A long wooden staircase climbs the landing zone of the ski jump at Oak Hill in Hanover, N.H. From the top of it you can look down into a lush, fern-filled basin where, in winter, junior ski jumpers slide to a stop. “Great setting, huh?” asks Jane LeMasurier, head U14 coach at the Ford Sayre Ski Club. “It’s great for dryland too,” she adds. The kids panting towards the top, in the midst of seemingly endless laps up the staircase – each time with a new challenge – are not so sure.
So far, they’ve gone up by skipping two steps, then three, then up backwards and sideways, hopping and lunging side to side, in a tuck and upright. Each time they get to the top, LeMasurier conjures up a new twist, always leading the way. Trailing the crew of eight sweaty kids while offering encouragement and some humorous nudging is former Dartmouth and U.S. Ski Team coach Bruce Lingelbach, who now coaches Ford Sayre Academy athletes ages U16 and up. Anywhere from 5-15 junior ski racers, ranging in age from 12-17, show up at these weekly Wednesday sessions. “It’s a challenge creating a workout that is appropriate for such a wide range,” admits LeMasurier. “We’re a little freeform, but it works.”
These weekly, entirely optional outdoor summer sessions were the inspiration of LeMasurier and her fellow U14 coach Leah McLaughry. “We’re just trying to keep it creative, maximize the two-hour timeframe, use our surroundings to the best of our ability, and teach the kids to do the same!” says LeMasurier who, on the slopes, encourages her U14s to let the environment be their teacher. “The same can apply to a dryland program,” she says. “Obviously if we had access to a gym we would use it, but we don’t, so we grab what equipment we have at home and make kids sweat their way up hills and through the fields!” This, LeMasurier believes, is how young kids learn the grit and strength of character they’ll need later in their athletic careers, even if and when they do have access to state-of-the-art facilities.
McLaughry echoes LeMasurier’s motives and enthusiasm. “Our goal is to introduce the idea of year-round, creative, and fun training for these kids to not only maintain and build on their physical endurance and strength, but to realize there is so much available just in our surroundings that allow us to challenge ourselves and get a great workout in!” The two did pool together some basic equipment, but the toughest workouts – the ones that left even the coaches struggling to sit down the next day – required no equipment at all. “I never had a summer dryland program growing up,” explains McLaughry. “I wish I had known how much I could do on my own at that age to help me stay in shape over the summer.” McLaughry and LeMasurier also enjoy interacting with the kids outside of the ski season, both to maintain a connection and to better understand where they are physically.
Physically, at the moment, they are exhausted. Despite a deliciously cool summer on average, today it’s hot. Really hot. The top of the staircase is in the shade, and that’s where the kids take a rest, dangling their legs off the end of the jump. One of them proposes a half-hour break. “That’s called a nap!” another one quips. A little whining, a little complaining, a little bargaining – it’s all part of the deal with kids and dryland, and it varies depending on the group that shows up.
Some kids can push themselves hard enough in a circuit and obstacle course and with others, LeMasurier explains, “we need to head to a venue, like the stairs or a steep hill, where they have to work.” Some days, like today, the lucky kids get to do it all. So far they have already completed a warm-up run through the woods, a progression of agility exercises, and several rounds of a circuit that includes shuffles, burpees, push-ups, lunges, Russian twists, and several versions of jumps. “It should be 6-8 minutes of max effort, with a few low-intensity stations sprinkled in for recovery,” says LeMasurier. “I try to give them stuff they can do at home. This…” she says while motioning toward the agility ladder and a flat cone, “is about as fancy as we get.”
Both coaches are well aware of the positive impact coaches who push hard and care deeply can have on an athlete’s success. LeMasurier’s own mentor was Darrell Gray, coach and high performance director at Burke Mountain Academy. Gray coached LeMasurier at her home mountain of Wintergreen, Va., where he also ran dryland sessions in the summer. “We were Southern ski racers and didn’t really know competition went beyond Pennsylvania,” says LeMasurier. “But I remember working my tail off as a 12-year-old at his camp! From the medals test to backyard challenges, like picking up a folded dollar bill using just our mouths standing on one foot, he had so many creative ways to get kids fit and focused on body awareness.”
McLaughry’s formative training mentor was her high school lacrosse coach, Marianne Doyle (whose kids LeMasurier and McLaughry now coach at Ford Sayre). “Starting my freshman year she made a huge impression on me about work ethic and commitment, preparation, accountability, physical well-being, and fitness. She made me really start to think about how my preparation over the summer could lead to better success by the time Colorado rolled around.”
McLaughry herself (who LeMasurier has anointed Ford Sayre’s “High Performance Summer Dryland Director”) had no summer conditioning program, but she used plenty of Vermont resourcefulness, as when she recruited her dad and his trailer to help her work on her balance. “I’d put on my ski boots and stand on the trailer while he drove it over the bumpiest, pot-hole ridden dirt road we could find. Needless to say, I got a few bruises, and we had plenty of laughs!”
McLaughry does her part to infuse the workouts with both humor and intensity. When asked about their least favorites so far, the kids call up “torture hill sprints” with McLaughry. Their favorite? “The day she let us play Manhunt,” says one youngster. Knowing that Manhunt lasted all of 20 minutes at the end of the two-hour session, I asked him what they did before Manhunt. He quickly replies, “Kept asking when we could play Manhunt.” It’s almost time to head back to the field for a core routine, but they still have a few more rounds on the stairs. As the kids start to flag, one time-tested motivator remains: bribery. LeMasurier offers up a gelato to anyone who can get all the way up the staircase without pausing. It has the effect of a Red Bull, and at the end of the next two rounds, Jane is out four gelatos, gladly.
“You get out of it what you put in to it,” LeMasurier observes. “But isn’t that true about everything?” As the group completes the final rounds of the core routine, there are a few groans and lapses in form. But then it’s over, and miraculously everyone springs up, collects the equipment and leaves with a cheerful, “Thank you. See ya’ next week!”
Jane’s Outdoor DIY Obstacle Course
Lunge walk between each station:
- High and low hurdles
- Slalom pole shuffle
- 16 x Russian twists w/kettlebell
- 16 x box jumps
- 16 x knee touch squat jumps
- 8 x burpees
- Push-up ladder (12 total push ups)
- 16 x tuck jumps
- Agility hops (Hula Hoops)
- 16 x medicine ball squats with push out
- Sprint to finish
- Design each station to accommodate two athletes at a time.
- Incorporate logs, rocks, and natural obstacles as well as whatever you’ve got (ex. gallon jugs filled with water, sand bags, buckets of rocks, etc.)!
- Change up what you do between stations (ex: lunge walk, jumps, lateral jumps, etc.)
- Boost the intensity by timing the entire course, racing a partner, or adding a new twist/challenge each time.