Building off the success of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where everyone from Bode Miller to Lindsey Vonn to Shaun White brought home gold medals, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association carried some serious momentum into the 2011 season. And it paid off, with White hitting a four-peat by winning the Superpipe in the X Games, Vonn taking almost every title except the overall on the World Cup, and skiers such as Ted Ligety and Hannah Kearney wrapping up titles in the GS and moguls respectively.
Looking forward, the USSA also unveiled a new Freeskiing team in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympics, where ski halfpipe will debut as an event. In addition, the team is looking at building a new speed training facility in Copper Mountain, Colo., and perhaps even a new ski and snowboard academy. With all the goings on, USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt still found time to sit down with SNEWS® to discuss the end of the season, and how quickly the team is moving into the future.
SNEWS: How do you rate the season overall?
Bill Marolt: It was a great year. The success in Vancouver really provided a platform to start a push to 2014. On the athletic side we had terrific results with Lindsey and Ted especially, and Bode is still a headliner. We saw some good development as well, which is something we worry about. We have talked about development and building depth for years and years, and it remains a challenge for us in terms of building for the future. We did see good growth in Freestyle, with Hannah winning the World Cup title, and good growth in snowboarding as well. I think that growth is really a function of the success of our development teams, club programs and academies. Continuing to do a better job in leadership and education will be an area of focus going forward.
SNEWS: Why do you think the team did do so well in the Olympics at Whistler?
Marolt: What was good in Whistler and Vancouver was that we took a really talented and experienced group of competitors--many of whom as kids had experience racing in the Topolino Cup--who were all very focused and who all felt very comfortable up there. They knew the ropes and what to expect. I think we had a great plan overall as far as the athletes, the lodging and the different venues, and in terms of logistics everything worked very well. The staff was outstanding, and I think there really was that sense of feeling at home but without the responsibilities or pressures of actually competing at home.
SNEWS: What does the emergence of ski halfpipe, slopestyle and the creation of the US Freeskiing team mean to the USSA going forward?
Marolt: The emergence reflects what kids are doing right now. It’s fun for us because these are American sports that really had their genesis right here in this country. There are a tremendous number of kids that participate and compete in these events. And when you look at where the athletes come from it’s from all over the country. Every ski resort has a terrain park and so many of them are building pipes right now, that it’s just a huge benefit to us athletically. I think with halfpipe we did a good job of pushing this to the FIS and the IOC. We’re still not there with slopestyle being accepted as an Olympic event but there's a good chance moving forward that we will be. Creating the Freeskiing Team was really the best way to address all of this with an independent athletic and branding strategy that so far has worked out very well.
SNEWS: As far as working out well, what does Lindsey Vonn's success mean to the team overall?
Marolt: The greatest thing about Lindsey Vonn is that first of all she is a great person. She has the whole package--she is respectful of the sport, of her teammates, and of all of her relationships to her sponsors. She means a lot to our sport and to her team as a national sports figure, because people may not know that much at all about World Cup skiing, but they do know about Lindsey Vonn. She is someone who continues to take the sport to a broader audience, and is a role model for kids as well. If you think of the brand over the past 10 years, it’s because of people like Lindsey, Bode, Ted Ligety, Hannah Kearney, Johnny Spillane or Shaun White or Daron Rahlves who have continued to provide these performances that people know who we are. The greatness is determined by consistency over time.
SNEWS: If Bode is indeed gone, how important has it been in the past couple years to have had him back with the team?
Marolt: I don’t think he is gone, but I think he evaluates it year-to-year. I think he still enjoys it, and is motivated because he loves the sport, but is also motivated to work with kids, which is something he has always loved to do. Having him back I think has been important for Bode and important for the team. It has been a mutual benefit, and I think he took the time to try it on his own and realized we do provide support and leadership. He is a good team member, and he likes being around the other team members. There are so many times I’ve seen him get to bottom of the hill and immediately get on the radio to give the other guys at the top a full course report, and I think that's a great example of how he has grown and matured. We are hopeful he'll continue up to Sochi. It's a good environment for him right now.
SNEWS: Two years after the Center of Excellence was opened, what do you think its impact on the team and the organization has been?
Marolt: We knew it would have a tremendous impact on the organization, and I think it had an impact on how we did at Whistler. I remember when we rented a little cinderblock building with weights and testing apparatus in an effort to start building our training and sports science programs, and we have an 85,000 square foot building dedicated to the conditioning and rehab of athletes now. The biggest thing may be that we have everyone under one roof. I think that gives kids a sense of pride when they walk through those doors and all of the training options are in front of them, including a little bowl they can ride in and a foam pit for working on their tricks and landings. And it really expands that sense of team to have all of the ski jumpers, alpine kids and snowboarders in one place at the same time.
SNEWS: So where do you go from here?
Marolt: What we’ve done in Park City is take what was from the 2002 Olympics, including the ski jumps and the cross-country trails at Soldier Park, and tie in the Center of Excellence with what was already there. What we’re trying to do now is partner with Copper Mountain to create a speed training center. Hopefully that's something that will be done and ready to go by early next year. It would start from the top of the Super B lift and run right under to the bottom of Rosie’s Run with 2,000+ feet of vertical. The logistics would be making snow so we can be training by early November, and adding the A nets and B nets--it would really be just like preparing a World Cup downhill. Then with what we have in Park City, and the Center of Excellence, and this training center at Copper Mountain, the next step would be to create our own academy and bring the best young kids in to train there.
SNEWS: Because that’s the future, right?
Marolt: At the end of the day, the family experience is really what makes that deal. It’s about who’s driving the car to the mountain, or mom and dad putting their kids in local clubs, and coming to competitions as a volunteer. Without that, and without the cooperation of the ski resorts and some remarkable programs, then the wheels don’t turn. There is such a community that makes this stuff happen, and they all need to be acknowledged. Because of our plans going forward, and because of that community, the future is bright going further down the road.
-- Peter Kray
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