Friday, July 25, 2008

Abi Holt moves to Vancouver as a head coach

Hollyburn Jackrabbits hire a proven winner

Express Staff Writer

Abi Holt should get a full dose of all things Canadian as part of her new head coaching job in Vancouver. Here, Holt wears a jacket with a Canadian flag during her going-away party last weekend in Mackay. Courtesy photo by Piper Loyd

Ketchum's Abi Holt, 30, is a small-town girl who is moving this week with a little apprehension and plenty of enthusiasm to a big Canadian city.

She is looking forward to every minute of her new job as head coach of the Hollyburn Jackrabbit Ski Club located at Vancouver, British Columbia.

It will be Holt's first head coaching job after five years of coaching with Rick Kapala on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's Junior Nordic ski team. In fact, Holt said much of her life has revolved around the SVSEF cross-country team.

Holt said, "It's a big move. I'm 30, and 18 years of my life have been spent with the Sun Valley program as a skier and a coach. I've learned that coaching is a big job. But I'm ready."

She left her hometown of Ketchum Thursday and headed north to Vancouver where her new job will begin Aug. 1. Holt will be the first full-time paid coach of Greater Vancouver's family cross-country ski club, a non-profit outfit with about 280 kids ranging in age from 6-18.

"It's a young program, about four years along. It has become quite popular," she said. "Before, the club was run by volunteer parents. Now they have a lot of 13- and 14-year-olds who want to be racers so they decided to hire a head coach."

The club is based at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver 20 minutes north of the city of Vancouver. The 2010 Winter Olympic freestyle skiing and snowboarding events will be staged at Cypress Mountain. Meanwhile, Holt's racing group will frequent Callaghan Valley Nordic Centre 2010 Olympic venue near Whistler, B.C.

Hollyburn Ski Club officials posted the job opening last November. Holt held preliminary talks and interviews in Vancouver this past May.

She was hired shortly after, in large part because of her coaching experience with the highly regarded Sun Valley Nordic program and her ability to relate to young people.

"Sun Valley has such a strong team atmosphere," said Holt, who spent her first two years with the SVSEF as a Prep Team coach and the last three winters as a Competitive Team and Olympic Development Team coach with some of the nation's best Nordic hopefuls.

"People have come to know about Sun Valley. They know we're just further evolved as a cross-country program."

Having coached her as a racer and traveled some miles with Abi as she has matured into a coach, Kapala said, "She has done a bunch of stuff."

Kapala added, "Abi has a strong sense of the whole experience of a ski team—the racing, training and social experience. She is one of those 'glue people' who really relates well with teenagers. She's funny. Her sense of humor and commitment to hard work makes for a really good combination."

Holt has already grabbed the Hollyburn Jackrabbit reins and has started her new ride.

"I've met with the core group of kids in Vancouver and they're ready to have a full-time coach," she said. "I'm going to have my hands full, but I've paid my dues. And I'm ready to put my stamp on the club. I'm excited. I've never lived in a big city, and I'm planning to live downtown."

She added, "I've learned that I like the lifestyle of being with kids 49 weeks of the year. Absolutely I like the freedom and the lack of rigorous structure. It's fun. I do like the kids a lot."

Holt also said it will be "super fun" to be in Vancouver for the next two years leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Kapala, her coach and mentor with the SVSEF, said, "It's a great opportunity for Abi—a chance to run a program. She has done so much for us. Abi was the first athlete who really raised the standard of excellence to success at a national level. And from there our program really started to take off."

As a competitor Holt was a three-time national champion and 17-time Junior All-American for the Sun Valley Nordic team. She spent four years racing at the Division 1 level for Dartmouth College and was the Big Green captain for her last two years.

Holt's college achievements included four times on the NCAA All-East team, and she was an NCAA All-American.

Compensating for her loss with SVSEF, Kapala in early June hired Travis Jones of Steamboat Springs, Colo. to lead the SVSEF Olympic Development Team starting in the winter of 2008-09.

Jones, 36, was the assistant coach for trip leader Holt on a February 2008 U.S. team visit to Estonia for the J1 Scandinavian Championships for 16 and 17 year olds.

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