Steve Utter, the alpine program director at Green Mountain Valley School, offers an expert perspective on the Sochi Olympic Games.
This winter the eyes of the world focus on Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort town in the Caucasus, as the world’s elite athletes aim for a bid at Olympic glory. The alpine events will take place up in the mountains at the Rosa Khutor ski area. Purpose built for the Olympiad, Rosa Khutor boasts some impressive statistics: a skiable vertical of over 5,700 feet and ten new hotels to host the throngs of visitors who will arrive from around the world. The resort lies 30 miles east of the Black Sea, and weather patterns bring moisture-laden systems to the heights of the Caucasus Mountains, dumping some 33 feet of snow per year.
Athletes and trainers the world over—including at Sugarbush—have their eyes trained on Sochi. Sugarbush is home to Green Mountain Valley School, one of a handful of elite ski academies in America that train athletes seeking to reach the highest level of the sport. The school has reared an impressive list of winning racers, some of whom have reached the Olympic Games. Steve Utter, the alpine program director at GMVS, offers an expert perspective on the Sochi Games and what it takes to make it there.
SM: How do academies like GMVS feed into the Olympic pipeline?
SU: We train kids here to be able to qualify for their respective national teams. Thereafter the national teams take over. The best of the best make the Olympics.
SM: What is the training process like at GMVS that sets up athletes for the Olympics?
SU: GMVS is geared toward the early phases of development of athletes with Olympic dreams. We focus on developing sound technique and tactics in skiing. We work on conditioning, nutrition, and mental training, too—all at the fundamental level. Kids work hard and become disciplined and responsible through the process.
SM: What are the Olympics themselves like for the athletes?
SU: Competing in an Olympics is everyone’s dream realized. So few do it—yet they all have that dream when they start.
SM: How are the athletes training right now, leading up to the Olympics?
SU: Athletes at the highest level prioritize preparation for the Olympics over seasonal objectives—such as World Cup events—that would normally dominate their schedule. This means more in-season training than usual for top athletes, with many in the Olympic medal hunt sitting out World Cup events.
SM: What are some things about the process of coaching these athletes that the general public might not know?
SU: Athletes and coaches do try to make the Olympics “just another race.” Those with the greatest expectations often do not have their dreams materialize.
SM: Who from the U.S. team should we be watching in Sochi? What are you expecting to see out of them?
SU: Ted Ligety is a real threat in all events, particularly the giant slalom, super giant slalom, and combined. Julia Mancuso always shines in championship events, and she is on track to do the same in Sochi. The real wildcards are Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller. If both are healthy and feel confident, I think they can really do well.
SM: What are your hopes for GMVS athletes for upcoming Olympics?
SU: We have several graduates in the pipeline for the 2018 games. From now to then is important buildup in terms of experience, volume of training, and overall improvement in skills.
SM: Why do you think they might make it?
SU: GMVS kids tackle challenges whenever they are faced with them. They are confident, as a lot, and they work hard.
SM: What is the training process at GMVS like?
SU: GMVS continues to work on the next generation of winning athletes. We demand they work hard and smart to acquire skills necessary to get to the next level. Kids devote fifteen to twenty hours a week to training—on snow and in the gym. To get better, persistent, positive preparation is the key.
GMVS and the Olympics
A. J. Kitt ’82
Kitt skied with the U.S. Ski Team for over a decade and made it to the medal podium six times on the World Cup circuit, with twenty-nine finishes in the top ten and one World Cup downhill victory. He competed in four separate Olympic Games.
Doug Lewis ’82
Lewis, the Valley’s native-son ski celebrity, had a U.S. Ski Team career that included a trip to the Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984 and Seoul in 1988. He is currently a TV analyst for World Cup alpine events on Universal Sports, and still resides in the Valley.
Daron Rahlves ’91
Rahlves skied thirteen successful years on the U.S. Ski Team. His accomplishments included twelve World Cup victories and a world championship. He competed in the 2010 Olympics in the ski cross event.
Coach Mike Day
GMVS recently hired Day, a veteran ski coach who is best known for working with Ted Ligety from the club level in Park City through his most recent success on the World Cup tour. Ligety handily beat the competition in the technical events over the last year on the World Cup circuit and is a skier to watch in Sochi.