Carving on the razor’s edge |

Carving on the razor’s edge

Tom Boyd

Since the age of eight, Vail native Nathan Asoian has been one of Ski Club Vail’s top racers, and now he is ranked as one of the nations top-20 junior skiers in the nation. When the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey downhill and Super-G races come to town Dec. 6-7, Asoian will be forerunning for the second year in a row, carving turns on a downhill course that is commonly rated as the third most demanding in the world.”(Forerunning at the Birds of Prey downhill) just made me want it more,” Asoian says of last year’s foreruns. “It inspires the dreams, but also when you watch (the World Cup skiers), you can watch their technical side and then emulate them.”Asoian’s second day of forerunning the Birds of Prey last year landed him in the safety net unhurt after a crash above the Golden Eagle knoll. But rather than dash Asoian’s spirits, the experience gave him the bug to race even more than before.But, like Littman, Asoian has been forced to make a serious commitment at a young age, foregoing much of the freedoms of collegiate youth in order to accomplish his dreams as a skier.”You do get worn out, and in a sense my life has been pretty hectic,” he says. “I travel a lot, and I’m working out or whatever, but at the same time I ski race for a living, which isn’t too shabby.”Under the guidance of Ski Club Vail coach Ben Webster, Asoian has been focusing on developing the strength necessary to take more aggressive lines and employ more demanding techniques. The weight room may be as much the key to his future as training on snow, but despite the pressure and responsibility Asoian has taken on, Webster wants to ensure that Asoian doesn’t get overwhelmed on race day.”That’s my job right there motivating these kids and having them really enjoy the environment around them,” Webster says. “If they’re enjoying themselves and working hard, then doing the right thing falls into place.”And Asoian is well aware that he’s operating in the shadows of other Vail skiers who have gone on to race at the World Cup level. Thoughts of Mike Brown, Chad Fleischer, and many others can sometimes put added pressure on a young man who is already carrying the collective Olympic hopes of a ski-crazed valley on his shoulders.”There is definitely a lot of pressure,” he admits. “I think actually I’m having a hard time dealing with it.”As if being 18 years old isn’t tough enough on the average person, Asoian is in a position where he must take on more responsibility and pressure than many people ever deal with in a lifetime. He must prove to the U.S. Ski Team, which has already made gestures in his direction, that he is able to succeed in the face of adversity, in multiple disciplines, living a life of little rest, much work, and extensive travel.The Littman testThe question scrawled out on faded paper is simple: what do you want to do when you grow up? And the answer is written in clear, fourth-grade penmanship: Julia Littman wants to be an Olympic ski racer.Littman doesn’t remember writing down her lifelong dreams and goals during a grade school writing exercise, but when mom recently opened up a long-forgotten scrapbook, the memories of childhood dreams came flooding back.”Ever since I was really young I’ve been dreaming about it,” Littman says. “It’s always been a big thing for me and my family every four years, to get together and watch the Olympics.”More than 10 years after putting her thoughts to paper, Littman is still pursuing her dream. After seven years of grueling dryland training, weight lifting, film analysis and gate chasing at Ski Club Vail, Littman has become one of the valley’s most talented young racers. And now she has reached the pivotal zone, the land of limbo that coaches and ex-racers refer to as the most difficult period in a ski racer’s career.All-time U.S. men’s downhill World Cup winner Daron Rahlves remembers when he was 19, living a similar life to Littman and trying to find the funds, the passion, and the strength to commit to life as a ski racer.”It brings out how much you want it,” Rahlves remembers. “You see kids who have everything provided for them, and it just makes you want to crush them more.”Rahlves also says he deals with some of the same feelings now as he did then. Victory over Austrian skiers is made even sweeter, he says, because of their immense resources and coach-to-skier ratio.But there are lessons that come in that limbo period that become keys to success later on, he says.”It makes you grow up and learn some important life lessons pretty quick,” Rahlves says. “I worked on my own skis, I didn’t have a coach, I bounced around a lot everybody goes through it.”Still, sympathy is nearly impossible to find in the super-competitive world of alpine skiing. The gates are set, the racers race, the winners win and the losers lose.In the end there is the clock. The clock does not care if Littman tunes her own skis while her competitors have professional technicians working their skis before each race. The clock does not care if Littman is tired from a series of final exams at Middlebury College in Vermont. The clock does not care that Littman is only 19 years old, or that Littman may miss her Vail friends who have gone away to other colleges, or that Littman hasn’t had enough time to train on snow because she’s trying to balance an academic career with a full season of ski racing. The clock is the clock. And if Littman wants to become one of more than 25 alpine skiers to make the U.S. Ski Team from the ranks of the nationally-acclaimed Ski Club Vail, then she must overcome all adversity, take the right line, hold it, and slowly shave milliseconds from each competitive run.”She’s very focused, and she has pretty high goals,” says Littman’s coach, Ethan Beck. “If she’s going to meet those goals, then she needs to do the work and get it done, and right now she’s doing that. She’s in the weight room, cross-training, aerobic training, and doing ski-specific workouts.”In the meantime, she’s completing her first semester at Middlebury, taking classes in Spanish, economics, poetry and Asian religion.”She’s pretty driven both in the classroom and on the ski hill,” Beck says.And she has to be. Littman was recently listed as one of the top 20 junior racers in the nation by Ski Racing magazine coming in at 17th place overall behind U.S. Team members like Ski Club Vail’s Lindsey Kildow and the often-heralded Julia Mancuso.Continuing the SCV legendIf Littman and Asoian succeed in their goal to make the U.S. Ski Team, they will join the ranks of Vail’s legendary skiers. And sophomore Ski Club Vail director and former U.S. Ski Team coach Aldo Radamus certainly hopes that, like many others who have gone on to the team, they can act as ambassadors and emissaries for the club and the valley that produced them.”It’s our job as coaches to develop their dreams, to let them dream, encourage them to dream, and help them accomplish those dreams,” he says. After all, “We’re at the bottom of the greatest ski hill in the planet.”But Radamus is clear that the goals of the club are twofold: while they wish to continue the great tradition of cranking out world class athletes, they also want to, in the words of the vision statement on Radamus’ wall: “Be respected in the community as a leading youth development organization.”And for the dozens of kids who have the potential to eventually make the U.S. Ski Team, there may not be a better place to train and learn the art of skiing.For the hundreds of other kids, from age 5 and up, who are part of the club, the program is meant to build character, increase athletic ability, encourage a healthy lifestyle and provide youths with experiences that can help guide them through life.”We’re building this program from the grassroots up,” Radamus says. “We want to be a resource, a community asset for any youth, man or woman who wants to pursue competitive skiing, or snowboarding.”And if Radamus’ designs for the club come to fruition, the next wave of Vail athletes to hit the big time don’t necessarily have to be alpine skiers. New programs in alpine snowboarding, freestyle snowboarding, and freestyle skiing have broadened the club’s view of success.

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