Behind the Gates: What it takes to make a World Cup Finals race day a success
Cheering form the bleachers of the 2017 World Cup Finals on Aspen Mountain in March, your focus likely will be on the skiers. But make a mental checklist of all the players who made the races possible and your head might begin to spin a bit: there are the coaches, the course crew, the ski techs, the television crews, the trainers, the ski patrollers, the media — the list goes on and on.
“The ski teams all come with a support team; they are very structured in their program,” says Aspen-based physical therapist Bill Fabrocini, adding that local support crews generally complement, rather than replace, members of a racer’s team. “From their trainers and medical doctors to their physical therapists and ski techs, these teams can be quite elaborate.”
With that in mind, we decided to dissect the puzzle a bit to see just what it takes to make race day a success.
ALL TRAINED UP AND ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Fabrocini, who has worked with
world-class athletes and World Cup racers throughout his career, hit the
nail on the head when he says the teams coming to the World Cup Finals this spring will be elaborate.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” says Lyndsay Young, an athletic trainer who currently works as physical therapist for Mikaela Shiffrin. “And it’s really nice when the athletes realize that and appreciate it; Mikaela does, and so do others, and it really makes a difference.”
Part of that team effort comes into play the minute the sun rises as Young communicates and works with other members of Shiffrin’s team.
“In the morning, an hour before we go outside, we do some warmups – just biking and mobility — and then we go up on the hill together,” Young explains. “Then we’ll make sure everything is clear with the coaches, trainers, timers, techs.”
Later, after the races, Young says the same team of people comes together to discuss the day’s challenges and successes.
“We have been lucky to have both Mikaela and a group that recognizes that wine or lose, it’s part of the experience,” she says. “I think we do a great job of making it a team effort and a lot of fun, despite the fact it can be stressful and a lot of hard work.”
But it’s not just the web of people who support the racers that is key to success; it is the training systems back home, the ongoing training and development during the season and the on-course work at the host site that makes the races a success.
Indeed, the hundreds of local crew members — both paid and volunteer (think of course-slippers, snowcat drivers, gatekeepers, the people who assemble the stands, hand out the hot chocolate, and so many others — working hand-in-hand with the World Cup traveling circus to ensure the races go off without a hitch.
In Aspen, Jim Hancock serves as chief of race for the event and AVSC’s Pat Callahan is chief of course. Together, they are the magic behind the gates.
At the 2017 races, like in years past, a whole other group of people — who may well be the true heart and soul of the ski-racing world — will be tucked away in the underground garage at the Mountain Chalet.
“This is where the hard work really happens,” says Demo, an Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard coach who Aspen Skiing Co. has tapped to run the Wax Room. “Without the ski techs, the racers and all those other people couldn’t do what they do.”
The Wax Room staff is charged with making sure each World Cup racer and his or her tech crew — whether they be a “factory” crew, which means they come from the ski manufacturer, or a “national” crew, which means they are culled from the team’s home country — have a secure space to get the job done
Of course, the job isn’t nearly as simple as applying wax. With multiple pairs of skis per racer and each wanting a different tune — not to mention variations in tune based on the weather, snow conditions and more — the techs working in the Wax Room are often there around the clock fine-tuning and perfecting their racer’s skis.
Still, the Aspen Wax Room, which is built in and out by a Denver-based crew in a matter of days each race weekend, seems as basic as can be — plywood closets, secured by padlocks, with printed signs denoting which country/racer the space belongs to. Inside, a tuning table, spotlights and the tools of the trade (irons, screwdrivers, drills, wax, brushes, etc.) complete the scene.
“Oh, this is a good place,” Michael Forster, a tech for the Austrian team and two of its racers, told The Aspen Times during last year’s races. “It’s warm and private; sometimes we are just kind of under a tent in freezing temperatures.”
AND WHEN THE DAY IS DONE …
And beyond the races themselves, the athletes have personal sponsorship obligations such press conferences, autograph signings, photo shoots, etc., as well as U.S. Ski Team obligations. According to U.S. Ski Team Alpine press officer Megan Harrod, those duties include similar media-related activities, plus team sponsor activities, team naming celebrations, donor/trustee dinners, bib draws at each World Cup, post-victory/podium World Cup press conferences and celebration with team/trustees/donors, etc.
And, of course, the racers must find time to eat
and sleep — but it’s a challenge U.S. racers seem to embrace and embody.
“It can, at times, be challenging to balance with the rigor of competition and global travels, but they understand the value of sharing a sport they love so big and so purely with their fans,” Harrod says. “Ski racing in the United States is very different than ski racing in, for instance, Austria — where skiing is a mainstream sport and Alpine ski racers take center stage. In order to be a professional ski racer in the States, you absolutely have to love it … and share that love and passion with the world every opportunity you get.”
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