“Hopefully we’ll get some podiums”
“We’ve definitely pushed them and challenged them,” says first-year director of alpine racing for the Crested Butte Academy Drew Cesati of his racers. “And they’ve responded well.”
Cesati had an auspicious start to his new position at the Academy. He spent several years as a successful racer and cut his teeth on coaching at a weekend program while in college. From there he moved up through the ranks, ending up as a coach for the Europa Cup team in the spring of 2007.
Prior to his assignment with the Europa Cup team, Cesati met Crested Butte Academy headmaster Graham Frey at the U.S. Nationals in Alyeska, Alaska in March 2007.
It was there that the seed to join the Crested Butte Academy program was planted in the mind of Cesati.
“I just kind of chatted with Graham really informally,” says Cesati.
It took time in the desert early in the summer for the seed to germinate and ultimately decide Cesati’s fate.
“I told myself, when I get out of the canyon I’m going to give Graham a call,” explains Cesati.
After a phone call and subsequent interview, Cesati was hired in June and took over the program in July. Joining Cesati on the alpine racing coaching staff is Tyler Johnson, Carter Casner and Sean McKenna.
Johnson raced for 20 years, coached at the Academy for eight years and has 12 years experience as a ski technician. He has helped teams win the 24 Hours of Aspen race, has worked for the Dynastar skiercross team, and was lead technician for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.
“He brings great experience to the program and a lot of equipment knowledge,” says Cesati of Johnson.
Both Casner and McKenna are fresh off of successful racing careers through the collegiate level and Cesati knows them well from the East Coast. He brought them in as both coaches and mentors for his athletes.
“They’re the kind of guys that the kids look up to,” says Cesati. “I’m super fired-up about it. It’s definitely good for the program.”
The coaching staff has a relatively young squad with 14 racers, ages 13 to 18, this year. Only six of the 14 are over the age of 15 and are led by post-graduates Liz and Tim Woods and senior Max Lamb.
Both the Woods’ and Lamb spent time training on the snow in October when Cesati took them to Hintertux, Austria to work with the Rocky Mountain Division regional team.
“There was black ice, variable temperatures, variable snow types,” says Cesati. “But we got four or five good days in. When you get four or five good days, you’re pretty fired-up about it.”
“Hintertux was good,” says Lamb. “It was a change of pace from Colorado corduroy and bluebird skies. We got a lot of good training though, as far as ski racing goes.”
In addition, when not on snow, the Academy racers have spent four hours a day, five days a week throughout the fall working on mental and physical toughness.
“They’ve been charging really hard,” says Cesati. “We’ve built them up pretty good and they’re raring to get on snow.”
Thanks to the efforts of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Cesati and his staff can now get their athletes on Crested Butte Mountain for early morning training runs prior to the 9 a.m. opening.
“It’s great that the mountain is allowing us to prepare,” says Cesati. “We’re getting about five runs in each time. We spent a couple long weekends training in Summit County but to have this sort of opportunity this early in the season in our backyard is a huge advantage for the athletes.”
Lamb echoes Cesati’s sentiment, pointing out that three or four years ago, the team typically got training time only on the T-Bar.
“That’s a big change from years past as far as support from the mountain,” adds Lamb. “The fact that we’re getting training off of T-Bar and for more than an hour is productive.”
The racing starts this week for Tim, Liz and Lamb. Tim is headed to both Keystone and Winter Park to compete. Liz, who is coming back off of a knee injury suffered in March 2006, is off to Winter Park to forerun for the opening races of the 2008 Super Series Alpine NorAm Cup and Lamb will be racing in the slalom at Winter Park. Both races attract some of the top racers in the world as they prepare for the World Cup race at Beaver Creek on November 27.
“There’s a handful of World Cup winners there,” says Cesati. “It’s a great way to kick out of the gate.”
Cesati hopes to see both Tim and Liz make it to the World Junior Championships in Spain in February as well as for Liz to return to her pre-injury status with the U.S. National team.
Lamb is enthusiastic about his upcoming senior year of racing and believes that the work of the coaching staff and trainers has him ready to go strong from start to finish.
“I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in going into the season,” says Lamb. “Mentally, I’m in a better place too. I’m in the right position to make the right move.”
Lamb hopes to improve his FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) points standings this year and make it to the Senior Nationals in Sugarloaf, Maine at the end of the season. The Senior Nationals brings in the top racers in the nation, including members of the U.S. Ski Team.
“Max is on the verge of having an absolute breakout year,” says Johnson. “He and Tim are our powerhouses this year. They’re going to set the bar for the team this season.”
The entire team will be in full race mode starting in early December, with a busy schedule taking them all over North America.
“December is busy,” explains Cesati. “Some of these kids will have 14 starts. Every weekend they’ve got at least two races.”
January will include more races as well as some speed work at Beaver Creek, and then by February the team starts preparing for the end of the season championship events in March and April.
“As a team, they will continue to be pushed and we’ll see,” says Cesati. “It all comes down to race day. Hopefully we’ll get some podiums.”
“Honestly, the season looks good,” adds Johnson. “Our program is as strong as it’s been in two or three years.”