Coach’s Corner: The longest week in snowboarding
I have over a decade of experience working with children — if you include helping to raise my siblings we could make that two decades — but no experience is quite like the United States of America Snowboard and Ski Association Nationals.
For most of our Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club snowboard athletes, invites to Nationals is the main competitive goal. There are five disciplines broken up into multiple age groups for competitors. Slalom, giant slalom, boardercross, slopestyle and halfpipe. The first three are races against either the clock or the opponents in your heat, the latter two are critiqued by a panel of judges on a variety of aspects, such as technicality, difficulty, amplitude and more. Nationals holds two other events, a rail jam and a banked slalom, with entry obtained through a lottery system.
The first five are the main events that the majority of athletes train most for and count toward an overall podium for those who compete in all disciplines during the week.
This year was my third year attending Nationals in any capacity. The week is long, each event taking a full day to complete per age group. After the event there are the awards ceremonies for that day. If you have ambitious athletes then you still have the rail jam in the evenings after the awards. Once that is over, it is time to head back to the condo to prep and tune all the boards for the following day of competition. This doesn’t include finding time for riders meetings, coaches meetings and parent meetings each day so that everyone is clued in as to what the schedule for the following day is or making sure you’ve got enough facemasks, sunscreen, snacks and more to cover anyone that might have forgotten theirs during the commotion.
Needless to say this makes for long days. My two longest started on mountain around 7:30 a.m. with course inspection and didn’t end until around 11:15 p.m., after board tuning.
Were those days exhausting? Absolutely. You’ve heard the maxim, “Hurry up and wait.” This is entirely true for competition as well. The first hour of an event is incredibly rushed and frantic, with all coaches and competitors wanting to inspect the course and practice as much as possible within the allotted timeframe. After that, if all goes well, with no course holds, then you’re waiting for your competitors to be called into line, take their runs and come back around to do it again. Waiting sounds easy enough, but it’s not.
This year I was coaching the girls of AVSC, ranging in age from 11 to 17. Have you ever spent five days in a row with girls of that age basically not leaving your sight for more than 10 minutes out of 10-plus hours? I’m not entirely sure how I pulled it off. There’s the psychology of it, keeping the girls calm and not too riled up or nervous about what may or may not happen on course. We definitely came up with a bunch of inside jokes and games to play to keep our minds occupied during the down times. I had the Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” scene queued up on my iPhone the entire week as a distraction. It was Kelanii Scarpaci’s birthday every morning aside from April Fools Day, so we would obviously sing Happy Birthday. That would last about two minutes, then there was the laughter that came with all the awkward looks from those around us wondering how it’s a girl’s birthday three days in a row. Instagram was utilized quite a bit, and by the end of the week, for some unknown reason, needing two packets of mayonnaise and a receipt was very important. No, I would not like that supersized.
The moments on deck were incredibly tense as well. This is where the nerves start flying. Frustrations and insecurities crept back into the girls’ minds. Doing my best to assuage fears could prove difficult. No two athletes are the same. Sometimes it was a quick calming meditation session, sometimes visualizing the run ahead of them, sometimes just being aggressive to pump them up, every time was different, and once the athletes got out the gate you just hoped that whatever it was, it worked.
In the end, I feel pretty confident that most of my efforts did in fact work. Kelanii of Aspen came home with bronze for the rail jam, Isabella Borenstein of Snowmass Village returned with second place overall for her age group, Jillian Moore from Boulder stepped up her difficulty level and amplitude confidently riding bigger features than she had all season, and Millie Simon of Carbondale, the youngest in the group, came away with smiles, new friends and some people to look up to within our own team after her very first Nationals experience.
Every year by the end of the week I cannot wait to get home and just spend a few moments on the couch without having to think of a single thing related to, well, anything, but each Nationals week is an incredibly inspiring event that I wouldn’t trade for the world. That being said I can’t wait to do it again, and ladies, make sure the mayonnaise packets don’t have holes in them, it gets all over the tools in my pockets.
Josh Ganz is a snowboarding coach for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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