It's been a good year for avid baseball fan and Detroit Tigers rooter Rick Kapala, who originally comes from Michigan.
His team made the Final Four in the major league baseball race, meaning there were many more good mornings than bad mornings looking at the box scores in the summer.
As program director of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's Nordic Ski Team, Hailey resident Kapala spearheaded a successful first-time staging of the U.S. Nationals cross-country ski and USSA SuperTour finals at his team's Lake Creek training site north of Ketchum in late March.
Three months after that well-organized weeklong race series, in June the SVSEF submitted to the U.S. Olympic Committee its application for certification as an Olympic and Paralympic training site. Upon final approval, the Sun Valley area would become the first USOC-certified training site for Nordic skiing in the U.S.
USOC officials are due to visit Sun Valley shortly after the first of the year to continue the process. Hopefully, there will be a little more snow then.
But the lack of snow in Sun Valley and all over the Northwest hasn't put much of a crimp in the popularity of Kapala's program, which has attracted nearly 160 participants from ages 7 to 27 for the 2011-12 winter season.
"We're all right," said Kapala in mid-December.
"The lack of snow hasn't affected us too much, although it has eaten into our volume of training because we lose time transporting the skiers north of Ketchum. Even in a bad snow year, if we get 8 inches or so, we're all right. But we do need more snow at Quigley for the Devo kids in Hailey."
This is Kapala's 25th season coaching young people at Sun Valley, and there are few if any Nordic coaches who are more respected in this country. Three times, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has named Kapala as its Nordic skiing Coach of the Year.
His fundamentals are simple.
"We try to say that we'll be a really good youth activity program, first and foremost," he said. "We want all the kids to have a positive experience in athletics, so then they will keep athletics as an important part of their lives."
Kapala played baseball as a young man and admittedly couldn't hit a lick, but he was a threat running the basepaths when he did reach base. He said he always liked sandlot baseball as the kind of training ground, away from coaches and parents, where kids learn lessons playing with each other.
In the same vein, he said Nordic skiers in order to be successful must challenge themselves and teammates to train hard in the off-season, without a lot of supervision.
Kapala said, "If you train hard enough, the races are easy. We're teaching kids to be self-directed and motivated so they're not dependent on people telling them what to do. Showing up and consistency are really important.
"At the same time, we're always trying to let the kids know one important thing—it's not just how hard you train, it's how well you recover."
Critical to the success of Kapala's SVSEF program for a quarter century has been the connection between the more experienced skiers and newcomers. He said, "We're lucky because we've been able to have the back-to-back linkage you need between older and younger kids. They know what the standard is. The kids show up every day and learn what it takes to succeed and do well."
That said, when looking ahead to the coming season, Kapala said, "It's a good year to be a ski coach in Sun Valley. For one thing, we have Junior Nationals in March at Soldier Hollow in Utah, which has been like a home course for us."
Improvements in the technical side are expected with the addition of 38-year-old Clarke Sullivan as the team's wax technician and the cooperation of Curtis Bacca at The Waxroom in Ketchum, said Kapala.
Sullivan was the lead wax technician for the successful four-man U.S. Nordic Combined team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He's been known to sleep in the wax cabin. He has a reputation for being obsessed with proper ski fit—thestructure or grind of a ski and its wax.
"We've done two things to improve the quality of our technical program," said Kapala. "First of all, we've brought Clarke in. Secondly, Clarke and (SVSEF post-grad head coach) Chris Mallory will cooperate with Curtis Bacca to develop very specific Nordic grinding capabilities. And grinding is the way to do that.
"We've had a private donor underwrite the startup costs so we can improve our technical capabilities locally."
Kapala is excited about a few coaching and organizational changes this winter.
Taking over as assistant program director is Kelley Sinnott, 28, a SVSEF Junior Nordic alumnus who has coached the Prep Team for six years and also serves in the fall as assistant coach for the Wood River High School girls' soccer team.
Replacing Travis Jones as the Gold Team (former Olympic Development Team) head coach is Colin Rodgers, 30, a 2004 Middlebury College graduate from Essex Junction, Vt. and Holderness School.
A top junior in New England who has World Cup racing experience, Rodgers has competed with the SVSEF Gold Team for four years and, according to Kapala, "has been a real support" to the skiers because of his recent competitive career.
He is working with an extremely talented seven-racer Gold Team that includes Morgan Arritola, Nicole DeYong, Alexa Turzian, Chelsea Holmes, Mike Sinnott, Matt Gelso and Simi Hamilton.
Kapala said, "Sometimes it's hard making the transition from one coach (Jones) to another (Rodgers). A lot of training with the Gold Team is different. They tend to ski as a group, and they're on the road 80 to 100 days a year.
"Colin has been in the fray. What he does is train individually with skiers like Mike (Sinnott) or Morgan (Arritola) on a given day. We haven't had that before as a program, where our coach can ski with our best racers and impart the kind of knowledge that Colin can give."
2011-12 SVSEF Nordic Ski Team Roster
THIS YEAR'S COACHES
Program director and head coach—Rick Kapala (25th year).
Assistant program director—Kelley Sinnott (7th year).
Gold Team head coach—Colin Rodgers (1st year).
Post-grad head coach—Chris Mallory (7th year).
Waxing and tech services—Clark Sullivan (1st year).
Competition team coaches—Ashley McQueen (6th year) and Rick Kapala.
J3/J4 Prep team coaches—Head coach Kelley Sinnott (7th year), Rob Landis (13th year) and Abbie Harris (2nd year).
Development team coaches—Head coach Dave Bingham (18th year). Assistant coaches—Laurie Leman (21st year), Paddy McIlvoy (5th year), Svea Grover (5th year), Bob Coplin (2nd year), Kristen Monahan (1st year) and Mia James (1st year).
THIS YEAR'S ATHLETES
Gold Team (7 skiers)—Women: Morgan Arritola, Nicole DeYong, Alexa Turzian and Chelsea Holmes. Men: Mike Sinnott, Matt Gelso and Simi Hamilton.
Post-grad Team (5 skiers)—Kevin Bolger, Kelsey Dickinson, Cole Morgan, Jack Steele and Evan Martell.
Competition team racers (29 skiers)—Jake Adicoff, Morgan Atkinson, Katie Feldman, Thomas Gillespie, Grace Gorham, Andrew Graves, Xavier Haemmerle, Jesse Knori, Annika Landis, Kaitlyn Landis, Brooke Lawrence, Zachary Lindahl, Jackson Long, Haley Montgomery, Andrew Morse, Nathan Nasvik, Gunnar Ohlson, Stephen Pfeiffer, Margaret Pope, Gray Riedinger, Ty Reinemann, Cheyanne Stopol, Maranda Stopol, Sloan Storey, Nate Thomas, Maddy Watts, Maggie Williams, Sarah Williams and Ketchum Wilt. (Tuition $3,920 including wax and grooming fee, ages 14-18 high school OJ/J1/J2, year-round training, on-snow 5-6 days per week, locker room at Lake Creek).
J3/J4 Prep team racers (33 skiers)—Benjamin Brunelle, Tess Burchmore, Kirsys Campbell, Will Carney, Theo Castellano-Wood, Victoria Castellano-Wood, Kayla Chaffey, Sophia Coplin, Lukas DeWolfe, Alex Feldman, Ellie Gorham, Danny Graves, Dieter Haemmerle, Galena Hansen, Taylor Koth, Jorgen Lawrence, Keene Morawitz, Landon Nurge, Zachary Olenick, Luma Randolph, Cooper Roquet, Carter Ros, Emily Siegel, Sydney Shepard, Callum Stearns, Dane Thompson, Derek Thompson, Jacob Truxal, Sarah Truxal, Sarah Verst, Briggs Whorton, Zach Williams and Peter Wolter. (Tuition $1,445 including wax and grooming fee, ages 10-13 J3/J4 introductory program to racing and training, practices 3 days per week through March, locker room at Lake Creek).
Lake Creek and Quigley Development team members:
Lake Creek (53 skiers)—Laine Allison, Payton Bacca, Zoe Bacca, Wilson Baker, Crosby Boe, Amanda Brown, Lillian Brunelle, Gracie Cleveland, Ridge Dirksmeier, Maddy Dunn, Lily Enos, Maren Feltman, Camas Filbert, Raine Filbert, Fallon Flaherty, Lara Gillingham, Felix Gerlach, Liesl Gerlach, Jake Gorham, Buey Grossman, Saba Grossman, Johnny Hagenbuch, Joe Hall, Lily Hogan, Jack Horowitz, Kate Horowitz, Ethan Hunt, Nils Huss, Margaret Keating, Sara King-Nakaoka, Adam Kind, Anhwei Kirk, Tanner Lee, Sascha Leidecker, Eliza Marks, Audra Mary, Lyla Maxwell, Makena McDonald, Kai Nelson, Jenna Nurge, Adela Pennell, Lily Pogue, Zack Shepard, Logan Smith, Charlie Snyder, Chloe Tanous, Zoe Walker, Sam Ware, Claire Watson, Penelope Weekes, Rylee Whorton, Oliver Wiedemann and Ella Wolter.
Quigley Canyon (31 skiers)—Cadence Campbell, Connor Campbell, Ryan Carnes, Cash Dart, Luke Dean, Skylar Goepfert-Maguire, Anja Grover, Eva Grover, Petra Glenn, Kye Harned, Kaitlyn Hayes, Anja Jensen, Sebi Jones, Annie Kaminski, Sofia Kinney, Abigail Kirk, Willa Laski, Lucy Ludwig, Maya Lutz, Azia Mathieu, Anders Nelson, Liv Nelson, Madison Piggins, Logan Pilaro, Alex Shafer, Tate Stearns, Denali Stevens, Eveline Svidgal, Max Svidgal, Anneka Thompson and Kaia Wolfrom. (Tuition for each program $580 including grooming fee, grades 2-5, on-snow 2 days per week December through February).