The Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club traveled to Oregon’s Mt. Hood in July for its annual trip. COVID-19 protocols were in place, and there were no positive cases. (Courtesy photo)

Since the early 1990s, members of the Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club (TSSC) have trained at Mt. Hood in Oregon. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, 20 alpine skiers ages 9-19 and their parents, along with five coaches, made the trip in July without a single positive coronavirus case. The health and safety plans that were in place for the summer training camp will now serve as a template for the coming ski season.

“We had to create and keep everyone in a bubble,” TSSC Alpine Program Director Larry Gianatti explained. “We couldn’t have our kids fraternizing with other kids and we had to protect each other within that bubble.”

TSSC freestyle teams, including moguls, park and big mountain, also had opportunities this summer for aerial instruction via local trampoline training and water ramp training in Park City, Utah.

“I think we can implement training safely this season because we did it all summer with zero cases,” TSSC Executive Director Justin Chandler said. “If everyone follows the rules and does what they’re supposed to, I think we’ve proven being outside is doable.”

The biggest challenge for TSSC this season will be competitions where skiers from all over the region gather.   

“We’ve got to make sure everybody is as good as the Utah Olympic Park was or Mt. Hood was with mandatory masks — if they see your nose, you’re off the mountain,” Chandler said. “And riding lifts only with people you came with. We need that mindset.”

While the exact U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) schedule is still undetermined, there won’t be any USSA races before Jan. 1.and all pre-race coaches meetings will be virtual. There will be no score boards nor award ceremonies, and skiers cannot travel to competitions with coaches.

Chandler expects increased interest in TSSC this season given that many state high school sports seasons have been canceled or delayed.

“However, there are only so many coaches and only so much room in the program,” he pointed out. “We want to be as big and successful as we can, but not to the detriment of the quality of the program.”

Currently, there are 475 athletes enrolled in TSSC, a good portion of whom are in the growing Nordic and figure skating programs, which don’t access the mountain.

“We’re anticipating at least 375 kids on the mountain, which is where we were last year,” Chandler added. “We’re comfortable with up to 400.”

With around 80 alpine skiers on the team this season, Gianatti doesn’t necessarily anticipate a setback.

“We’re going to turn this into a positive, just like we did with Mt. Hood. Assuming the lifts turn, we’ve got a plan for accelerated skills development, particularly for the younger kids, and intensive training for the U16s and older,” he said. 

Gianatti reached out to Powderhorn, Crested Butte and Purgatory — all USSA members — to form a Western Alliance in case there’s little to no ski racing this year. While sanctioned alpine races may not happen, single-day training race simulations with virus “bubble” protocols in place could happen for racers ages 8 and older. 

The word is out, says Gianatti — from the mountains of Vermont to Heavenly Valley and particularly across the Rocky Mountain Division — that TSSC Alpine is a model program. David Green, the resource developer for the USSA, is using TSSC’s Alpine Fundamentals Guide, featuring video of local skiers executing specific skills development, as a model for how other clubs might implement a year-long program to promote progressive skills development.

TSSC recently hired longtime U.S. Ski Team and head International Ski Federation coach Shawn Smith as the new alpine ability class coach. 

“Shawn has probably done more coach training in the last 30 years than any other coach in the country,” Gianatti said. “And while our full-time alpine staff are fairly young, they’re now all certified as Level 200 USSA coaches and USSA-certified referees with 300-400 hours of training.”

Also, Jeff Yingling, who served as the head freestyle coach in Park City last year while helping run the Utah Olympic Park, has returned to TSSC to run the moguls program this season.

Working in partnership with Telski to ensure COVID-19 safety, TSSC groups will avoid accessing on-mountain restaurants and instead club skiers will lunch in the Village Core and in the two TSSC clubhouses. And depending on the amount of snowfall and open terrain, TSSC may restrict the amount of time skiers are on the mountain.

Ultimately, Chandler wants to avoid a “let’s just wait and see” approach to the ski season because with proper plans and protocols in place, he’s ready to go.

“That’s how we operated summer camps and it worked,” he said. “Skiing outside is probably one of the safest – if not the safest – thing you could be doing, so I think everybody should plan on doing it.”

Dryland training begins at the end of this month for U14s and older and registration is now open. To register and for more information, go to tssc.org.