Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s longtime Alpine race director wins prestigious U.S. Ski and Snowboard Award

P.J. Jenick earned the Paul Bacon Award for his contributions to the field of race organization

PJ Jenick has served as the Alpine race coordinator at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail for more than two decades.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

P.J. Jenick wants every Alpine ski event he runs to be perfect.

“We do it once in awhile,” Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s longtime race coordinator said. “But we get excellence in striving for the perfect race. … I’ll accept excellence.”

Jenick’s meticulous attention to details in organizing events at Golden Peak for the last quarter century earned him U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Paul Bacon Award last month in Park City. The award “is given to an individual or group for the greatest contribution in the field of race organization.”

“P.J. has provided a level of attention to detail and a desire for perfection in ski-race hosting that the club really didn’t have in a significant way prior to his coming on board as chief of race,” said Bryan Rooney, SSCV’s chief operating officer. “He’s just been instrumental in raising the bar so that Vail hosts some of the best races in the country, if not world.”

Jenick isn’t the first Vail-area recipient of the Paul Bacon Award — Bill Brown and Jimmy Roberts won in 1974 and 1999, respectively — but he is the first SSCV staff member to claim the honor. At the club’s internal awards banquet, Jenick also won his second Zella Gorsuch Award, presented annually to the person with the greatest contribution to the advancement of skiing in the Vail area.

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“It takes a huge team. And it’s not just me. It certainly isn’t just me,” Jenick said before crediting a long list of timers, groomers, course-setters and assistant race administrators. “The organization has to follow and flow. Sometimes I feel like I’m conducting the sixth grade orchestra and it’s the first week of practice — and other times it is relatively easy.”

Even though Rooney said Jenick’s promptness is “legendary,” the race coordinator took his time maneuvering through countless handshakes, hugs and compliments as he made his way to the podium at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard banquet in May. When he finally arrived, the national governing body’s CEO Sophie Goldschmidt leaned in and said, “Boy, you have a lot of friends!”

After a lifetime spent in skiing — in racing, sales, promotion, coaching and officiating — Jenick has a lot of stories, too.

From ski salesman to SSCV

Jenick was involved in the wholesale side of the ski business before he started at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail in 1998.

After graduating from Western State College in 1969, Salomon hired Jenick to create a service program with the U.S. and Canadian ski team. At that time, the company only manufactured ski edges and bindings. Eventually, Jenick helped establish a subsidiary in North America. He had no intention of leaving Salomon — that is until K2 offered him double the pay to do the same job in the early winter of 1974. Single and eager for another adventure, Jenick left Crested Butte and moved to Seattle.

“The whole race program needed rearranging, recharging and reshuffling, and they hired me to do that,” Jenick recalled.

“And then we ended up with names like Phil and Steve Mahre. … That ended up costing K2 two dirt bikes,” he said regarding the first ‘contracts’ signed by the high school phenoms who would go on to win slalom gold and silver at the 1984 Olympics.

“They were down home, down to earth,” Jenick added before embarking on another story involving the twin brothers.

“They looked the same, talked the same, had the same tone and inflexion — you really couldn’t tell them apart,” he continued. “Once they came to me at a World Cup race and they were first and second, but they had worn the wrong bib — subject to immediate disqualification. And they turned themselves in, and went, ‘well, that’s the rule — it was an accident. We screwed up, but it happened.'”

Throughout his tenure with both Salomon and K2, Jenick pined for a coveted sales position.

“The real money in the ski business at that time was in sales,” he said. “But they don’t come along very often.”

His first chance was a Chicago sales territory. It happened to be where his new bride, Jean, was from.

“We took it,” P.J. Jenick said. “And never looked back.”

The couple’s son, Cody, was born soon after and on skis before his second birthday. It wasn’t long before the future Battle Mountain state champion and CU skier needed stiffer competition than the Central Division offered. Meanwhile, Jenick’s job with K2 had evolved to include snowboards and inline skates.

“I’m working 24-7, 365, and I’m not having as much fun,” Jenick recalled.

He left his sales career and headed West. Having cut his race-organizing teeth with the Central Division’s mostly “parent-driven” model, Jenick salivated at the prospect of working alongside the professional staff from Beaver Creek and Vail Resorts when he walked into SSCV looking for work in the late ’90s.

“It was easy for me to jump in the middle and say, ‘let’s raise the bar here,'” Jenick said. “And it just kept morphing into treating every single ski race we produced, (even if) it was the smallest of the events we have. I instituted the same process in planning and producing a Vail Cup race that we did producing a NorAm or for that matter, the World Cup.”

P.J. Jenick looks out at a course set from the start house on Main Arena on Golden Peak in the early 2000s.
Courtesy photo

“At the heart of it, he’s really just wanting to support the athletes,” Rooney said. “No matter what age. His passion goes from 7 to 77-years old.” 

Angela Worrell, head coach of SSCV’s U14 and U16 part-time programs, has been on the receiving end. She said her first memories of Jenick date back to the early ’90s, before she was even living in Vail.

“I always admired and respected him because he was so organized and ran a top-notch race event,” she stated. After she moved to the valley in 2010, Jenick became an encouraging mentor to Worrell.

“Working with him was always professional,” Worrell continued. “P.J. took so much pride in his role at SSCV; he cares so much, and his attention to detail is going to be hard to replicate!” 

Jenick is motivated by putting himself in parents’ shoes as well as athletes’ boots; it helps him envision the perfect day:

“Mom and Dad have a smile on their face, they’re proud, the kid had fun, they had a good time all day,” he said, “And yet, they got to ski at 1 o’clock with the children.”

Leading the way

Sara Stevens from the Vail Mountain race department, stands with P.J. Jenick at the pair’s jury position for the U18 U.S. national championship downhill in 2023.
Courtesy photo

The last two years have seen Jenick organize the U16 Alpine regional championships and the U16 and U18 national championships as well. Plus, he helped with Golden Peak’s usual lineup of NorAm and FIS-level competitions. In addition to his role at the club, Jenick is a technical delegate with Rocky Mountain Ski Race Officials, where he’s served for two decades as vice president of the board of trustees. The group helps smaller mountains with fewer resources improve in all aspects of race organization.

“It’s a progressive organization and one the rest of the country looks at from afar,” Jenick said. “We’re definitely leading the country.” 

The precision, timeliness, excellent surface conditions and well-set courses don’t happen on their own, though.

Jenick, by his own admission, is a strict time budgeter. He holds high standards of attentiveness, even cracking one of his classic ‘dad jokes’ — “Here’s a buck so you can pay attention!” — when necessary. And while his zest for all things skiing — especially its history — often undergirds warm conversation, Jenick’s softer side is juxtaposed by a necessarily harder exterior. That personality trait is most apparent at his characteristically less-than democratic team captains’ meetings the night before a competition.

“I say, ‘this is tomorrow’s deal. It’s not a committee decision. I’m not asking for help. I’m telling you what we’re doing tomorrow,'” Jenick said, impersonating himself. “So, pay attention, be dressed and ready to go. And be early.”

When asked if he thinks he ultimately arrived at a job tailor-made for his personality and passions — or if he’s just always been nimble enough to figure things out on the fly, Jenick told a few more stories, most stemming from time spent with his dad.

“He had the gift of gab,” Jenick said of the former Eastern Ski Writers Association columnist and radio show host — who also was the head of his local YMCA.

“He always sort of figured out ways to make things happen, to overcome issues that came up that were unexpected … but (he) had some way to drive around them, punch through them, whatever the case may be.”

While Jenick isn’t officially ready to ride off into the sunset on his beloved motorcycle yet, he knows stewarding his SSCV post well means shepherding a successor.

“I really feel it’s time for some changing of the guard,” Jenick said. “I’m not walking away from ski club. I just want to step back and help where I can, help where I’m asked, help where I think is needed.”

These days, Jenick’s race department has become such a well-oiled machine, crew members have coined their own phrase for another satisfying event which meets their high standards: ‘regular good.’ In reality, it’s typically closer to ‘unusually excellent.’

And sometimes, it’s perfect.

After opening up the surface and watering, the hill is ready for a final groom prior to the 2023 U18 U.S. national Alpine ski championships.
Courtesy photo

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