Vail Daily column: Freeski Program reaches new heights
Following USSA Freeski Club of the Year honors in both 2013 and 2014 the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail freeski program continues to set the standard among the more than 300 USSA clubs in the nation.
At one end of the spectrum is the Rookie Team, offering one- to three-day-a-week programs for athletes ages 8-12 focusing on park and pipe and/or all mountain skiing in the Lil’ Big Mountain program. At the other end of the spectrum are Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s freeskiing Olympians and X-Game competitors. In between lie a variety of part-time and full-time offerings for ages 13-18.
Widely considered to be one of the handful of top freeskiing coaches in the world, Elana Chase, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Freeski Program director, has never been one to be satisfied. Elana continues to develop program offerings that encourage children to achieve their personal bests at all levels of the sport.
The next generation
Several Ski & Snowboard Club Vail freeski athletes competed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. To create a steady stream of athletes aspiring to be Olympians, Elana focused on creating a grass roots full-time freeski program for fifth through seventh graders at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in park and pipe and big mountain. Introduced in 2015 the program has expanded to include even more young full-time athletes for the 2016 season.
Full-time freeski coach Bob Sonntag leads the development level athletes in the park and pipe freeski group. Bob is the glue for the program as coach, role model and mentor, focused on developing the next generation of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail freeski champions.
Role models and leaders
As the freeski team commits to excellence on and off snow, two full-time freeski athletes exemplify the team culture.
Paula Cooper, an 11th grader at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, started her snowsports career as an alpine racer. In spite of her great success at a very young age, she made the decision to switch to freeski park and pipe three seasons ago. Now a veteran world traveler and World Cup competitor, Paula has assumed a leadership role among her teammates.
While in France for a recent training camp, Paula’s positive attitude on and off the hill, her commitment to keeping up with her school work and her continued courage pushing her limits to try new tricks made it into an incredibly productive camp for her. It was by her example, her teamwork and leadership that she also helped make the experience better for every athlete on the trip.
Sammy Schuiling is in his second year as an Ski & Snowboard Club Vail full-time freeski athlete and a sophomore at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. It is not always easy for a young, talented athlete who looks and performs beyond his years to interact with an older peer group with humility and grace, particularly in a brand new setting. It has been extraordinary to watch Sammy grow into a role as a quiet and respected leader over the past year. Through his ability to push himself in the gym, on a trail run or during a trampoline session he is an example for others to follow. He is poised for a break out year and emerging with a strong set of tricks as one of the top junior athletes in the country. Most importantly, he is developing a championship set of character traits to complement and support his athletic successes.
It is through Elana and her staff’s hard work and commitment to each and every one of their athletes and developing these same character traits that great things continuously happen in the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail freeski program. An exciting season lies ahead for the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail freeski team with countless opportunities to demonstrate character, courage and commitment both on and off snow.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.