America on the rise: U.S. ski mountaineering head coach Joe Howdyshell talks lessons from World Championships

For US Ski Mountaineering Association head coach Joe Howdyshell, this month’s International Ski Mountaineering Federation world championships in Switzerland proved to be an opportunity for his junior and senior athletes to see in nobody what he had told them about the preparation of the international event.

Considering that the majority of Team USA’s 35 ski mountaineering athletes were competing in a world championship for the first time, Howdyshell informed them ahead of the event that the international competition would be much more organized, efficient and faster than this. that they had seen. in the United States But it’s hard to grasp the difference until you see it for yourself.

“It’s exciting for me to see some of these bulbs light up,” Howdyshell said.

In a 2019 World Championships Howdyshell described as more competitive than the previous international event two years ago, Team USA finished in seventh place out of 31 teams. This compares to a sixth place finish of 25 teams in 2017.

That said, Howdyshell thinks Team USA’s performance may have been more impressive this time around given the increased level of skiing in senior and junior competitions, especially among the youth due to the prospect of the Olympics in Youth in January.

“Everyone brought their A-game,” he said. “Everyone brought the best riders. It was a big year. “

Team USA also brought their A-game. Looking ahead, however, Howdyshell believes that many first-time American riders have left the Swiss Alps with a greater thirst for dedication to reach that next level – that of the best Europeans.

“We’re getting kind of a big fish in a little pond in the United States,” Howdyshell said. “We think we’re really good at this sport and then we go to Europe and see it’s on a different level. Most athletes in the United States are not a year round sport.

On that note, Howdyshell said that one of the top quotes from the week in Switzerland came when an American parent asked one of the top European countries what they do specifically in their training to run so quick. The answer: 49 weeks a year, six days a week.

“And that was for a 15-year-old,” Howdyshell said. “And that’s not the way I think most of us in the United States approach sports. For most of us, I think there are one or two senior athletes out there who are. approach with that level of dedication.

Howdyshell knows full well that the sport is still nascent, growing here in the United States. The coach himself has only been involved in the sport for about seven years. As such, he says he’s still figuring out “the why” behind what makes Europe’s top riders so good. Part of the difference, he says, is the disparity in training and racing venues and equipment Europeans have access to compared to Team America’s riders in Summit County. For example, Howdyshell said it can be detrimental to Team USA skiers to train at Summit County altitude. Yes, 10,000 feet is harder to train at 5,000. But that doesn’t mean an inherent advantage when a competition is held at 5,000 feet. Rather, it is the competitors who train at 5,000 feet each day who train more regularly at a faster pace, which can then be easier to replicate than someone who goes from a slower pace to a higher pace. higher altitude.

“And the equipment they use there, the racing skier, works great on their mountains,” Howdyshell said. “The snow is not as soft, light and fluffy as it is here. So a really narrow ski works. Its good. You don’t sink as much.

Following the world championships, Howdyshell and Team USA left encouraged for the future. With so many young athletes competing, Howdyshell said it increases the chances that some of them will end up becoming top senior athletes who can compete with the best in the world. But that will only come with more experience against the best in the world.

Case in point: Howdyshell said there was a race at the world championships where a skier finished every minute over a 30 minute period. A one-minute gap like that between runners is not common here in the United States, he said, where in some races a skier can have the luxury of a four-minute margin. As such, a mistake may not be as costly. But in Europe, this could cause you to lose ground against several competitors.

“Basically all errors are magnified by 10,” Howdyshell said. “So what was really exciting for me was that, I think there are a lot of lessons you can try to give people and athletes can understand academically why they have to do it. or practice something, but it’s only when they have a real emotional reason to work on that skill that they take it seriously.

Looking ahead, Howdyshell said the international ski mountaineering world was delighted to see Team USA bring such a large contingent of young people to Switzerland. Because the better the United States is at skimo, and the bigger it is here on the home front, the better the sport’s chances of being introduced to the Olympics.

“The frank situation with the Olympics is that the Olympic Committee and everyone involved has to make money,” Howdyshell said. “And for the sport of skimo to make money, it is extremely important that it be popular in the United States. … It is in no way up to us, but it is certainly something that helps, if we could get thousands of people in the United States excited about it to get on TV. It only helps how lucky he is at the Olympics. And I think his luck at the Olympics only gets better and better. “

[email protected]