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Future ski stars spend summer on snow

This past week, the U.S. Ski Team took some time with alpine skiing’s rising stars. The National Development System (NDS) camp brought together the country’s top junior racers (ages 14 and up) at Mammoth Mountain in California for a week’s worth of training, conditioning and overall guidance.

The system, which has been in place since 2002, allows future stars to learn from some of the top staff in the sport before they make it to the national team.

Park City’s Derek Strand and Sydney Staples, ski racers for the Park City Ski Education Foundation, were among the 25 chosen to make the trip. Sydney, little sister of U.S Ski Teamer Kiley Staples, and Strand punched their tickets to Mammoth after skiing well at the J-II Junior Olympics in Aspen, Colo., this past season.

Leading the camps was U.S Ski Team National Development Director Walt Evans. Alumni like two-time Olympian and World Championships bronze medalist Jonna Mendes and U.S. Championships medalist Alex Krebs, as well as other national coaches were also there to work with the kids on the snow.

But the camp was more recognition for the top developmental athletes. The NDS camp also allowed the ski team to bring them together in an environment that fosters competition, growth and camaraderie. It’s the "best kids, best coaches and best mountain," said U.S. Ski Team press officer Doug Haney.

"When I was young, we didn’t have this," Mendes said. "I was a little ahead of kids in my age group, but I wasn’t able to get together with other top kids."

The camp’s main focus was to prepare the young racers for what’s coming next and what to expect if they make the national team.

"The NDS was created to be a resource to athletes, to be a stepping stone from their development programs to the U.S. Ski Team," Mendes said. "We’re hoping that competition creates synergy."

The camp’s schedule was a rigorous one. But the campers, most of whom are between the ages of 15 and 17, were ready for the level of discipline it required.

"This group of young ladies and young men are one of the most disciplined I’ve ever seen," Evans said. "These athletes are so focused and dedicated to learning the skills."

They were up around 5:45 a.m., headed out for a run or stretching, ate some breakfast and headed for the slopes by about 7 a.m. Skiing continued until 11 a.m. The afternoon consisted of stationary biking, ski tuning and dryland training. The evenings were focused on relaxation and rehydration after a demanding day.

The hard work paid off. Many of the athletes say that the camp was very beneficial. Strand said he benefited from spending time with top coaches and top athletes.

"Just being able to work with different coaches and ski with different athletes from around the country It’s been great learning things from new coaches," he said.

But his favorite part of each day was dryland training, where he learned new core-strengthening activities and other new methods to reach optimal physical condition.

For many of the athletes, some of the best experiences were working on basics and fundamentals actually breaking down the technical aspects of their skiing. That meant rather than just watching them race down the hill, coaches slowed the teens down to correct minute details. As one young athlete said, "you have to slow before you can speed up."

Mendes said that the youth have been "raising the bar," as they would challenge each other more and more each day.

They also learned how to work as a team. As athletes in an individual sport, Mendes said, it is their personal performance that gets them to the camp, but it’s their commitment to working together that helps them reach that next level.

"When they make it to the national team, they’re going to need each other," Mendes said. "I see that as a key mental aspect of getting these athletes together."

The U.S. Men’s Alpine Team also happened to be training at Mammoth the same week and the young athletes were able to spend some time and learn from them. The athletes spent one evening with U.S. Men’s Head Coach Sasha Rearick and Women’s World Cup Coach Chip White. National team athletes Scott Macartney, Tommy Ford and Will Brandenburg did some question-and-answer sessions with the young athletes.

Interaction with some of the best in the world is exciting for someone like Strand, who says fellow Parkite and Olympic champion Ted Ligety is his biggest inspiration.

"I’m coming from the same program," Strand said. "He’s definitely where I want to be some day. It gives me some confidence."

Strand hopes to use many of the things he has learned as he takes to the slopes next season. He said he put a lot into getting the most out of the camp, so he could bring a lot back.

"It perfects your skills," Strand said. "Breakthroughs are few and far between. The longer and harder you work, the bigger breakthrough you’ll have."

Evans said that the campers’ attitude showed how far have already come.

"It’s important to me that these young people are ambassadors for ski sports," he said.


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