I enjoyed the article written by Kirk (Dwyer) and he brings up many valid points as it relates to speed vs tech. Kirk and I have discussed this issue at length multiple times and I have always enjoyed learning from his decades of experience with both male and female athletes.

There is no doubt Kirk’s experience, intuition and instincts are invaluable to all of us involved in ski racing. My primary concern with what is happening with speed is when we choose to not allow for DH racing, DH training or Vail leveraging hosting the u16 champs by saying they will host the Rocky mtn U16 champs but not a DH in conjunction with those champs.

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It’s one thing to be anti speed, to an extent, it is quite another to leverage that position to the detriment of a Division. We as coaches and clubs are not entitled to making that decision. Our job is to support ski racing not our private agenda and mandate this to the division or the country.

The important part- I am not calling out Kirk or SSCV, so let me be very clear. It can work one way within your club but it must not and cannot compromise a division or an age class.  No one person, club or division has that right as DH is an equal share of the 1/4 pie that makes up ski racing at the highest level.

I’m not going to say DH is the best or that we should focus on DH. I am not saying Kirk is wrong but I can say without a doubt that what he uses as factoids for justification does not make him right. Data points do not make great ski racers and while I know Franz Klammer as a personal friend I do not know his SL and GS background. Does Kirk? Does anyone? Does it matter? I bet he was a great skier in SL and GS but there was a reason he was a DH ski racer and if he didn’t get to train DH or race DH he wouldn’t have even considered ski racing.

That’s the point that is being missed. Passion is what a coach cannot teach. No matter what we try and do as a ski coach we cannot teach the will to win, to be fearless, and to throw caution to the wind and take a leap of faith to be the fastest when potentially everyone is scared.

There is an unknown to DH, a detachment of time and space that allows for a skier to do something that lies outside of what is common for a technical skier. That doesn’t mean they are better, it’s just different. A state of mind that is not the same as a typical SL and GS skier or even a Super G skier.

The Biggest Issue Facing American Skiers and the Future of DH

When we turn our back on DH we stop coaching DH. When we stop coaching DH we have coaches that don’t know how to coach speed skill sets. You can train as much GS and SL and Super G as you want but your athletes will have blown out knees, backs and whatever else if you don’t coach them how to ski speed.

It’s a specific mind and skill set and I have personally witnessed coaches trying to coach speed that are clueless because they have never ran it or been around it. A level 300 certification from USSA doesn’t mean much for DH…sorry but that’s a fact and maybe Johno McBride can chime in as I would think he should be the only person discussing DH and the state of DH in America.

I think AJ, Daron, Marco, Nyman as well as Vonn, Picabo, Mancuso and so many other men and women would be interesting to hear.

Bottom line is you have to know how to coach. You need to have kids skiing speed who want to go fast and be DH ski racers not push them to be DH ski racers and most importantly kids need to know how to ski.

Moguls, hit cliffs, park, pipe and big powder lines. Not one person I mentioned above I think of their SL and GS skills I simply think of their free ski skills, their feel for the snow, their ability to push the line in every condition and every run.  

What is new school is data points from a study what is old school and the euros use is knowing how to ski every line, every turn, every day and loving every minute of it.

DH is a skiing event that is not up to Kirk to decide its significance in the sport or at what age it should be considered a valid event.

I would argue SL has become the most specialized sport in the Alpine skiing world that makes it nearly impossible for any SG and DH skier to compete in as most of those guys and girls are specializing in SL.

Are they better skiers? Could they become DH ski racers? Def not and therefore instead of pursuing a NO DH approach let’s focus on all events being relevant, important and teaching our coaches how to coach speed so when kids show up to a DH they don’t fly through fences getting hurt their first day on the snow.

I agree, training excessive or too much DH is not the answer but denying its purpose until a certain age is reached or assuming any of us know a magic timeframe or age is complete and total bullshit.

Ask every kid at U16 champs in winter park last year the highlight it was the DH. Ask them the highlight of the entire year it was Aspen speed week. Just don’t ask SSCV because they didn’t allow their athletes to go to those races. Look at the results from the Super G races at those events that SSCV did show up for and I think the writing is on the wall.  DH is legit and helps develop a skill set that is absolutely essential for overall skier development.

I’m not a hater, I truly respect Kirk and he has taught me and so many others an immense amount of knowledge about ski racing and life as a whole. Differences of opinion are fine and I am simply expressing my opinion about training and racing DH makes kids better overall ski racers and we better make sure we have coaches who can actually coach DH for the future of the sport.

— Chad Fleischer
Steamboat Springs, Colo.

This letter was submitted in response to the letter, “It’s not about tech vs speed.” Have some thoughts on this? Send a letter to the editor. If it’s good, we’ll publish it. Letters to the editor are wholly the opinion of the author. Ski Racing Media does not endorse, edit, or fact-check letters to the editor.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Let me begin by stating I too have respect for Chad and am appreciative of his career and passion for our sport. I also appreciate his counter argument in favor of downhill at young ages. The beauty of sport is there are many approaches which can achieve success and ultimately is up to the country, athlete (and coach) to justify their approach through results.

    First of all Chad’s comment on SSCV not competing in downhill at a young age fails to appreciate that there was guidance from our national federation U16’s and younger should not compete in downhill. Rocky/Central did not adhere to this guidance. Tiger formed an elite working group at the beginning of his tenure which I was part of. It included national team staff and two development level coaches from each region. This included Patrick Riml who has vast international level experience, Jesse Hunt, Todd Brickson, Todd Kelly, Aldo Radamus, Caroline Lalive, Mike Morin, and Dan Leever. Consensus was youth athletes should train speed elements, race super-g, and not compete in downhill (for multiple reasons, some which I summarized in my article). Todd Kelly did cast a dissenting vote but virtually all were in agreement. Rocky/Central did not follow the guidance of our national federation.

    Chad mentions “factoids”. I believe virtually all modern coaches attempt to educate themselves about relevant data and sports science. I am unapologetic in doing so. Ultimately coaching (or being a top athlete) is about understanding the theory then executing based on experience – this is the art of a sport. The benchmark for success of philosophy and strategy are results. I’ve coached approximately 35 national team athletes, seven of whom have achieved top five placings or better in World Cups, World Champs and/or Olympics. Six had top threes, four top twos, and two multiple wins (yes AJ – multiples). Let me add I spend much more time consumed with how my athletes could have come closer to achieving their dreams, take great pride in their exceptional work ethic and love for their sport, and thinking about what SSCV and the US can do to be better. However if the US achieves a 20% rate of named athletes acheiving top fives we will be successful. For those who believe I have been solely a women’s coach or tech emphasis; seventeen of 35 athletes were male, three of the seven with top threes were men, and at least sixteen skied World Cup speed.

    I have a fairly good understanding of past history and do spend time analyzing what works today. More importantly I try to look ahead to what will be; based on trends, science, data, and experience. Our sport has evolved. What I outlined is one pathway which does work. Women mature on average two years prior to men. Look at some of the racer histories of today’s top performers. I was looking at Vlhova’s this past week. She broke through first in slalom, a couple of years later in giant slalom then as she matured emerged in speed. This is more the norm than the exception. Certainly she (like Mikaela) must have spent time training speed and developing speed skills to have the foundation for this success. An emphasis which is stronger on tech, features more training relative to racing, and three events at a younger age goes a long way toward reducing the expense of our sport and will reduce injury rates (for all of these reasons).

    Chad himself achieved a top three result (I believe in super-g). Let’s develop a system which can see more athletes achieve top threes in tech events first and then maybe we can have a male crystal globe winner in downhill.

  2. Well said, Chad. If it weren’t for DH, I would have quit ski racing early on. I would never have made the US Ski Team, and I would never have gotten the self confidence as an athlete that I now have. DH rules!

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