For veteran downhiller Steven Nyman, Mammoth is a re-start.
His 2012-13 season began here this week, along with the rest of the U.S. Ski Team and the U.S. Snowboard Team.
He is an imposing presence. He is 6-foot, 4-inches and, at 214 pounds, lithe—a postcard athlete if ever there was one. He has the sort of smile and personality that makes it easy for fans to cheer for him, no matter what he’s doing.
For now, he’s skiing.
For Nyman, a two-time Olympian who will be back in town over Memorial Day for a speed camp with Mammoth’s Stacey Cook, this season shapes up as a critical junction in his stellar ski racing career.
Now 30, Nyman is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon that knocked him out of the 2011-12 season.
It was good to see him on his skis again, and for Nyman, it was good to be back in Mammoth.
“I think it’s some of the best training we get all year,” he said Tuesday morning after his training runs.
“We can choose from a variety of trails. We can have the steeps, the flats, the gliding, and we take up all the room we basically want. It doesn’t really affect Mammoth because it’s so big and they make it work because they open it up for us.”
That’s to say the least.
For the ski team members, the day begins with training runs at 6 a.m. They basically own the hill until lifts begin for the hoi polloi at the regular time of 8:30 a.m.
It is cold at the tops of the runs. The snow is firm—icy in spots—and impervious to the demanding rays of the sun.
These are perfect conditions for the ski team, which will move on to Mt. Hood for summer training.
But for this week, it was all about Mammoth, and the north face of Mammoth Mountain looked like a sea of racing gates.
On Terry’s run, slalom gates were set. Coming over the knoll of Broadway, Giant Slalom gates were set, while on top, Cornice Bowl was set as a women’s downhill course.
“Mammoth’s always been able to provide us with great training,” said men’s downhill coach Tommy Eckfeldt.
“There’s typically great snow this time of year, and very few people. They give us what we need.”
What Nyman needs are runs, as does Travis Ganong, the Squaw Valley downhiller who also is in town to train with the team.
Nyman grew up in Utah, was skiing at age two (his father ran the ski school at Sundance) and was a discretionary pick for the 2002 Junior Worlds squad where he landed two medals.
The coaches were so impressed, they entered him in a World Cup slalom six days later and he finished 15th to launch his U.S. Ski Team career.
Nyman then powered his way back onto the U.S. “A” Team with a solid 2011 season that included a downhill 11th in Bormio, Italy—classically known as the most physically punishing speed track on the World Cup.
Four other top 30 results, including one in Super G, gave the U.S. Ski Team another starting racer in the discipline and propelled Nyman to a 2011 season, where he finished 13th at the World Championships downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
However, following a training crash last Nov. 8 in Colorado, where Nyman tore his left Achilles tendon, he announced he would sit out the 2011-2012 World Cup season. “Blown Achilles tendon=no ski season for me this year,” he tweeted. “Time to mend, I will be back.”
That time is now. The place is Mammoth Mountain.
“Training here is awesome because the mountain’s so high that it freezes every night,” Nyman said, “and the Race Department is incredible. They build whatever we want. They try to simulate what we need out on the World Cup tour—all the terrain for our drills, our fundamentals, if it’s jumps, if it’s movement, and then we do whatever we need.
“They make it happen. The snow is firm, and that’s what we like racing on. They get out every night to prepare the piste the way we need it.”
Everyone needs it, said Eckfeldt.
“This is the start of it,” he said of the upcoming season. “For ski racers, it’s just beginning.”
From here, the racers go to Mt. Hood for summer training. It’s terrific there, but there is a problem in that the terrain is predictable, unlike Mammoth.
The hours will be about the same, though.
“It’s not awesome to wake up at 5:30 to go skiing,” Nyman said. But then he grinned.