New coach takes over young snowboarding program at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail
VAIL — Coaching young snowboarders these days is like sitting in the front row of a movie theater. You’re constantly looking up.
This season Michigan native Chris Laske is looking up as he takes over the snowboard program director duties at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, helping a young team of high flyers progress their skills in the air. After all, that’s where much of the competitive end of the sport takes place these days.
“With our trampoline room at VSSA and the airbag in Vail, we have everything set up to take kids from a good level to a great level,” Laske said.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not focused on the ground, as well. Laske has hired on former pro snowboard cross racer Brooke Shaw for the disciplines that involve racing.
“Our three big disciplines are boardercross, pipe and slope,” Laske said. “We’re trying to grow the program across all three.”
To do that, he’s looking for talent close to home.
“My main focus is to try to attract kids out of Eagle County,” he said.
As a guiding light, Laske is looking toward what Freeski Program Director Elana Chase has done with her program over the years. Freeskiers and snowboarders compete in many of the same events.
“When Elana took over the freeskiing program five years ago, I think her numbers where about what mine our now, I have about 30 athletes,” he said. “Now she has 130 athletes; it would be pretty cool if she could see some growth like that over the next couple years.”
With athletes like Kaitlyn Farrington, who won gold in halfpipe at the 2014 Olympics, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s snowboarding program has turned out some top-level snowboarders. But Laske says his plans include focusing more on the kids at the bottom of the program.
“Now our program is more set up with younger kids, trying to grow them to the higher level,” he said.
The kids are usually on snow for a few hours in the morning, and in school and in the gym in the afternoons and evenings. On Saturdays they spend all day on snow. On Tuesdays, they’re off snow and in the tramp room and hitting the gym at the Minturn Fitness Center.
“We have a step-by-step process,” Laske said. “If kids want to learn how to do a new trick, we take them into the foam pit, then the trampoline, then they go to the airbag, and they they’re ready to take it on to snow. With that set formula in place, you see a lot less injuries.”
Another tool of the trade is a common sight on the mountain these days, the GoPro.
“Our coaches pretty much film the kids every time we ride,” Laske said.
They dedicate a few hours per week to reviewing that footage, on Tuesdays usually, when the kids have their day off snow. Laske also plans to use those film clips to keep parents in the loop.
“Instead of being in communication on a weekly basis, we can send out an email every night talking about what we did and sharing video,” Laske said. “I feel like my growth is going to happen from parents being really stoked and happy with the attention that their kids are getting through the program.”
Ian Kalapos, 15, is currently one of Laske’s athletes. Kalapos’ parents moved him out to Eagle County from Michigan five years ago to focus on snowboarding.
“He has a really great understanding of trick mechanics,” Ian’s father, Steve Kalapos, said of Laske. “To be able to watch it, see it and then explain it out to somebody is really a gift.”
Steve Kalapos says he appreciates Laske’s efforts to film the athletes.
“There’s a dual purpose with the film,” Kalapos said. “I will say, as a parent, it’s very nice to see first hand what they’re working on, because we’re not out on the hill with them. But it’s mostly for the athlete’s benefit — things happen so quickly in a trick. Sometimes the difference is six inches of your chin, are you looking six inches up or six inches down? That can be the difference in completing a trick and to have that on film, slow it down, show the athlete and let them see what they’re doing can really help.”