Kirk Dwyer, Mikaela Shiffrin’s former headmaster, begins new position at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail
EAGLE COUNTY — Mikaela Shiffrin is once again living near her former headmaster, as Kirk Dwyer has moved to the Vail Valley and joined Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
The club’s new executive director began work in July, hitting the ground running with meetings of every sort. As he moves into his first season here, things are looking as good or better than they ever have for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, with 600 athletes and an experienced staff fully committed to the 2016-17 season.
It’s a scenario that differs drastically from the situation Dwyer found when joining Burke Mountain Academy 15 years ago.
“When I went to Burke, I had to enact significant change because Burke was at a point in decline,” he said. “When you come into a program that’s successful, you’re looking more for evolution and to retain a lot of your leadership.”
Dwyer says the head coaches for each of the snow sports disciplines at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, as well as the development office and the academic leadership staff, has been built out so successfully under former Executive Director Aldo Radamus that the goal at this point is simply to retain those people each year.
“They’re all experienced, and they all returned,” he said of the staff this season.
THE DAY-STUDENT ADVANTAGE
Another situation that differs drastically from what Dwyer experienced at Burke is that Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and their partners in the Eagle County school system — Vail Mountain School and Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy — do not use the boarding school model. Students here are day students — they attend school during the day, then return to their parents’ or guardians’ homes to sleep at night.
That means students don’t have large blocks of time where they’re forced to be away from the resources of the school in order to spend time with family, as most students get a little family time a little each night.
Here, “you can become more creative with the calendaring,” says Dwyer. “You can mesh the athletics and the academics better, and that can enhance both academics and athletics.”
Through research and in working closely with top athletes, such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Dwyer has become a firm believer in the practice of the periodization model of training the body and the mind — intense training, followed by time away from that training — or “A few weeks on, a few weeks off.
“Off,” however, doesn’t mean doing nothing. It just means prioritizing the other area on which you’re focusing. For students these two areas should be, according to Dwyer, body and mind.
“So it doesn’t necessarily need to be four weeks of academics and then a week off,” says Dwyer. “It could be four weeks of academics, then a two-week ski camp, and then you go back to academics. That variety allows for growth.
“Both in cognitive development or learning and physical development, the underlying foundations and basis for how people learn or progress, are very similar,” he added.
In 2015, When it because apparent that Radamus was going to retire, a search committee got underway for a new executive director.
Jeff Kirwood, a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail parent and Vail local, was on that search committee, and knew Dwyer from Dwyer’s days as assistant headmaster at Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont. Dwyer was also the head men’s ski coach and coached Kirwood.
“I’ve known him for 30-plus years,” Kirwood said. “And I believe he has a mindset that will continue to build upon the momentum we already have a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, and take us to the next level.”
Kirwood says Dwyer is very quantitive and analytical in the way he uses the periodization approach.
“He approaches it methodically,” Kirwood said. “I think it’s groundbreaking.”
The prime example, says Kirwood, is Mikaela Shiffrin.
“(Dwyer) believes in resting more than other coaches believe,” Kirwood said. “Mikaela raced a lot less than all of her peers, and raced a lot less than the kids did at Ski Club, and she focused more on training. That training is a critical component of performance, and so (Dwyer) focuses on that a lot, which is very different.”
Dwyer says it’s all in the balance.
“It’s how you mix the rest and the stress,” he says.
As a final variable thrown into the equation for Dwyer to analyze, the training itself, even if identical to the way it is being performed on the East Coast and other areas, could be more intense and sustainable due to the geography of our area.
“(Periodization) can work better here,” he said. “There are greater demands because of training in altitude and in general, we should be able to ski more than the rest of the country due to the longer season.”
GOLDEN PEAK EXPANSION
Dwyer’s top priority as new Executive Director is to see through the expansion of Golden Peak, a project that Radamus said has been “two years away for over three decades.”
With a proposal submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, the project now needs a proper hydrologist review. Unfortunately, the Forest Service can’t exactly phone up their staff hydrologist and schedule a visit to Golden Peak.
“The Forest Service doesn’t have the funding allocation, at present, for the hydrologist, so we are going political,” Dwyer said. “And it might be that it’s more productive to go to the Secretary of Agriculture rather than the legislative body, but what we are trying to figure out right now is what would constitute the greatest good, and we really need to expand our training.”
Company officials say every aspect of Vail management is now focused on attaining the company’s goal of achieving a zero net operating footprint by 2030. Vail Resorts calls the plan their “Commitment to Zero,” and defines it a zero net carbon emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfills, and zero operating impact on forests and natural habitat.