Park to coach U.S. at worlds
VAIL – Sunday, Nathan Park’s flight will land in Austria and he’ll head right to work.His job for the season should have been done late last month, but he’s willing to make an exception for a week in Bad Gastein, Austria coaching the American Junior Worlds boardercross team.Park, the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail coach, was tapped by the U.S. Snowboarding Team to lead eight riders along with Jon Casson of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.”I got a phone call and was actually at a Word Cup race in Lake Placid (,N.Y.) and (U.S Snowboarding Program Manager) Abbi Nyberg asked what I was doing,” Park said. “I told her when I was going back to Vail, and she asked me if I wanted to go on another trip to Austria.”An affirmative answer was an automatic for Park.”The last two years I’ve been trying to get that job, always e-mailing them, nagging them, saying, ‘You guys looking for anyone?” he said.For almost 10 years, however, Park was laying the groundwork that made it easy for the U.S. Team to make that call.Riding the pass wavePark, who was born in Vail, moved to Hawaii in 1989, and then came back to the area in 1996. Although he had surfed in Hawaii, the first time he went snowboarding was when he headed up to Loveland Pass in 1996.
“I got two boards from a friend and just trashed them,” Park said. “There was (very little) snow. I didn’t know better … it was so fun, just surfing down the hill, out of control, hitting rocks – I thought it was part of it. It wasn’t.”Soon enough, Park found his way on the actual ski mountain, and immediately worked his way into coaching.”I figured, ‘Why not teach?’ I was able to ride every day and keep focused, because I was working with kids and trying to make sure I did those drills, and teach myself those first few years.”In 1998, Park started racing boardercross and competed until 2001 in Swatch Tour events.”I just loved going fast, and that’s what I thought snowboarding was about,” Park said.Although boardercross was created in 1990, it didn’t really take hold until the late 90’s. Even then, Park said it was developing.”There weren’t really any coaches,” he said. “Two technicians would show up to races and everyone would hit up those techs. It was all of us riding the course, talking to each other.”While still competing, Park coached the Development Team at Vail, then in 2001, moved over to SSCV to start up a boardercross program along with SSCV snowboarding director Ben Boyd.In the first year, the boardercross program had about 17 kids, where this year, it has about 70, Park said.”I’ve been with some of those kids since they were 12, and some are in college now, and one is actually a coach with us,” Park said.
All-mountain ridersAlpine skiers can set courses for practice. Halfpipe riders head to the pipe. Those who compete in boardercross don’t quite have that luxury. You can’t really build a course for training purposes.”We tried that – it didn’t work,” Park said.There are plenty of ways to prep riders, though.”It comes down to fundamental riding,” Park said. “We work on going off jumps and absorbing the lip of the jump, coming in at a higher speed than they normally would.”Boardercross riders are just good snowboarders. They are the ones you can put up on the mountain and they like to go fast, ride anything and love snowboarding.”American Seth Wescott, who won a gold medal at the 2006 Games, is a great halfpipe rider, while fellow American Lindsey Jacobellis, who won the silver at the 2006 Games, is competitive in all snowboarding events.As diverse as most riders must be, they also need to have some thick skin and a short memory.”There’s some huge ups and downs in boardercross,” he said. “Kids will qualify in the top and, are so excited to get into the race, and right out of the gate in the first heat they’ll bump with someone and fall. Sometimes they’ll just qualify, and then win the race.”Showing, not coaching
At the junior worlds, Park’s job is geared towards analyzing and sharing and not breaking down a riders’ form.”There is more talk about line, giving (riders) input on what I think their race lines are going to be, their lane choices, race tactics and where you are going to make the pass,” Park said. “If you make the pass at the wrong time, bump into the other guy and lose your speed – that’s it, you’re done.”Even qualifying takes in-depth analysis.”At the top level, if you make a mistake in your line, you won’t even get a chance to race,” he said.Park is giving his athletes – which includes SSCV’s Kim Krahulec who will be making her second junior worlds appearance – some preflight orders.”We called the kids, told them, ‘Sleep up, rest on the plane, because when we land, three hours later, we’re on the course training,'” Park said.Both the guys and girls compete on Wednesday. After the season, Park will head to Costa Rica for most of the summer to surf. As for the future, Park hopes to stay in good contact with the U.S. Snowboarding Team.”That’s where I’m trying to go,” he said. “I’m definitely going to send out a few e-mails, and keep nagging them.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.