Behind the scenes at US Ski and Snowboard’s training center
PARK CITY, Utah — If you put the Wasatch Mountains in your rearview mirror and take a short drive east from the outdoor sports paradise of Park City, Utah, you’ll soon come to a lefthand turn where the street sign reads “Victory Lane.”
There are only a couple buildings on Victory Lane, and the biggest is at the end of the road.
For US Ski and Snowboard athletes, this is anything but a dead end. This is actually where it all begins. This is where the road to the Olympics starts for the country’s elite skiers and snowboarders.
The Center of Excellence, which everyone just calls the COE, was designed to be a home base for US Ski and Snowboard, the governing body of snow sports in the United States. It’s a place to get directions, a place to train, and most importantly, a place to work together toward a common goal.
It was the vision of Bill Marolt, who presided over the US Ski and Snowboard Association from 1996 to 2014 — it has since dropped “Association” from its name in a rebranding effort — and opened in 2009.
“He really believed in the power of bringing everyone together,” said Tiger Shaw, who took over as US Ski and Snowboard’s president in March 2014.
On a snowy day in September, Shaw gave the Globe a tour of the facility. In the main foyer, there are huge photos of ski and snowboard athletes, and gear bags are everywhere, left there by a group of athletes using the facility that day. He pointed out the decoration hanging from the ceiling — strands of wire with gold, silver, and bronze discs.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “Medals.”
Through the next set of doors is a fitness fanatic’s heaven, a massive main floor with every kind of training machine imaginable. There are weights, and giant treadmills to practice cross-country skiing motions, and a track. There are virtual reality simulators that let skiers experience runs from around the world, including the courses they’ll be on in PyeongChang. There are balance and jumping machines, pools, trampolines, start gate trainers, and even a basketball court.
Yes, it’s a big gym where athletes can work out. But it’s so much more. It’s staffed by a skilled team that creates customized plans for all athletes and includes sports psychologists, nutritionists, physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and doctors.
“Having a centralized place where we can, as a team of sports science professionals, help the athletes is probably the greatest advantage,” said Tracy Fober, a physical therapist who is also the strength coach for snowboard athletes. “We have all of those things together here, and we all work together so we can truly be the team behind the team.”
Fober said it’s a considerable advantage for everyone to gather in Park City rather than remain spread out across the country.
“I have athletes in Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, California. So if we can get them here frequently and we can all work with them together, we can give them a holistic plan, to try and help them develop to be their best over time,” she said.
Fober also said another kind of togetherness, perhaps one Marolt did not envision, has developed at the COE. Representatives of several major American sports teams or leagues, including Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the NBA, and NASCAR, have visited the COE to learn about it, talk shop, and harness the collective wisdom of the American sports machine.
She said one visit from a group from the San Antonio Spurs ended with everyone attending an NBA game together. Another, from members of NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing team, featured racecar drivers working out with skiers and snowboarders.
“That’s pretty cool to be able to do that and have that professional exchange of ideas and questions, and problem solving and stuff like that,” she said.
Laurenne Ross, an Alpine ski racer who was injured at the US nationals at Sugarloaf last March, spent considerable time at the COE rehabbing. Working alongside another athlete in the same boat proved motivational.
“I was working out quite often this summer next to Sarah Hendrickson, who is a women’s ski jumper, and she’s been coming back from injury for a long time, from a really bad injury. It was really awesome to be able to work next to her and keep inspiring each other and just see her working so hard and hear her stories,” Ross said.
The result? Both Ross and Hendrickson returned to competition this season, and both were named to the teams being sent to the Olympics for their sports.
The benefits are not limited to rehabbing athletes.
“If you see somebody like an Alpine guy pushing the weights really hard, it definitely motivates you,” said freestyle skier Troy Murphy, who is from Maine and will be in the Olympic moguls competitions.
On top of it, there’s a branch office. A short drive north brings you to Olympic Park, a dazzling complex that allows skiers and snowboarders to practice jumping even when there’s no real snow. It features a synthetic ski jump, water landing pools for aerialists to safely fine-tune their maneuvers, and a giant air bag to practice and develop big air and slopestyle tricks.
Murphy said a typical offseason training day might begin at Olympic Park, before the group will shift to the COE for a workout and meetings with physical therapists, trainers, and video specialists.
“Olympic Park in Park City is huge for us,” Murphy said. “Because any time we’re home we’re out there on the water ramps practicing our jumps. It’s just a way to make sure that as you’re learning new tricks, you’re learning in a safe environment, and beyond that when you’re dialing your tricks in, you can really make progress quickly without worrying about the possibility of landing on some hard snow.”
Is it paying off? The US is home to the reigning World Cup skiing women’s overall champion, Mikaela Shiffrin, the World Cup snowboarding women’s halfpipe champion, Chloe Kim, and the World Cup men’s and women’s slopestyle champions, Redmond Gerard and Jamie Anderson.
And at the last Winter Olympics, the United States won nine gold medals. Eight were by skiers or snowboarders.
2018 Olympics at a glance
When: Feb. 9-25
Where: PyeongChang, South Korea
Opening ceremony: Feb. 9, 6 a.m. Eastern
Time difference: South Korea is 14 hours ahead of the US East Coast
Americans to watch: Lindsey Vonn (Alpine skiing), Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine skiing), Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Shaun White (snowboarding), Nathan Chen (figure skating), Bradie Tennell (figure skating), Lowell Bailey (biathlon), Heather Bergsma (speed skating).