Welcome to the mountain
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK ” Every youth ski program would love an Olympian or two in its alumni directory.
The Buddy Werner program has a few other things on top of its wish list.
“Our goal is not to make racers, per se, but lifelong skiers who love to ski,” said Stacey Coulter, treasurer and race administrator of the local Buddy Werner branch that runs out of Beaver Creek. “We want them to have fun, become independent, courteous, safe and really good skiers.”
So while there are countless high school skiers who cut their teeth in giant slalom races with the Buddy Werner program, there are also ski instructors and coaches who spent their Saturdays on the hill learning what they would soon enough be teaching.
“I think about it all the time,” said Molly Marquez, referring to her days as a Buddy Werner skier. Marquez now coaches for Purgatory Ski Club in Durango. “It’s fun to be on the other side.”
This year, there are about 150 kids ages 7-14 in the local Buddy Werner, which is the largest of the statewide program. On Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., the kids are up on Beaver Creek for a day of instruction and racing. In groups of about eight to 10, the kids spend half of the day freeskiing and half of the day race training.
Before learning how to ski gates, the kids get a lesson in mountain
“We talk about respect,” Coulter said. “We tell them we’re lucky we can ski on the mountain, and we have to be respectful of those around you.”
With the kids vested in the knowledge of what to do on the hill, the parents can breathe a bit easier when letting them ski on their own.
“It allowed my parents to be OK and say, ‘We feel comfortable with you on the mountain with your friends,'” Marquez said.
It’s the parents, however, who are showing the kids exactly what to do in the first place.
“We’re entirely volunteer-based ” there are no paid positions,” Coulter said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been involved. There are a couple different guys on our board who have been on for 27 years and haven’t had kids in the program for 20.”
Michael Haselhorst has been involved for 23 years and loves to be an active board member of the only volunteer Buddy Werner program.
“I know they are having fun and getting a pretty good education,” Haselhorst said.
Haselhorst understands that basic skiing knowledge is key, but he also wants the kids to know enough about racing to be competitive. And any kids who fall in love with racing are just fine.
“I’ve seen kids who have no interest, and the next year they want to be a racer,” Haselhorst said.
All the work
Before the 13-week program begins each year, the coaches go out with Beaver Creek Children’s Ski School instructors to go through drills and learn teaching techniques.
All parents are required to volunteer at one point during the season, or they must play more than the $100 fee for their child.
“There are only three or four that don’t volunteer,” Coulter said.
For parents who coach, the fee is only $50. In addition to the parents, Vail Resorts chips in.
“Every Saturday, the parents that coach get lift tickets,” Haselhorst said. “Without Vail (Resorts), the program would not work.”
Years after their experiences in Buddy Werner, the participants are thankful they had the chance to learn.
“They introduced me to racing, and that’s where I started liking it,” said Jeff Green, who is an instructor at Vail and raced at Battle Mountain. “It gave me a foundation for high school, and I learned some stuff from racing that I use in teaching.”
And for those who were once the little kid and are now the adult, the Buddy Werner program gives a great perspective.
“Parents have issues that I can relate to from when I was their (kids’) age, and I understand what’s going through their head,” Marquez said. “It’s good to be the liaison between the parents and the kids.”
This year’s stock of Buddy Werner kids will look to capture yet another state title (they have about a dozen in the last 15 years) when it rolls to Beaver Creek’s Bear Trap on March 11.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.