Rookie athletes schooled on life in USSA
Looking back on the annual United States Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) Rookie Camp held last weekend, Luke Bodensteiner said he doesn’t expect another eclectic group of young athletes like that in the near future.
Here’s why: When a multitude of freeskiing and freestyle ski and snowboard events were adopted into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the USSA adopted some of the top young athletes in the country who will one day sport the red, white and blue on various international stages.
"I don’t know if we’ll be able to have that kind of mix again," said Bodensteiner, the executive vice president of athletics for USSA. "It’s fun all around to have these new sports incorporated with us. This one was really fun because we had a really interesting mix of ages and athletes at different stages of their careers."
Athletes representing sports such as snowboardcross, slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, ski halfpipe and freeskiing were part of the new group at the rookie camp.
The three-day camp that commenced last Thursday featured various team-building activities such as an afternoon at the ropes course at the National Ability Center and soccer games at the Quinn’s Junction Complex, as well as meetings with some of the prominent members at USSA.
"The main purpose of the camp is to give them an orientation of the team, how we operate and how we raise funds in support of them," Bodensteiner said. "We give them a pretty good look at our business model and give them a breakdown of what we expect of them as team members. There are a lot of education and career programs and it’s important as an incoming rookie to realize what they have in store."
Along with meetings and briefings, the group of 45 athletes — 35 of whom were freestyle and freeskiing athletes — were taken on in-depth tours into USSA’s Center of Excellence, where they were introduced to all the high-tech offerings at the center such as many different options in the sports sciences to hyperbaric chambers and training areas.
Fourteen-year-old halfpipe and slopestyle snowboarder Kyle Mack of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said he paid his first visit to the Center of Excellence last summer when he was invited out for a few days to check out the facilities.
But now that he’s officially part of the team, he’s chomping at the bit to use it.
"It was amazing," said Mack, who was the youngest athlete on the 2011-12 Dew Tour to qualify for the final round of an event. "I’m really excited with how they want to help us, and all the different activities they think will help get us going. It’s all new."
Gabe Ferguson, 13, of Bend, Ore., is another young halfpipe snowboarder who, much like Mack, was in awe of officially being part of USSA. Before participating in the team-building activity at the National Ability Center Thursday, Ferguson said he got a few turns in at the Park City Skate Park.
"I’ve been to a lot of snowboard camps with a lot of kids," he said, "but this is the first one that’s been during the summer when I didn’t have to bring a board bag."
For Jacqueline Hernandez, a 19-year-old native of Londonderry, Vt., and a snowboardcross athlete, being part of her first USSA camp was a glimpse into the future of her sport and career. Hernandez ended the 2011-12 season with a bang, winning the last World Cup race of the year in Valmalenco, Italy, in March. It was just her sixth World Cup event.
"It’s been good to meet everybody," she said. "I think definitely the experience of hanging out with all the other rookies has been great."
According to Bodensteiner, USSA typically makes it a point to mix veterans with the rookies during the camp and afterward. This year’s group already had a slew of young successful pro athletes. Along with Hernandez, Parkites Alex Schlopy, Sage Kotsenburg, Tom Wallisch and Ashley Battersby were part of the three-day camp, together with veteran stars such as Bobby Brown, Sammy Carlson and Grete Eliassen, among others.
"This was a deep class and, given that these rookies, so to speak, are really established in their careers already, it’s already good to incorporate the younger kids and let them have another form of inspiration as well," Bodensteiner said.
Bodensteiner said as USSA has expanded its talent pool with new athletes and different sports, the organization has been planning on providing another avenue for the high-school aged athletes to earn their diplomas. The USSA Team Academy is scheduled to come online in August.
"We know we keep throwing more and more in terms of travel and training, and it makes it really hard to get through high school," Bodensteiner said, "so we’re putting in a high-school program that will be delivered at Center of Excellence for our team athletes."
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