Imperfect NZ weather doesn't spoil U.S. Ski Team's training camp
There was no sense in unpacking the super-G skis at the women's alpine training camp in New Zealand this month. Heavy rains, which swept in just before the team's arrival, wiped out most of the snow at Coronet Peak and forced the team to relocate to Mt. Hutt, near Christchurch, where there is enough of a base to test GS and slalom equipment.
"The conditions have actually been really good," said head coach Alex Hoedlmoser. "It's been very, very hard and firm snow, so really good for training and testing equipment. … There's not much snow up there, but what is up there is quite icy. It's been getting quite slick in the gates."
At this early camp, the ladies have been focusing on fundamentals and testing equipment, which is especially important this season with the new radius regulations taking effect. Hoedlmoser said they don't have to reinvent the sport, but the girls will definitely have to make some adjustments, primarily in their precision at the top of the turn.
"We are testing equipment on the tech side — GS and slalom skis, which is really important this year, to get that stuff dialed in for the equipment changes that took place," Hoedlmoser said. "The general comment (about the new skis) is they don't turn that easy, obviously. It's really hard to get them initiated, so you have to be super precise on the initiation. And then there are some forces at the middle and the end of the turn — there's a lot of pressure."
Lindsey Vonn has been testing her GS skis this week, playing around with different sidecuts, constructions, plates and bindings, as well as trying out a couple different boot setups — and she seems to have found a combination that will work well for her, said Hoedlmoser.
"The training has been great at Mt. Hutt," Vonn said. "I've been able to get in the training I needed and feel really comfortable with my preparation at this point in the year."
For Julia Mancuso, who is joining Vonn on Head this season, the summer training session is an opportunity to become more accustomed to both the new radii and a new product under her feet. She is reportedly digging the setup, but with any switch, there's some fine tuning that needs to take place.
"(Mancuso) is obviously a different body type than (Vonn), so she needs a little different equipment," Hoedlmoser said. "It's always a challenge when you switch equipment. In the beginning, you always have to figure out what's not working and what is working. … But she's been immediately fast with the new Head equipment."
Of all the girls, Mikaela Shiffrin has been adjusting to the new skis notably well, said the coach.
"(Shiffrin) is doing a really good job on that new equipment," said Hoedlmoser. "Right away, she's really familiar with it. She didn't do too much testing around of different models because it seemed to work for her right away, and it fits her style."
Meanwhile, Stacey Cook, Leanne Smith and Laurenne Ross have been focusing on technique and playing with the new-radius skis, although that's generally not the priority of the speed team.
"For training, the snow has been awesome. It's some of the best conditions we've had. It's been consistent day in and day out. It's been a little bit rocky, but we've been very productive in our training," Cook said. "For the speed team, (the new skis) have been a really good training tool because they force you to ski right. With the old stuff, you could get away with little flaws, but on these skis, you can't get away with anything. They bring out every little detail in your skiing, so we're learning a lot and I think it'll carry over onto our speed skis."
There's good news to report on behalf of Alice McKennis, who is coming back from knee surgery and feeling confident.
"She's been doing some really good stuff on her return to the ski program. In GS, she's doing a good job. Obviously, we've been keeping the volume down with her, but she's in pretty good shape," her coach said. "I think she's way further along than she was at this time of the year last year. It's looking pretty promising for her."
Overall, Hoedlmoser said it's been a successful camp, despite the challenging conditions.
"So far, we haven't really lost a day of skiing," he said. "We've gotten everything in that we wanted. It looks like we're going to get a few more good days, and then it looks like there's a bigger system coming, so hopefully they get some snow down here."
Most of the team is planning to leave on Aug. 3, while the tech racers, Shiffrin and Mancuso, will likely stick around another week or so. —Geoff Mintz
Photos courtesy of USSA and Mt. Hutt