Four-time Olympian Casey Puckett is returning to the U.S. Ski Team as head technical coach for the women’s Europa Cup squad, the team announced this week. Pucket recently concluded a nine-year stint with Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club (AVSC).
Puckett’s primary role with the ski team will be in working with the newly formed Europa Cup group that includes AJ Hurt, Katie Hensien and Alix Wilkinson, alongside coach Katie Twible. The crew has its sights set on Europe for the upcoming season but will also be prioritizing the NorAm circuit in an effort to secure future World Cup starts.
Puckett says he was super happy coaching at AVSC, working under another U.S. Ski Team coaching alum Johno McBride, but when the call came from Alpine Program Director Jesse Hunt with an opportunity to rejoin the national team as a coach, it was too good to pass up.
“I don’t know that there are too many opportunities to take a job with the U.S. team, so I jumped on it,” said Puckett.
Puckett officially joined the national team at the Copper Mountain camp that wrapped up in June.
“Everyone was really stoked to get back on snow after the long break,” said Puckett. “Copper did a great job with their grooming, and we had some good days with hard snow. It was just getting back to basics, and for me, getting to know the team and the girls, it was really productive.”
It’s obviously been a less than ideal start to the prep period with early camps being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team has some catching up to do, but Puckett says they’re ready to make the most of the remainder of the summer.
“I don’t think skiing Copper in June is usually on anyone’s radar,” said Puckett. “Normally we’d be in Mammoth and getting our start there. But other than that — and not having access to Europe — it doesn’t have a huge impact. Everyone has been very responsible. Everyone has been doing everything they can, and the U.S. Ski Team goes over and above in terms of protocols.”
Puckett says, with this Europa Cup group, it’s always a challenge to set the right schedule and to crack onto the next level, but it’s a challenge with which he’s intimately familiar, having done it as an athlete.
“We’re going to be spending quite a bit of time in Europe,” he said. “This is always a difficult group, and I spent a lot of time there as an athlete. … I always called it the trenches. Europa Cup is the trenches. That’s where you toughen up. … But you also have to cover your bases with NorAms, and it can be very challenging to come up with a good schedule and make sure you’re still earning World Cup spots at NorAms — getting points there, but also hitting Europa Cup and making an impact there. … The last thing you want is to have a full go at Europa Cup, and then you don’t have the same FIS results, and you’re not going for World Cup spots.”
As for the roster of athletes, between Hurt, Hensien, and Wilkinson, Puckett says he has plenty of talent to work with and he’s goal-oriented to get this team to the next level. Their main focus will be tech, but there may be opportunities to explore speed events, as well.
“That’s the main focus for all the girls, to have that really strong technical base, a good foundation,” Puckett said. “They need to figure out how to ski in terrible conditions, hard conditions, with really deep fields. If you can succeed on the Europa Cup tour, then the World Cup tour is not too far off.”
The group will continue training at Mount Hood this month.