older, you don’t limp — it’s because both legs hurt.”
But when asked about the secrets to his successful coaching career, Crawford adds, “I just think keeping it fun, having a passion for skiing and giving it 100 percent everyday.”
And apparently owning a good shovel is equally important.