Mendes staying busy in retirement
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – Up and on a ski lift at 6 a.m. is not necessarily the most promising start to a warm-weather day. But that’s the price promising young ski racers have to pay if they’re going to get some time on snow – and if they’re going to learn from a couple of “Been there, done that” retired medalists.
Nearly 50 up-and-coming Alpine racers concluded an eight-day National Development System training camp on Friday, June 16, which mixed training on-hill and off-hill drills learning correct techniques for racing and then correct technique for discussing it with the media. They got help from former Olympic champion Debbie Armstrong and World Championships medalist Jonna Mendes, a South Tahoe Lake native.
In its fourth year, the NDS program identifies young juniors (14-18 range) and provides an opportunity for a preseason on-snow camp with other promising racers and top club coaches nationwide as part of the national pipeline toward the U.S. Ski Team. The first camp was at Mount Hood, Ore., in 2003, with California’s Mammoth Mountain being the NDS site the past two years.
While the program is young, it’s already producing top young skiers, including 19-year-old Chris Beckmann (Altamont, N.Y.), the reigning junior world downhill champion, 18-year-old Megan McJames (Park City, Utah), who won three NorAm titles last season; and 21-year-old Truckee native Stacey Cook, who competed in the 2006 Olympics.
Kudos to Copper’s crew
“Copper Mountain race crews were incredible in providing support and working the hill so we had conditions that were as good as could be expected in this heat,” National Competition Director Walt Evans said. “The snow was challenging but we had a pretty good environment – 47 kids, 22 coaches, and quite a bit of conditioning and a lot of education in many ways…
“This focus was on giant slalom, but we rolled a lot of things into this week. We had an extremely good staff – 50 percent men, 50 percent women, which is pretty epic. It was a nice blend.”
Evans said one of the key ingredients to the NDS camp each year has been the wide diversity of participants. Clubs and ski academies from the East Coast to Alaska, not just the Rockies or Intermountain region, send their young skiers.
“My staff and the other coaches complement what a Burke Mountain or Green Mountain Valley School (Vermont), what a Rowmark (Utah) or a Steamboat Springs (Colo.) Winter Sports Club or Alyeska (Alaska) and Afton Alps (Minn.) have taught these kids. None of this happens in a vacuum,” Evans said.
In addition to learning with a blue ribbon collection of club coaches and Evans’ staff, participants were mentored by Armstrong, the 1984 Olympic giant slalom champion, and Mendes, who recently retired from World Cup racing after competing in two Olympics during a 10-year U.S. Ski Team career that included a bronze medal in super-G at the 2003 World Championships and four U.S. titles, including two in giant slalom.
“Debbie was here for seven days, working with the kids on snow and off,” Evans said. “And Jonna, having just retired, is someone they’ve grown up watching and following. She and Debbie talked with them about being a professional athlete, prioritization of time, and everything that goes into competition, not just between the start gate and finish line.”
Campers echoed Evans and his staff.
“It’s been great. Conditions have been good even though there’s limited space,” said 17-year-old Warren, Vt., resident Nolan Kasper, who won three silver medals at the 2006 National J2 Championships. “The staff has worked well in keeping us going and controlling conditions for us. It’s been fun.”
Evans said the program, which began with a 5 a.m. wake-up call and breakfast in their slopeside dorm, followed by the 6 a.m. chairlift ride, included racing tactics for giant slalom as well as a total fundamentals assessment. The participants underwent some physical testing to help provide baseline data for the NDS database. Mendes showed her off-snow skills by leading a merry on-mountain scavenger hunt to conclude the camp.