Vail’s Matt Underhill’s Opportunity Racing helps rising stars stay with the program
VAIL — Matt Underhill is surrounded by teenagers and has never been happier about it.
Underhill worked with them at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail to take care of them and as they aged out he decided to launch a program to keep taking care of the kids and their World Cup ski racing aspirations. It worked.
Opportunity Racing’s entire team is in Europe competing the FIS Junior World Alpine Ski Championships.
“My whole current team either qualified or is going to the worlds,” Underhill said.
One is injured, Matt Macaluso, who competed in the worlds last year. He’s ranked No. 1 in the world super-G for racers his age.
Most of them have a few more years with Underhill before they turn pro, join a national ski team or compete in college.
The six are about the same age, 18 and 19 years old.
Jacob Dilling is one. So is River Radamus and about a half dozen others.
Dilling and Bridger Gile were born four days apart and both made junior worlds. They train with Cooper Cornelius and Kyle Negomir, who also made the trip. Negomir is 11 months younger. Cornelius is 3 months older.
Dilling was sitting on a plane in Denver ready to take off for Europe when the Vail Daily caught up with him. It’s his first trip to the worlds.
“I’ve been with Matt for six years with SSCV and this year with Opportunity Racing,” Dilling said. “No regrets. It’s all gone well so far.”
Dilling is competing in three disciplines: super-G and slalom, and alpine combined. Super G and slalom are the yin and yang of alpine events.
Seven years with Bridger Gile and Kyle Negomir at SSCV and now Opportunity Racing, Nellie Talbot was such a dominant skier that there was no place for her, so she skied with the men, Underhill said.
“I wanted to stay with them and see it through,” Underhill said.
When you spend that much time with your team, it becomes an extended family. Underhill sees them through sorts of life passages, from puberty to prom and family traumas.
“Being with these guys, I’ve watched their entire career,” Underhill said.
Cornelius is part of it. So is Negomir, who competed in last year’s worlds. River Radamus is around. He has been with the US Ski Team for a few years and competed in this season’s Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek.
River Radamus is a three-time Youth Olympic Games gold medalist.
“River has been a leader in ski racing for these young guys,” Underhill said.
Underhill skied that run
Underhill was on that track. He competed as an elite junior athlete.
“I was injured early and was unable to pursue my dreams,” Underhill said.
He started coaching at a relatively young age at Alyeska, Alaska, where he lived at the time.
“In a small club like that I was able test theory. You get to try all kinds of things when you can start with young kids from 13 and 14 years old, and stay with them through the end of their junior careers at 19 and 20,” Underhill said. “When you have that much time, you can see it through to the end and how they react to it.”
Pretty well, is how they reacted.
Former SSCV director Aldo Radamus recruited Underhill from Alaska to Vail to bring along the men’s alpine program. SSCV has enjoyed all kinds of success with their women’s and freestyle programs. Aldo Radamus wanted SSCV to enjoy that level of success with the men.
Vail suits him.
“We have access to so much more, everything from equipment to facilities to exposure to higher level competition,” Underhill said.
Underhill is occasionally criticized for what he calls “chasing pace” and pushing his athletes so hard at a young age. He responds that one of the best ways to get better is to compete against people better than you.
“They finish behind someone and at that level and say, ‘That’s where I need to be.’ It pushes them,” Underhill said.
“They can get hurt. Risk is part of the game, but so is reward,” Underhill said “It’s challenging to stick with that part of the plan. When other people weren’t sure what I was doing, I always was.”