Hats off to Killington. The “Beast of the East” did a great job hosting the women’s World Cup slalom events last weekend, the first time these top level races had been held in the Eastern U.S. since 1991.
The mostly manufactured snow conditions were excellent; the crowds were outstanding — an estimated 15,000 each day, which is well beyond what other World Cup events in North America draw — and the network television coverage both Saturday and Sunday attractively showcased the host throughout the US and overseas.
Human interest? How about homegrown phenom Mikaela Shiffrin, the reigning slalom world champion, winning Sunday’s race with 95-year-old Polly Condron, who lives in the Berkshires, on hand to watch her granddaughter compete for the first time!
It was a winning weekend for Killington all around. And for the US Ski and Snowboard Association, too. They are hoping to see World Cup racing come back to the Eastern United States and its population centers regularly in the years to come. Last weekend made a good case for that. The schedule for next year will be released in May.
One person who would love to see the races come back to our area is John Norton, the new executive director of the Lake Placid-based New York Ski Educational Foundation. NYSEF organizes and sponsors ski training for competitors in Alpine, cross country, Nordic Combined, free style, biathlon, ski jumping and snowboarding events. And they do a pretty good job of it too. There are at least eight NYSEF athletes on US teams now.
Current Olympic Super G silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht from Lake Placid is a NYSEF alumnus, as is World Cup downhiller Tommy Biesemeyer from Keene. One of the best up-and-coming young women racers is 18-year-old Cecily Decker from Saranac Lake, now in her fi rst year as a member of the U.S. Alpine Team. The 2010 Nordic Combined Olympic Champion, Bill Demong, now retired from competition, was a NYSEF product, too.
Norton, who grew up in Loudonville, attended Shaker High School, and got his start in racing with the NYSEF program at Gore Mountain. He went on to compete for the Northwood School in Lake Placid and St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where he later coached. After a stint teaching and coaching at the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont, he moved to NYSEF in 2010. He was head of the program’s alpine program and assistant executive director of NYSEF when he was chosen last spring to succeed Jay Rand, who retired.
Rand, a Lake Placid native and 1968 Olympic ski jumper, had been a snow sports leader in the region for more than 30 years, serving as general manager of the Whiteface Ski Center before taking over at NYSEF in 2009.
As NYSEF chief, Norton is taking over a program that dates back to 1973 when the Whiteface Alpine Training Center was started by New York State. It became NYSEF in 1984.
There are 15 full-time NYSEF staff and another 90 are employed by the program during the winter season. Headquarters are in an attractive log building just uphill from the main base lodge at Whiteface. There is also a program facility at Gore Mountain and operations at Mt. VanHoevenberg and at the Olympic Complex in Lake Placid.
The regular NYSEF program now has more than 400 participants ranging in age from 7 to 20. There is a masters’ program too for those over 21. The focus is competition and for those with special skills and interest, NYSEF now sponsors a winter term in Lake Placid where serious young athletes can combine academic tutorials with race training. They are housed at The Olympic Training Center. There were 37 middle school and high school age participants in that program last winter. The hand-off from Rand has gone smoothly for his former associate.
“Jay did a great job heading the program for seven years,” said Norton last week. “My job is to build on that and continue to develop athletes to reach their full potential by providing quality training programs and top quality professional coaching.”
For those in year-round training, there is travel, including to Sweden and France in the past year. There were 30 racers at Sunday River in Maine over Thanksgiving. Currently there are 40 participants in Colorado. The weekends-only program this winter begins tomorrow.
Like in any sport, parents of talented young skiers are not surprised by NYSEF’s rigorous training and competition schedules. This is not your casual Sunday slide down the friendly slopes of a neighboring mountain. And while most those who enrolled will never make the World Cup circuit, the Killington weekend will give at least some the inspiration to try.
There won’t be the same buzz as the alpine races last weekend but there is plenty to enjoy at the Viessmann World Cup Luge event that comes to Lake Placid this weekend. Races are today and tomorrow at Mt. VanHoevenberg. This is world-class competition at its most intimate. These are the best luge athletes in the world and for spectators, the best part of the competition is how close you can get to the track and to the athletes.
The fi eld includes American Olympic veterans Erin Hamlin from Remsen, a bronze medalist in 2014, and two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake. Of special interest is the current top-seeded American men’s racer, Tucker West, a 2014 Olympian now on leave from Union College, where he is a sophomore. West, who holds the track record at Mt. VanHoevenberg, won this event in 2014 and was second to Mazdzer last year.
The doubles competition is fi rst thing this morning followed by the two heats of the men’s race, starting at 11:45 a.m. Events Saturday start at 9:30 a.m. with the women’s singles followed by the team relay.
Bill Enos, the Rotterdam native who began his on-snow career at the family owned Maple Ridge Ski Area, is back as Snowboard Program Director at the Black and Blue Trail Smashers Snow sports Educational Foundation at the Waterville Valley Academy in New Hampshire. Enos retired last year from the U.S. Ski Team, where he was the head slopestyle coach for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Two of his athletes, Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, won gold medals at Sochi.
A ski area management rule of thumb is that it should be 27 degrees or below for the snow guns to make snow efficiently. Warm temperatures have put a crimp on that effort lately so for now, check area websites or call first on conditions before the heading to the slopes.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected] .
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