Mammoth Mountain, for six decades a ski racing nucleus, made another bigâ€”and fastâ€”commitment to world class ski racing this week.
The home mountain of Ski Cross X Games Gold Medalist John Teller introduced Monday what it called â€śthe nationâ€™s premier Ski Cross junior program.â€ť
â€śMammoth is super excited to be essentially on the forefront [of ski cross] on the American side,â€ť said the ski hillâ€™s 36-year-old performance director, Pete Korfiatis, back in Mammoth after seven years coaching the U.S. Menâ€™s Ski Team.
â€śOur mission is to be the best in the nation and to embrace every element of skiing. As for ski cross, itâ€™s aggressive, and a lot of fun.â€ť
The new commitment to the sport, which is on the bill at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Solchi, Russia, isnâ€™t a huge leap for Mammoth.
In addition to Teller, Mammoth also is the home hill for up-and-coming Tyler Wallasch (U.S. Junior World Ski Cross Team) and Madeline Riffel, who is World Cup qualified.
Even so, it is definitely a step forward for Mammoth Mountainâ€™s Ski Team.
Designed with the full support of the ski areaâ€™s operations, including the promise of exclusive training access on a NORAM level track throughout the 2012-13 winter season, the program â€śis poised to be far superior to any other available in the United States,â€ť said ski area spokesperson Joani Lynch.
The 52-week program, which began on Opening Day, Nov. 8, currently is accepting applicants 16 and over. Additionally, spring camps will also be offered in May and June, based on conditions, Lynch said.
Mammoth Mountainâ€™s development of the track and ski cross program is leading the way for Ski Cross in the U.S., said Korfiatis, a veteran Mammoth hand who grew up in Eastern Washington.
â€śWe are so excited about this program and Mammoth Mountainâ€™s support,â€ť he said.
â€śMammoth management looks at our team as an asset and is committed to providing the support we need to keep producing world-class athletes. No other program in the country compares on this level of mountain support and training access.â€ť
Last year, the X Games dropped ski cross from its lineup, but it remains an Olympic discipline, at least for the time being.
â€śWeâ€™re going to see what the future brings after the Olympics,â€ť Korfiatis said. â€śWhen the X Games dropped it, it was a huge hit. But if an American medals (in Solchi), it will survive. Medals get support.â€ť
Lynch said with year-long training, conditioning programs and spring camps, Mammoth ski cross programs are designed to facilitate varied levels of skiers.
The program is currently aimed at FIS athletes age 16 and older.
Mammoth Mountain, with its long season and wide-open terrain, seems to be an ideal spot for Ski Cross, which oddly enough is lumped into the international freestyle skiing rather than alpine because it incorporates terrain features traditionally found in freestyle.
In a time trial or qualification round, every competitor skis down the course, which is built to encompass both naturally occurring terrain and artificial features like jumps, rollers, or banks. After the time trial, the fastest 32 skiers (fastest 16 if not 32 competitors) compete in a knockout-style series in rounds of four.
A group of four skiers start simultaneously and attempt to reach the end of the course. The first two to cross the finish line advance to the next round. At the end, the final and semi-final rounds determine first to fourth and fifth to eighth places, respectively.
Competitors are not allowed to pull or push each other during the knockout rounds. Any intentional contact to the other competitors is penalized by disqualification or exclusion from the next race.
The International Ski Federation (FIS)â€™s FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup recently added Ski Cross competitions to its calendar in addition to moguls and aerials.
The International Olympic Committee decided in November 2006, to include Ski Cross in the program of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver.
Leading the team is Ski Cross Coach James Tautkus, who comes to Mammoth from Park City.
As a coach with Rowmark Academy, Park City Ski Team, Western Region Speed series and other U.S. Ski Team camps, Tautkus said his high-level exposure to alpine racing will be a major asset to the program, not to mention his enthusiasm for Ski Cross.
â€śThese kids have had exposure to a lot of terrain, raced at a competitive level, and have already gone through the ranks of development programs where theyâ€™ve been able to establish good skiing,â€ť he said.
â€śThe sport itself is fantastic. I love the vibe of it, the competitiveness, the tactics; I grew up as a ski racer, and this is a very exciting event to participate in.â€ť
Regular season training on a Mammoth Mountainâ€™s NORAM-level track is unprecedented, Korfiatis said.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a hard-charging track,â€ť he said, situated on the Main Lodge racecourses and throughout the area. When the athletes are on the road, Mammoth crews will knock down the terrain features, and skiers and snowboarders wonâ€™t know that the tracks were even there.
The added benefit, naturally, is training alongside Teller, as well as current (and local) team members Wallasch and Madeline Riffel.
â€śIf youâ€™re going up against the best and hanging close, chances are youâ€™re getting pretty good. To be able to have that access to that caliber is a huge benefit,â€ť he said.
Michael Gregory, Director of Unbound Terrain Parks, said his crew is at the ready.
â€śWeâ€™re excited to be at the leading edge in the development of the highest level program and bringing in a new generation of ski cross racers at Mammoth. Ski Cross is a very exciting sport and weâ€™re committed to the development of a superior program.â€ť
The teamâ€™s travel schedule will focus on the NORAM schedule, with the opportunity to go to Europe based on results, Korfiatis said. Opportunities for younger athletes in a development context will be introduced within the Mammoth program.
For those in school, the Winter Tutorial program through the Mammoth High Schoolâ€™s Independent Learning Center allows student athletes to enroll in an academy environment in Mammoth while training and competing with the Mammoth Mountain team without sacrificing academic progress,â€ť Lynch said.