Park City Ski Team members eager for first race
December 9, 2011
To 16-year-old Nigel Elliot, the season can’t come fast enough.
A seven-year veteran of the Park City Ski Team, Elliot said all the tedious off-season workouts and rigorous dryland training sessions should pay off when his team officially hits the slopes in the first Intermountain Division alpine ski race of the season, the 30th annual Eric Hays Memorial event, Dec. 15-18 here in Park City.
"I’m really excited to start racing," Elliot said, "but I also want a storm. That’d be sweet, too."
Elliot said he’s ready to chase his individual and team goals once he steps into his skis at the top of the PayDay run at Park City Mountain Resort next Thursday.
"It’d be cool to end up making the U.S. Ski Team and winning a bunch of races at J2 Nationals, but I mostly just want to have fun," he said, "and ski as fast as I can."
The Park City Ski Team, a nonprofit organization founded in 1972, offers a year-round opportunity to athletes who want to excel in alpine skiing.
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According to Jesse Hunt, executive director of the team, each race season presents its own challenges and provides a platform for showcasing young talent.
"The older group always moves on, but we’ve got a nice group of younger athletes that are now stepping up and we’ll see what they can do here this year," he said. "The energy has been really positive and the kids are really progressing and seeing what it takes."
Hunt said a busy off-season took ski team members to training camps at Mammoth Mountain in California in June, Mount Hood, Ore., in July, and south of the equator to La Parva ski resort near Santiago, Chile, in August.
Most recently, some ski racers returned from a Park City Ski Team training camp in Copper Mountain, Colo.
"Things are going great," Hunt said. "We had a great training period and I think all the kids stepped it up in terms of improving their strength and conditioning. The kids worked super hard this summer and they’re super motivated."
The team trains locally at Park City Mountain Resort and Hunt said PCMR’s Nov. 19 opening has helped the skiers get acclimated when the snowfall seems a bit behind schedule.
"Obviously, it was great to immediately get on snow with three open lifts; it was nice to get skiing here early," he said. "The kids are really excited. After Copper at the end of October, they had a little break and then quickly got back to business. They’ve already got some mileage on their legs."
Craig Bowden, the head coach of the J1 group of 19- and- 20-year olds at the Park City Ski Team, said he’s eager to see what this year’s group brings to the slopes in the Eric Hays event next Thursday through Sunday.
"They’re the older crew who has been around the most," said Bowden, who is in his second year coaching the J1s. "For a lot of our athletes, this will be the first race of the season and it’s just a good way to kick the season off.
"It’s going to be their first time in a long time in a competitive environment and I want to see these guys come out of the gates charging and match themselves up with their peers."
The Eric Hays event is a divisional race that will provide a platform for local alpine talents, including ski racers from Idaho and Wyoming. Hunt said the race is unique in that members of the Park City Ski Team J3 team generally comprised of 13 and 14 year olds will be competing against their J1 teammates who could be up to seven years their senior.
"It’s an annual event for us here and it’s a very important event in regards to getting the season kicked off," Hunt said. "We’ll see some college athletes that attend, and a wide range of levels and abilities. The cool thing is we can see a majority of our program competing against each other."
This year’s Eric Hays event will continue a tradition begun last year when the Friday night slalom takes place under the new PayDay run lights.
"We’re going to keep doing that because the kids have a good time," Hunt said. "We’re excited to continue on the legacy. It’s something we’re certainly invested in and we’re excited to see who takes the overall."
Being soaked in such rich tradition and having churned out many world-class ski racers may bring some added pressure, but Elliot said following in the footsteps of Ted Ligety, Bryon Friedman, Steve Nyman and others, is exciting more than anything else.
"I don’t really feel pressure from anything or anybody else," he said. "If I do feel pressure, it’s from myself."
"I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure from the program," Hunt added. "Our goal is to really just prepare the kids. If the kids have the talent and ambition, they have a chance. That’s our goal, to provide a chance."
Now that all those steaming summer days of dryland training are in the rear-view mirror, Bowden said he’s itching for the start of the season, which is scheduled to get underway Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
"Now it’s time to go head-to-head with other athletes in the division," he said. "It’s time to get going."