Local skier Sam Coffey named All-American

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Sam Coffey figured the transition would take time.

After all, collegiate skiers compete solely in slalom and giant slalom, not the speed disciplines the Snowmass Village resident most enjoyed and focused on during his days at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Coffey is fitting in just fine, however. In just his second year on the University of New Hampshire ski team, he now can be called an All-American.

The international business major secured that honor by virtue of his eighth-place slalom finish in March’s NCAA Skiing Championships in Stowe, Vt.

The effort helped the Wildcats finish eighth overall out of 21 teams.

“I’ve definitely never done this good at slalom. … [My goals] were modest,” Coffey said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I’m definitely happy. If I can’t be on the podium, being an All-American is pretty cool.”

Coffey’s successful sophomore season included scores of top 10s and was highlighted by fifth-place GS and slalom results.

Still, his trip to the NCAA championships was anything but assured.

“There are eight guys on our team, five guys qualify and we only get to take three,” he explained. “I was like the third guy, so I was waiting until the last minute to find out if I made it. It was one huge relief.”

Coffey’s NCAA championships opened with an 18th-place finish in the GS, on Stowe’s Mainstreet run. He wound up “12th or 13th” after an opening run that included one mistake, then lost ground in the final run.

“I thought it was a good [second] run. I might have just been too round,” Coffey said. “My coach thought it was good, too. It’s just one of those funny things where you’ve got to punch it right to be fast.”

Three days later, another mistake proved costly on the opening run of the slalom; by his own admission, Coffey “went out pretty conservatively wanting to make it down … and I barely made it around a gate.”

Weather conditions did not help. Earlier in the week, about a foot of snow fell in the Stowe area. Rain caused the cancellation of training the day before the slalom.

“Conditions were brutal,” Coffey admitted. “There were huge ruts and the snow was inconsistent – there was some ice and some soft snow. Just your typical, brutal race.”

Still, Coffey contends he was relaxed in the moments leading up to his second run. It helped that he was surrounded by a group of old friends and teammates from his junior days.

“I felt really good,” he said. “Then, I went out and skied the way I could.”

While much of the field struggled to contend with the adverse conditions, Coffey skied confidently and aggressively.

The effort was good enough to put him in the lead – for a few fleeting moments at least.

“There was a big announcement at the bottom and big screams. It was the closest thing I’ve been to the World Cup,” he said. “All the nordic skiers and about 500 people were there. It was a great moment.”

He was knocked off the top spot after about seven racers, Coffey said. Still, a top-10 finish was a welcome consolation prize.

“I just wanted to have two good runs,” he said. “With the caliber of all the guys in the west and all the teams, I knew it would be tough to get in the top 10, but that was my goal. I made it.”

Coffey is slated to compete in International Ski Federation races in Quebec next week. After completing the school year, he plans to return to the Roaring Fork Valley. He is hoping to spend the summer as a raft guide for Blazing Adventures and save up money to fund a training trip to New Zealand in August.

Coffey still harbors dreams of one day competing on the World Cup circuit. His success this winter, particularly in Stowe, clearly is a step in the right direction, he said.

“If I keep improving every year like I did this year, I’ll be in a good spot,” he added.