Nordic ski team
ready for great winter
Deep snow, hard
work and fun skiing
Express Staff Writer
One of the
most respected junior cross-country ski programs in the U.S. got a little
better this past year with a major upgrade at the Lake Creek facility
north of Ketchum.
Pletcher, 13, a Wood River Middle School seventh-grader and Sun Valley
Junior Nordic ski team racer, kicks it into gear during the Dec. 8
Winterstart race at Galena Lodge. Express photo by Willy Cook
improvements mean that 15th-year Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team head
coach Rick Kapala won’t have to manually carry water coolers into the
Lake Creek building just so skiers can have water.
mean a lot more.
few clubs have dedicated facilities like ours," said Kapala. "In
fact, in the Intermountain Division we’re the only team that has both
ski trails and a dedicated ski facility adjacent to one another.
very fortunate in that regard. The kids come in and look at our new
facility and are really appreciative, almost awed. They’re so
an anonymous donor and plenty of donated labor, they lifted off the roof
and built a second floor. They added water, showers, heated floors and
a good-sized fitness center with all the amenities. Floor area increased
from 1,500 square feet to 3,000. And when the project was done, the roof
the new digs and the deep snow are 73 kids on the 2001-02 Sun Valley
Junior Nordic ski team. They range in age from six to 18. And they’ve
got some tremendous coaching.
Now in its
30th year under the auspices of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation,
the Sun Valley Junior Nordic team is headed by Kapala, three-time U.S. Ski
Association Cross-Country Coach of the Year.
coaching staff exudes stability, youth and experience featuring
competition team coaches Ali Deines and Susie Lloyd Quesnell, along with
prep team and development teams guided by coaches Jen Douglas and Patrick
year-round program. As Kapala is fond of saying, there’s an old adage in
the sport that "Cross-Country Skiing is a Summer Sport," meaning
that improving fitness is accomplished in summer.
summer, Sun Valley skiers went to dryland training camps accompanied by
coaches Deines, Susie Quesnell, Pat Casey and Bridget Kapala.
held in Bend, Ore. during June, at Park City (Utah) in July and in Banff
and Glacier National Parks in August. Younger kids also enjoyed a Sawtooth
Mountains backpacking trip in July.
they’re on snow, looking forward to a fun and productive season that
started with the local Winterstart and Christmas Classic races.
have been changes.
his staff are going to miss the contributions of five-year assistant coach
Chris Hall. After developing his waxing and coaching skills with Sun
Valley and spending time in Finland, Hall has seized a great opportunity
A 1988 Sun
Valley Junior Nordic team member, Hall was hired this past year to work
with the U.S. Nordic Ski Team as one of the team’s primary servicemen.
He’ll be wax testing for both kick and glide at major competitions—including
the 2002 Winter Olympics.
also the project manager for the Lake Creek remodel. Kapala said Hall put
in a huge effort with lots of hours on the project.
on, many stay
Valley, Kapala has coached nine individual national champions.
recent, Kaelin Kiesel, has moved on.
Kiesel destroyed the competition and won the J2 5-kilometer classical race
during the 2001 Junior Olympics Cross-Country Ski Championships at
former U.S. Nordic Ski Team star Alison Kiesel, Kaelin also helped
Intermountain to the gold medal in the J1 3x5-kilometer relay.
now attends Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colo. with Sun Valley
Junior Nordic teammate Erin Magee, who is also 16.
hard to lose a national champion. Kaelin and Erin were really good kids.
We wish them the best," said Kapala.
"We still have a strong team coming back."
youth, with only one high school senior compared to last winter’s eight,
the 2001-02 squad has an outstanding work ethic, Kapala said.
one is afraid to work, which means the coaches aren’t having to do a lot
of base-level motivation. Almost everybody on the team started training
hard and are still training hard," said Kapala.
team is its only senior and she is a great one, 17-year-old Ashley
think five years ago Ashley was dead last in the Winterstart race,"
Kapala said. "Now she wins it and she’s one of the best skiers in
the country. And she’s such a cool kid."
J1 Ashley McQueen is not only the only current Sun Valley skier on the
2001-02 Intermountain Select Team, she’s a member of the Mountain Region
Elite team, meaning she’s one of the top six boys or girls in the West.
said, "Ashley is as good as any girl we’ve had in the program. Last
year she was sixth in J1 freestyle and had the fastest relay time. We’re
hoping she stays healthy and has a great senior season."
She is one
of three strong J1 girls on this year’s squad.
tremendous progress is the team’s best classical skier, 16-year-old high
school junior Alissa Praggastis. Her fitness level is very good, Kapala
said. She’s finishing about 30 seconds behind McQueen.
only her second year of Nordic ski racing, 17-year-old Eva Bach has a
strong skiing background, since she’s the daughter of pro alpine skier
has the engine and seems to have her sights set on Junior Nationals,"
(ages 16-17) boys’ class in the Intermountain Division is real tough
this winter, Kapala said. Bozeman, Jackson Hole and Park City are
returning Junior National medalists.
Valley has some strong J1 boys in first-year J1s Robert Slough and Mike
Sinnott, also members of the Intermountain Select Team. Each made the
podium in individual races at J2 Junior Nationals.
and Mike have trained as well as any guys we’ve ever had," Kapala
said. "We look for them to be competitive right away."
J1 Matt DeCarufel just missed being on the Select team by one place.
"I think Matt is capable of going to Junior Nationals and being in
the top ten," said Kapala.
promising younger J1s are Hannes Thum, 18, a converted alpine racer, and
Brennan Rego, 16 on Dec. 29.
he feels five or six of Sun Valley’s talented and hard-working J2 boys
have a chance to make Junior Nationals, which will be held at Ponderosa
Park in McCall March 3.
again we have good balance in our J2 boys. Our strongest returning boy is
Jack Harris, who is on the Intermountain Select Team. And we have other
strong guys like Chase Cleveland, George Livingston, David Vanderpool,
Brad Bradford, Delamon Rego and Lucas Pletcher," he said.
real excited about these J2s. They’re skiing real well and they’re
probably as deep as the group of Jess Kiesel, Jedd Young, Chad Cleveland,
Charlie Parker and Matt Stevenson three years ago," said Kapala.
experienced are Sun Valley’s J2 (ages 14-15) girls.
Praggastis, 15, is one of the promising Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski
team competition racers. She is a Community School ninth grader. Express
photo by Willy Cook
hoping that Lexie Praggastis, 15, in only her second year of skiing, and
Erin McQueen, 15, a fine athlete, will make a lot of headway as
second-year J2s this winter.
A couple of
first-year J2 girls hopefuls are Margii Driscoll, 14, and Hayley Stommel,
the prospects look even better. "It will be hard to lose Ashley
McQueen, but basically the team will return intact next winter,"
down the line the J3 and J4 girls in the pipeline look strong. And we look
strong in the boys’ field in three or four years," he added.
graduates of the Sun Valley program have taken their skiing to the next
instance, Ashley Wells is living in Norway and training at the Hovden Ski
Gymnasium, which is one of the top ski schools in Norway.
his second year of training and racing at Solleftea Ski Gymnasium in
Sweden is Jedd Young. He has been joined there this winter by another
alumni, Jess Kiesel.
said, "These most recent exchanges are part of our ongoing effort to
promote relationships with clubs and teams from Norway and Sweden as a
means of providing special opportunities to our team members."