Mike Kenney has an eye for ski racing. In more than 20 years coaching the US Ski Team and Bode Miller, he has seen the best skiers conquer the world’s toughest trails and he knows what it takes to win.
It was through the same lens that he saw the potential right in front of him at Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H., his home mountain in his hometown.
“I knew that after coaching on the World Cup, I wanted to come back home to Franconia and coach, and [Cannon] had the terrain I wanted to coach on,” Kenney said.
In October, the US Ski and Snowboard Association announced it was designating Cannon’s Mittersill area as a USSA training site, some five years after Kenney wrote an analysis of the terrain and explained how it could benefit up-and-coming US racers.
In his report, he compared the slope profiles of Mittersill with some famous European race trails. Two trails in particular will be used for training, Baron’s Run and Taft Training Slope.
“Baron’s Run is perfect for speed training,” said Georg Capaul, the snowsports director at Holderness School, which has partnered with the USSA and the Franconia Ski Club to develop the training facility. “First off, it has no intersection, so it’s completely safe to ski at speed and has over a 900-hundred-vertical-foot drop.
“It’s a trail that twists and turns down the mountain with a nice long run-out at the bottom. It has the flair of a European ski trail.”
There are only a few official ski trails sanctioned for speed training on the East Coast, an area where the USSA has expressed a desire to expand its footprint as it develops the next generation of ski racers. The USSA contract with Cannon calls for 20 days a year for camps. Kenney will direct regional camps for young racers.
“There is a real lack of speed training and races here in the East, and it’s venue-related,” said Bob Sampson, headmaster at Waterville Valley Academy. “It’s a lot of work and expense. The Mittersill venue at Cannon will address this and provide more access to training for speed events.”
Baron’s Run now has snowmaking — Mittersill was closed in the 1980s but reopened in 2010 when a new chairlift was installed — and its width and permanent safety netting make it an attractive option for training and major events.
The Taft Slalom trail will have snowmaking as well as a new T-bar lift. It is steep at the top and has a long run-out, making it perfect for slalom racing. The T-bar will maximize skiers’ training because it provides a quick way to get back to the top.
“Overall, it is the best of both worlds,” said Kenney. “Now, in one location, racers will have speed training and technical terrain with new lifts, new snowmaking, safety netting all in a central location.”
Kenney’s vision began to become reality when he took his plan to Bill Marolt, a former president and CEO of the USSA, and received his blessing. Then Kenney and Miller, who is also from Franconia, pitched the plan to two-time Olympian and philanthropist George Macomber. By the end of the meeting, the project had its anchor donor.
Cannon is run by the state of New Hampshire, and it needed help to finance the project. The Franconia Ski Club, based at Cannon Mountain, was eager for both the Mittersill expansion and for Kenney to join its coaching ranks, so it embraced the project and became the key organization for the fund-raising efforts.
The Holderness School, which moved its Eastern Alpine program to Cannon in 2001, also got involved. Capaul, a former US Ski Team coach, had coached current USSA president Tiger Shaw in the ’90s. Shaw, a Dartmouth graduate who was raised in Stowe, Vt., supported the Mittersill project because it fit with his long-term plan to create US Ski Team training centers across the country.
So far, $3 million of the $4 million needed has been raised.
“The state of New Hampshire, Franconia Ski Club, and Holderness School have created a partnership that will be of great benefit to thousands of ski racers in the USSA Eastern Region,” Shaw said.
There are only three other similar sites in the United Sates: Copper Mountain in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho, and Park City in Utah.
“When there are major events in the East, teams will have to consider training here,” Kenney said.
Major events are coming to the East. Vermont’s Killington will host a women’s World Cup event in November 2016, the US National Alpine Championships will be held at Sugarloaf in Maine in 2017, and the NCAA Alpine national championships will be hosted by the University of New Hampshire at Cannon in 2017.
“It’s great when a plan comes together,” said Kenney. “All the pieces are not in place yet, but we are close, and just like in ski racing, it’s not where you start, but how you finish that matters.”Follow Dan Egan on Twitter at @SkiClinics.