A group of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation coaches gathers last week at the organization’s new training facility in Ketchum. From left to right are: Scott McGrew, assistant alpine program director; Andy Ware, freestyle program director; Nate Schwing, head coach; Ruben Macaya, alpine program director; and Pat Savaria, head coach.
Express photo by Roland Lane
For the next 10 weeks, 13 local skiers and snowboarders will be living out of suitcases, training and competing, from Sun Valley to Canada and Europe, as they vie for coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic Team.
A select few could be given a chance to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February in Sochi, Russia.
In 2010, three athletes from Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation programs made it to the Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. Morgan Arritola and Simi Hamilton competed in Nordic skiing. Graham Watanabe competed in snowboard-cross.
Although none of these local athletes won medals, their coaches at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation began the “Six at Sochi” campaign four years ago in order to step up expectations for getting more locals to the Winter Olympic Games. The goal was to get six locally trained skiers and snowboarders on the U.S. Team for the 2014 Winter Games.
The foundation is working hard to make this dream a reality, providing coaching and helping out with the considerable cost of keeping athletes in top form and getting them to races.
“We thought the campaign might create a more clearly defined mission,” said SVSEF Nordic Program Director Rick Kapala. “You have to set lofty goals. Some cards have got to fall our way for this to happen, but there is still good chance.”
The elite SVSEF Gold Team is made up of the local athletes who are the most highly ranked nationally, and the most committed to training for the Olympic teams.
The cross-country Gold Team contenders are Mike Sinnott, Miles Havlick, Matt Gelso, Rose Kemp, Mary Rose and Chelsea Holmes.
“Any one of our cross-country kids could throw down races that could put them in the mix.”
Sinnott left last week to train and compete in Scandinavia. The rest of the cross-country team members are training in the United States and Canada.
“Any one of our cross-country kids could throw down races that could put them in the mix,” Kapala said.
The top-ranked alpine athletes are K.J. Savaria, Kipling Weisel and Tanner Farrow. Kapala said local alpine skiers face tougher prospects than the cross-country athletes, but that the SVSEF has some good talent in the pipeline.
The top local snowboard athletes are Chase Josey and Kaitlyn Farrington, who has been spotted in national TV commercials advertising the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
The top freestyle skiers training under the SVSEF are Wing Tai Barrymore and Shane Cordeau.
Every athlete on the SVSEF Gold Team has an interesting story. Barrymoore’s grandfather directed the cult surf movie “Endless Summer.” Cordeau’s father, local painting contractor Joe Cordeau, was the four-time mogul skiing world champion in his day.
Local skiers and U.S. Virgin Islands natives Jasmine Campbell and Veronica Gaspar also have a good chance of getting to the Olympics, because there are spots reserved for Virgin Islanders.
Also in the running for Olympic status is Jake Adicoff, a sight-disabled cross-country skier who has a very good shot at the U.S. Paralympic Team.
Final selection of U.S. Olympic team members will take place about Jan. 20, after the U.S Senior National Championships at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, where some of the 2002 Winter Games took place.
“They will take whoever is hot, high on the points list and healthy,” said Andy Ware, an SVSEF freestyle coach.
When they are not on the snow, or running hills in summer, SVSEF skiers and snowboarders test aerial skills at the indoor “air barn” in Sun Valley, using trampolines and foam pits. This may seem like it’s all good fun, but Ware is quick to point out that competing at the top level includes a great deal of sacrifice as well.
“We are asking them to put off college, continue training and to not work,” Ware said.
That is why the SVSEF raises as much money as it can each year to keep qualified athletes in the running, especially those who cannot afford it on their own.
Alpine Program Director Ruben Macaya says getting a spot on the U.S. Ski Team comes at a price tag of about $25,000 per year.
Macaya, like many SVSEF coaches, was a top competitor in his day. He competed in several alpine events during the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France.
“Many athletes who qualify for the U.S. Ski Team have to drop out because they cannot afford it,” Macaya said.
Although money is important, inspiration also counts for a lot. It doesn’t hurt that the SVSEF is now displaying the Olympic rings at its headquarters in Warm Springs, after having been named as an official cross-country Olympic and Paralympic training site.
The new training site status is drawing national attention to a valley that regularly produces top competitors.
Thanks to the SVSEF, Ware said, a 7-year old kid just learning to ski on Dollar Mountain could realistically envision one day standing on the Olympic podium.
“The message is, ‘You can do this from right here,’” he said.
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