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Men’s Alpine Takes On Timberline By Morning, Hood River By Afternoon

By Megan Harrod
August, 12 2019
Downhillers in Hood River
Current Downhillers Steven Nyman, Travis Ganong, Sam Morse and Bryce Bennett pose with alumnus downhiller legend A.J. Kitt at a barbecue hosted by Kitt's family during their recent Mt. Hood camp.

It’s been a longtime dream of recently hired men’s alpine speed team head coach Randy Pelkey to create an early prep period camp that combined time on the mountain in the morning, with SUP time on the river in the afternoon. Pelkey and the men’s alpine speed team—joined by return to snow athlete Galena Wardle (Aspen, Colo.)—recently did just that at official U.S. Ski & Snowboard training site Timberline Lodge & Ski Area in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I thought it was a great camp,” Pelkey reflected. “I’ve had a dream about doing a camp like this where you combine the balance issues for a basics camp on Mt. Hood with the balance issues that come from balancing on a fluid, dynamic surface like water.” On-hill training consisted of a steady progression of fundamental drills and some giant slalom training, while afternoons were spent on Hood River SUPing, thanks to the help of local shop Big Winds, whose owner Steve Gates is a close friend of Pelkey. 

Gates—and Big Winds—graciously set the team up with two of the best paddlers in the world, including Fiona Wylde (who is top-five in the world) and Leif Bergstrom, who taught the athletes the paddle stroke on day 1 prior to the crew taking on the nearly eight mile downwinder from Viento to Hood River on the following day. Gates and co. taught the guys a few things about turning the board, using a smaller board to learn skills—which is a bit like going from slalom skis to downhill skis the next day. 

Men’s alpine athletes included veteran and team leader Steven Nyman (Sundance, Utah), Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, Calif.), Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, Calif.), Sam Morse (Sugarloaf, Maine) and Tommy Ford (Bend, Ore.). In addition to Pelkey, they were joined by assistant coach Scotty Veenis and women's alpine speed team coach Karin Harjo, who—together with husband Pelkey call Oregon home—spend a significant amount of time on the Columbia River in the summer months. 

Crew Poses with a Fan at Hood

“The downwinder was really cool. It was really windy that day, and after a while we all got together as one pod going down the river and it was really fun. They just kept getting better and better. Again, the balance is tricky - you have to get on the front of the board to get it into the wave, and then you have to move back to ride the wave. I just think the parallels to skiing are so powerful.” Normally the eight mile downwinder takes about three hours to complete the first time they do it, but it’s no surprise that for this group of elite athletes, it only took 1.5 hours.  

On snow at Timberline, the crew focused on the fundamentals, sticking to brush gate courses for the first few days, with mostly giant slalom-type movements—slowing everything down. Pelkey had them do drills for depth and balance and patience, and then progress to drills for balance at the top of the turn, then balance at the bottom of the turn. They did this progression for two days, and Pelkey said the athletes were really into it. 

“The glacier was accommodating and great, and they gave us lane one everyday which was also awesome,” Pelkey commented on Timberline’s hospitality. “The surface froze one night, and the rest of the days the salt was great, and it worked. Four days on salted snow was enough for us. We kept it to eight gates of sections of GS and we were doing video right away. We kept going back to the balance and really basic stuff to knock the rust off.”

For the athletes, this first on-snow camp this summer is an important one as they build the progression to speed and head down to the Southern Hemisphere, to Chile and New Zealand, this month. “If you think about any elite sport,” Pelkey explained, “everything is founded in the fundamentals, and so truly—if you find an issue at a World Cup downhill at the worst possible spot—you can find a path to fix it through the fundamentals.” 

Bennett, who has worked with both Pelkey and Harjo in the past having hailed from Western Region, had nothing but great things to say about their first camp with their new head coach. For Bennett, the SUP session was a highlight, as was a visit to Viento CrossFit, where he—together with CrossFit Games competitor, coach and ski coach Karen McCadam—coached teammate and fellow big man Nyman to do muscle-ups. They also went to former World Cup downhiller and legend AJ Kitt’s house for a big barbecue one evening, in which there were about six former Olympians of various sports in attendance. 

“It was Randy’s home, so it was his chance to show us around his home,” Bennett said. We did an eight-mile downwinder SUP board session that was super fun, and also pretty challenging. We were catching wave after wave. I’ve worked with Randy in the past. I just really like him. He’s got a super mellow approach, he’s organized and we had a seamless first camp. We also had a sweet BBQ at AJ Kitt’s family with a big wave surfer Dave Kalama (who pioneered big wave surfing techniques with Laird Hamilton and other legends) and his son. It was fun to hangout, and I’m always inspired when I spend time with AJ.”  

Up next for this crew is a trip down to South America, where they’ll start by getting their feet wet with some tech training at La Parva, Chile before heading further down south to Nevados de Chillan for some speed training.