A drive to achieve
SANDPOINT, ID- The Schweitzer Alpine Racing School (SARS) is forging ahead in the 2001-02 season in what is a year of transitions for this premier team: a new head coach, a broader focus on winter sports and inclusion of a masters program. The club’s time-honored tradition of training young racers in the art of alpine racing is still honored, of course. But for the first time ever, the club is embracing Nordic skiing, snowboarding and freestyle events in line with a new mission statement created last year.
“It sounds like a full plate, but the coaching staff, board and parents in this club meet these challenges as opportunities to reach youth and continue to foster the love of the mountain and competition,” said Heather Guthrie, a member of the SARS Board of Directors and parent of one of the club’s elite athletes, John.
Taking over where Svein Nostdahl left off is Roger Taggart, the new head coach and program director, who has been teaching and coaching for more than 20 years. “Roger is leading this club with an excellent resume behind him and a great rapport with his athletes,” Guthrie said. “He has an awesome roster of aggressive junior level racers this year.”
Among them are top-notch racer Louis Menghini, a senior at Sandpoint High School (SHS), and John Guthrie, a 15-year-old sophomore at SHS. Menghini was selected to attend three Federation International du Ski (FIS) level races last year in Utah and Canada and has already been offered a coaching position this summer at Mt. Hood. Guthrie finished his season last year ranked No. 2 in the J3 division of the Pacific Northwest Ski Association (PNSA) conference. Along with several other members of SARS, they are training hard for the upcoming Junior Olympic qualifier at Stevens Pass over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend beginning Jan. 19. Joining them will be Meg Coulter, Eric Nord and Henry Moersch of Spokane, Wash.; and Kelly Farmin of Newport, Wash.
In existence for more than 20 years, SARS attracts members from eastern Washington and northern Idaho south to the Silver Valley. There are currently 12 coaches who work with about 100 members from ages six to 18 who train SARS– continued from page 1
anywhere from one day a week to five days a week. Tuition levels range from $330 for beginners up to $1,200 for full-time junior racers, according to Taggart.
Several J1 and J2 racers are sponsored by equipment companies. Guthrie, for example, gained Volkl as a sponsor this season, which provided him with five pairs of skis, a pair of boots, a helmet and goggles.
SARS, a non-profit organization, will use proceeds from one of this year’s fundraisers to establish a scholarship fund. “Ski racing can be expensive. Our goal is to include as many kids as possible,” Taggart said.
The head coach for the previous three years, Nostdahl decided to resign his position at SARS so he could devote more time to his growing business, Sandpoint Sports. Taggart, who had met Nostdahl at 49 Degrees North where he was director of skiing, was pleased to take over the program in mid-September, beginning a new era in SARS’ history as it transitions into a winter sports club.
About nine years ago, Taggart broke free from working in the corporate world to turn to full-time coaching, something he says is much more rewarding for him personally. He enjoys working in an alpine environment and skiing with high-energy athletes on almost a daily basis. Seeing his young charges improve and grow on the snow with techniques that he has taught them brings more satisfaction than anything he did before. A recent example was when one of the athletes, Ian Bray, topped his class at a race in Snoqualmie on Dec. 31. Seeing his pride and excitement over this first-time accomplishment was gratifying to Taggart.
To incorporate snowboarding into SARS, the new director invited his former co-worker, Mark Harris, from 49 Degrees North to head its snowboard team. Harris brought a lot of his athletes from the Washington resort to establish an eight-member team with the goal to expand it significantly next year. SARS’ team will be more alpine focused, running gates as alpine ski racers do, “an opportunity that they don’t get anyplace else,” according to Taggart. Another team based at Schweitzer, the one sponsored by Ground Zero, concentrates more on freestyle ’boarding.
“Branching out opens up opportunities and helps the club get a little bigger and stronger,” Taggart said. “The opportunity that snowboarding creates for athletes is pretty big, so we need to involve those guys.”
As for the Nordic program, SARS held a skate clinic on Jan. 5 oriented to adults, a precursor for a broader program in the future. And for the first time, SARS has contracted to provide coaching for the Schweitzer Mountain Masters, a 50-member-strong club for skiers age 21 and up. The oldest current member is 72.
The ski-racing season lasts eight months, from September through the end of May, and racers also attend summer camp at Mt. Hood, a year-round resort in Oregon, for at least 10 days. The training season is intense, and the travel schedule for events becomes hectic beginning in mid-January with the Junior Olympic trials and continues practically nonstop through mid-March.
“There are so many different disciplines and facets to what we’re doing on the hill – slalom, giant slalom, Super G and freestyle skiing,” Taggart said. “You can choose your level of intensity.”
The more serious athletes strength train in the gym and ski up to five days a week. Guthrie, for example, trains Saturday and Sunday, beginning with speed training before the lifts even open at Schweitzer; then trains a half-day on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by a full day on Thursday. What’s more, his family just completed building a rope tow that accesses a 600-foot-long lighted run outside their home in Sandpoint. So he can slip out after dinner for a few runs on a slope with a “bunch of jumps.” Now he can train virtually every day. This season he has had to contend with a handicap of sorts: He broke his arm in November during a pre-season race in Canada and has been skiing with a cast on ever since.
“Our parents help a lot. They’re not totally pushing me, but they support me so much,” Guthrie said. His goals for this year, his sixth year of racing, are to be on the Junior Olympic team and to place in the Top 10 in the qualifier at Stevens Pass.
The discipline is not just athletic, Taggart points out, but includes academics. Racers must maintain a C-average in order to travel, and study time is set aside during out-of-town race trips. “They’re doing all this stuff and keeping up on school,” he said.
These young athletes have unique personalities, but they all share a “personal drive to achieve what they think they can do,” Taggart said. What SARS ultimately helps them accomplish is to build character overall.
“People leave the program better people, better athletes and better skiers,” Taggart said.