Numbers continue to climb
by Than Acuff
The Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) is back at it again, as athletes have been getting in dry-land training the past couple of weeks and kids and coaches have hit the road to get some time on snow as well.
The program continues to grow with each year for a total number of participants hitting 165 this season, up from last year. Both the freeride and alpine race programs saw significant success on the competition circuit last season and they are looking to build off of that this year.
While the alpine race team lost head coach Conor Lynch to the great white north, specifically Alaska, they have Katie Davidson returning for her fourth year as a coach and they brought in William “Hutch” Hutchins as the head coach.
Hutchins spent the past 24 years coaching in Vermont with years spent at places like Green Mountain Academy, Division I collegiate program St. Michaels as well as a number of ski clubs. He decided to head west to work for the CBMST mainly for two reasons.
“I was looking for a change, get into the sunshine and coach out west. It’s always just cloudy and cold in Vermont,” says Hutchins. “I’m also looking forward to building the program here in Crested Butte.”
Part of that build includes developing a FIS-level racing program for the older athletes. FIS-level racing offers a far more competitive format for kids in the u19 age class and the CBMST has two athletes in the program at that level.
“I’m excited to bring some FIS-level racing to Crested Butte,” says Hutchins. “I hope to be able to develop that even more.”
Davidson grew up racing competitively in Michigan and beyond, racing against the likes of Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn. She brought that experience and energy to Crested Butte and looks to carry it on here and share it with the alpine race athletes.
“I’m pretty passionate about ski racing and have a deep-rooted background in it,” says Davidson. “
Davidson believes last year was successful both on and off the snow and seeks to continue that into this season, including Asher Weinberg, who was the top first-year u16 racer in speed events at Nationals last year and is currently ranked number one for his age in the downhill.
“I thought the season went well,” says Davidson. “The kids progressed a lot, learned a lot and grew up a lot. I like to see that. Definitely a foundation for success.”
There are new things on the horizon for the alpine race team as well. In the past the program offered training for three to four age classes. This year, they have expanded it to include five different age classes including a u10 option, as well as the aforementioned FIS program.
“It was necessary because we had younger kids showing more interest,” says Davidson.
Finding places to train has always been a tough hurdle for the alpine race program. Last year, they added in early morning, on-snow training options and will continue that again this season.
“We will have a lot of good training available,” says Hutchins.
“We’re able to work with the entire crew at the resort to get the lifts running early,” adds Davidson. “We get a 6 a.m. load lift and can do Super G and GS training on runs like International. It’s a whole different experience for sure and the kids love it.”
Until then, the coaches and some of the kids have already hit the road for on-snow work over the past couple of weeks until the lifts started spinning on Crested Butte Mountain. It included trips to Keystone and Breckenridge two weeks ago and a drive to Monarch for their opening weekend.
“It’s good to get them out early season and we’re already seeing some progression,” says Davidson.
Now that their home ski area is open, the coaches and athletes can remain in Crested Butte to train.
“There’s a lot of things we can do with limited terrain open at the start,” says Hutchins. “I’m not too concerned about it.”
The racing season opens on December 14 at Loveland for some of the CBMST alpine athletes with the rest sliding into the starting gate soon after. After three years in the program, Davidson believes the growth and success has a lot to do with local support and hopes to see that play out again this winter.
“Racing isn’t the easiest sport and it definitely helps that the community and resort have our back through it all,” says Davidson.
What a year last year for the CBMST freeride program. Eleven CBMST athletes qualified for the IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championships at Kicking Horse Resort in British Columbia, with skiers Kye Matlock and Avery Bernholtz stepping up to the top spot on the podium. In addition, skiers Jon Clay Patterson and Carson Hildebrandt, as well as snowboarder Dagan Schwartz, went overseas to compete at Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria, with Schwartz taking third.
“Last year was awesome,” says head freeride coach Will Dujardin. “In terms of results it was probably our best season so far, coupled with a great snowpack. We were able to push our training and have a lot of fun doing it.”
This year should prove to be just as successful with strong numbers of athletes and Schwartz, Holden Bradford, Matlock and Bernholtz all qualified for the 2020 Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria.
“It continues to grow,” says Dujardin. “There’s a little gap in athletes between the 8th graders and sophomores but we are athlete-heavy in our competitive program and thanks to Devo programming we have a lot of kids in the pipeline.”
While the early storm had kids drooling at the chance to get back on snow, the freeride team did not make any specific plans to travel for it. Rather, they have been using the time the past couple of weeks for other training, with the kids getting on snow at their own pace.
“We didn’t organize anything specific due to the lack of snow and kids being busy,” says Dujardin. “We’ve been focusing on dry land training but I do know kids have been getting after it, jibbing up at Irwin.”
Dujardin has his veteran crew of coaches returning this season in Matt Evans, Grant Spear, Nolan Blunck, Mark Robbins and Polly McGrane as well as a host of others interested in helping the athletes progress. Furthermore, a couple of coaches from other ski towns have come to Crested Butte to work with the CBMST freeride athletes.
“I’m really stoked to have those coaches returning and I’m really excited about the new coaches coming in,” says Dujardin. “Now I just have to make sure coaches are in the right places and make sure the skiing and riding is going in the right direction.”
The competition season for the freeride athletes has yet to be nailed down but should kick off in January with the four athletes headed to Austria. Then it’s just a matter of getting the kids to the right events whenever possible to set them up for continued success.
“We will have options to compete nearly every weekend until the end of March, all in an effort to qualify kids for NORAM championships in mid-April,” says Dujardin. “We’ve got a good thing going on this year and it should be a continuation of last year.”