AVSC hires Puckett to coach next generation of skiers
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Casey Puckett, a 12-year U.S. Ski Team veteran, four-time Olympian and six-time U.S. national champion, has a new identity these days: coach.
The Old Snowmass resident will join the Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Team as an ability-class alpine coach in late August. Puckett, 29, announced his retirement from the U.S. team – where he distinguished himself as one of America’s most versatile and durable skiers – following this past season.
“He knows – knows – what it takes to be a champion. And that combined with the kind of guy he is, I couldn’t be happier,” AVSC alpine director Dave Hjerleid said Wednesday.
AVSC announced Puckett’s appointment Tuesday night at a meeting for parents of ability-class racers: the club’s top young skiers, and at ages 15-and-up, the youngest eligible to begin racing at the FIS level.
“And as you might imagine, it was not-so-well veiled enthusiasm,” Hjerleid said. “I’ve told some of the parents that Casey has the personality, the qualities, that I’d hire him without the outstanding career behind him. He’s an outstanding role model and leader, so he’s a double threat.”
Puckett joined the U.S. Ski Team at 18, and a year later he was representing the United States at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. He went on to compete in four Olympics, a feat equaled only by A.J. Kitt.
When asked if AVSC has ever had a coach of Puckett’s stature, Hjerleid paused for a moment.
“We’ve never had anyone quite of his caliber,” he confirmed, before adding, “There just aren’t that many of them. He’s pretty remarkable: one of the few Americans ever to race World Cup in all five disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, super G, downhill and the combined.”
Puckett’s best Olympic result came in 1994 with a seventh in slalom. His finest World Cup result stands as a fourth in combined at Kitzbuehel, Austria, home of the feared Hahnenkamm downhill, in 2001. Puckett’s second- and third-best World Cup finishes came here in Aspen: a 12th in super G in November of 1998 and a 14th in slalom in November of last season.
Casey’s older brother, Chris, another longtime racer with the U.S. team, has made a similar transition from racing to coaching in Steamboat Springs.
“This is Casey’s first shot at it,” Hjerleid said. “He and his brother are very close, and Chris has been very encouraging to get him into coaching, to get him to give back. Casey’s now looking forward to being a part of the community he lives in, and in his words, to give back the great experience that he’s gotten from ski racing.”
Puckett grew up skiing in Crested Butte. He moved to Aspen about four years ago to be with then-girlfriend Kate McBride, a former 24 Hours of Aspen champion. Puckett and (now) McBride-Puckett married in 2000.
Hjerleid first met Puckett about three years ago through the McBride family. Kate’s older brother, John Jr., was a coach with AVSC and was recently promoted to head men’s super G and downhill coach of the U.S. Ski Team.
“In the last year-and-a-half I’ve been in communication with him, talking with him about what he had in mind for the future,” Hjerleid said. “And I told him that if he was interested in going in a coaching direction, that I’d love to be a part of it. Then, when he retired this year, he gave me a call.
“It’s sooo good for the club.”
It would be easy enough to quantify long-distance adventures in Snowmass Village by the usual stats and figures: 90-plus miles of singletrack and dirt roads, four core endurance races every summer, infinite route combinations no more than a few hundred yards from the nearest parking spot or bus stop. But there’s another metric worth clocking too: Smiles per hour.
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