From feeder programs to the Competition Team to its new Nordic Olympic Development Program, the Sun Valley Junior Nordic team is always looking ahead—and always trying to lure new skiers to the lifetime sport.
Self-discipline is the foundation of the Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team, now entering its 33rd season under the umbrella of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. But the hard training is always framed in fun ways.
"There are a lot of kids involved in our feeder programs. We like to expose as many to the sport as possible and do it in fun ways," said 18th-year head coach Rick Kapala. "More and more, for the older kids, it has become a year-round sport so we can put our focus primarily on training.
"We train eight months so we can ski for three or four months. If we don't train properly in the summer and fall, our chances for the winter go down. The little things start to matter when we start skiing. Really, it isn't what you do when the coach is watching—it's what you do when the coach isn't watching that will pay off."
On the Sun Valley team for 2004-05 are 123 kids ages 6-18 including the third-year group training in Quigley Canyon outside of Hailey. The south valley Quigley squad has 25 elementary school kids, and the other development team based at Lake Creek north of Ketchum has 45 kids.
The Prep Team coached by Dartmouth College's Abi Holt and Jon Riley of Bates College features 25 middle-school students, and the Comp Team headed up by Kapala and Chris Grover has 28 high school-aged skiers.
Transition is the only real constant for Sun Valley. Kapala graduated some fine racers in 2004 including Fairfield's Morgan Arritola, who became the 11th racer to win a national championship under Kapala when she captured the J1 girls' 5-kilometer skate race at Lake Placid, N.Y. March 12.
Although she has graduated from The Community School and the Sun Valley team, Arritola will be training at Lake Creek this winter with plans to compete in nationals and go on to college ski racing next fall, Kapala said.
In addition, the Wood River High School boys' cross country team coached by Kapala won the national high school title for the third time in six years based on their results at the U.S. Junior National meet. Only Luke and Reid Pletcher return from that seven-member championship team.
Kapala said, "Obviously we lost some very good skiers. But all the kids are ready to bring their best effort.
"We had three training camps instead of two this summer—two on-snow at Mt. Hood and Canmore, and one dry land, at Glacier National Park. I think we made a lot of progress in terms of technique while on-snow."
Older Junior Luke Pletcher, second-year J1 (ages 16-17) Delamon Rego and first-year J1 Reid Pletcher are the leaders of Sun Valley's boys' team. "Our strongest guys, Luke and Delamon, have trained incredibly well and are very motivated," Kapala said.
Making the always-difficult transition from J2 (ages 14-15) to J1 are first-year J1s Artie Livington, Mike Matteson and Max Danielson. Reid Pletcher and Livingston have already been to Junior Nationals, but Kapala thinks the whole group has a chance.
"The spirit of the older guys is really high, like last year," he said.
Among the older boys who are solid kids, train hard and act as great role models are Older Juniors Dawson Paschall and Brad Bradford.
Second-year J2s ready to show how growth spurts have improved their racing include Christopher Holmquist and Robbie Hamlin. Conor Davis is a strong second-year J2. Newcomer Taylor Sundali is fit athlete and excellent competitor who has picked up the sport again after five years away.
Kapala said "there are a ton of kids coming," like first-year Comp Team racers Lukas Anderson, Sean Dumke, Max Durtschi, Sam Farnham, Scotty Phelan and Connor Brown. Most are still middle school students.
"Next year we'll have a really strong group of J2s and the luxury of letting them ski and learn. We want them to get to love the training," said Kapala.
The leadership role on the girls' Comp Team has passed to Older Junior Erin McQueen—and the 18-year-old high school student has accepted it willingly, Kapala said. "Erin has made steady improvement every year. Last year she very quietly cut down the gap between she and Morgan. She's starting to believe she has the ability."
Second-year J1s include Ruth Anderson, a Junior National qualifier from Pocatello, and Margii Driscoll, the best double-poler on the team due to her strength. Driscoll has good size and fits the new breed of Nordic sprint racer—strong and well-muscled.
First-year J1 Alexa Turzian is moving up after collecting back-to-back silver medals in J2 at Junior Nationals. The distances for women at J2 and J1 are similar, unlike the men, so the challenge seems to be less daunting. But Turzian's challenge is to continue to improve technically, said Kapala.
Tess Dahlgren and Courtney Perry, two other first-year J1s, will push Turzian. Perry has been to Junior Nationals for the past two years.
Big things are expected of second-year J2 Mali Noyes, a very self-disciplined and determined footracer. Noyes enjoys challenges, and she will benefit from racing against some strong J2 girls from the Bozeman ski team this winter, the coach said.
"Mali has benefited from being on-snow twice this summer and her skiing technically has improved. She is starting to understand that the training plan actually works," said Kapala.
Another team leader is J2 returnee Devyn Parnes, who has made a lot of progress along with second-year J2 teammate Chelsea Vanderpool.
Out with a knee injury, Community School senior Lexie Praggastis is the team manager for 2004-05.
In other news: Kapala said last year that the Sun Valley team intended to bid on hosting the 2007 U.S. Ski Association Junior Olympic cross-country ski championships. But Sun Valley has withdrawn that bid, in favor of Soldier Hollow, Utah.
Kapala said, "Soldier Hollow in the last year has redesigned its management plans and how they run events. So everyone in the racing community is now comfortable with having Soldier Hollow run events. They'll host JNs in 2007, and Houghton, Mich. has the 2006 Junior Nationals."
The 2005 Junior Nationals are in Truckee, Ca.