New Aspen ski coach eager for challenge |

New Aspen ski coach eager for challenge

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Craig Carlson is relishing the opportunity to direct young skiers.

The Fraser native, who was recently named Aspen High’s alpine coach, said he brings a unique perspective that should strike a chord with aspiring racers.

With good reason. Carlson is not just embarking on his first coaching job. He is chasing a dream of his own.

The 24-year-old still clings to hopes of making it in a sport he fell in love with at the age of 2 1/2. He’s still hoping to one day land a coveted spot on the U.S. Ski Team, even if it means paying his own way.

“My ambition is to make the B team and race on the World Cup,” Carlson said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a task, but I’m hopeful.”

And realistic.

Carlson was mountain biking in Keystone in late July when he cartwheeled over his handlebars, causing a fist-sized crack in his pelvis. The injury left him rehabilitating for 12 weeks. It left him off snow until Nov. 1.

It left him pondering the future.

“I decided it might be a good idea to change my career path a little,” he said.

Only a little. While he continued to chart his own future, Carlson, who has been a member of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s post-graduate program for three years, talked with alpine program director Jeff Kai about securing a teaching position with the club. Soon, he was assisting ability-class athletes.

And soon, the opportunity to coach the high school team presented itself. Carlson was more than willing to take on the challenge of balancing teaching with his personal ambitions.

“I still have athletic aspirations, and I think that’s good,” Carlson said. “I can show them what hard work can do.”

Carlson was born at Kremmling Memorial Hospital and grew up on the slopes of Winter Park. At 7, his family moved from Fraser to Denver, compounding efforts to ski as much as he would have liked.

At 14, Carlson joined his high school ski team “just to get me skiing every weekend.” In the process, however, he discovered an affinity for racing, something he would pursue after enrolling at the University of Colorado.

The former mechanical engineering student signed on with CU’s club team as a freshman. Soon, he was training hard and skiing fast.

By his junior year, Carlson, his passion stoked by the experience, came to the conclusion that he wanted to pursue the sport full time.

“My mom pushed hard for me to go to school. … I think she was just happy I gave it a try,” Carlson said. “If you talked to her now, she’d probably say it was better I made the decision to leave.”

In 2005, Carlson began researching summer training camps in South America and came across AVSC. He talked with trip coordinator Ben Black, a former club coach, and was invited to take part in a trip to Argentina in August.

Soon after returning to Boulder, Carlson made the decision to move to Aspen and enroll in the club’s post-graduate program. The pursuit of his dream was taking shape.

He combed the valley’s classifieds, secured an electrician job ” “It was the first call I made,” he joked ” and headed for the mountains.

“I kind of figured I’d end up in the mountains,” Carlson said. “I didn’t really see myself having a desk job.”

In the three years since arriving, Carlson has taken odd jobs to finance his first love. He made his first NorAm start during the 2006-07 winter in a downhill at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Mont.

He’s made five NorAm starts since, all with mediocre results.

“If I could sum up my career, I’d say I’ve been able to give myself minimal race opportunities and have put way too much pressure on myself to succeed,” Carlson said. “Before J2 Nationals last year [on Aspen Mountain], Wiley [Maple] and I tied for the top time in training. It’s there. … I just fall apart.”

Still, he soldiers on. Despite sometimes frustrating circumstances (he footed the bill for a trip to Sugarloaf in Maine for a NorAm downhill last year but never competed because of the weather), he keeps going.

This summer’s injury curtailed his training, but Carlson is undaunted. He has his sights set on his next scheduled race: February’s FIS speed races on Aspen Mountain.

But first, there’s other business ” and he couldn’t be more excited.

“The high school team and AVSC come first for me,” Carlson said. “The club has given me so much, and I want to give back.”

While this is his first foray into teaching, Carlson said he’s adjusting well. He’s already taken part in three preseason training camps at Copper Mountain and Loveland Ski Area.

“It’s been different. I have to put on a different hat and realize I’m a leader,” Carlson said. “I still have a lot of things to work on.”

Carlson said he is fortunate he’s not diving into this latest endeavor alone. He will lean on both Kai and longtime AVSC coach Kent Towlerton, among others, in the coming weeks and months.

Carlson feels as though he can have a positive impact on young racers. After all, many of them share a similar goal.

“I’m going to lead by example,” he said. “You often see a coach sit there and tell you to work hard while they stand on the sidelines. I’m by their side for dryland. I’m lifting in the weight room. I’ll be there putting in 110 percent every day on the hill.

“This is what I do.”

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