Alyeska Ski Club Building on Successes
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
This summer, Alyeska Ski Club’s (ASC) athletes are using their recent seasonal successes to train nationally and internationally for this winter.
The Gazette spoke with Jennifer Danza, ASC’s Under-16 (U-16) Head Coach and Junior Program Director. Danza grew up ski racing, and the upcoming season will be her third with the club. She has been in similar positions for the past 17 years while coaching around the world and says her experiences have shaped her coaching philosophy.
“It gave me everything from travelling to building a family,” Danza said. “I can move all of that experience to all my athletes. Hanging out with the athletes and giving my best to the athletes, that’s what my role is.”
Danza gave an update on how late season’s race results helped shape summer training opportunities for ASC’s skiers at each level of competition. She said the U-14 was a very successful age group. At the Western Region Championships, Ava Schweiger finished third in giant slalom and fourth in super giant slalom (super-G), which qualified her to compete in Whistler Cup, where she placed second in giant slalom.
Finnigan Donley finished first in three Western Regions events with Daniel Ferucchi placing second in the same events. Donley qualified to go to U-16 national championship, while Ferucchi qualified to go to the U-14 Whistler Cup Championships in Canada. Because of their results, Donley and Ferucchi were invited to a ski camp in Mt. Hood, Oregon to train with the U.S. Ski Team.
“We’re really excited about that because we’re talking about Alaska, and it’s tough for us to compete with the Lower 48,” Danza said.
Such training experiences help build confidence and skills, which may lead to more success in future competitions. In particular, three of the ASC’s younger skiers are benefitting by competing against top talent.
“The two U-14 boys are very competitive. They have been feeding off of each other. As soon as they get out of state, that relationship keeps working and the confidence builds up. Then Ava Schweiger, a U-14 girl moving up to U-16, she was tagging along too, and she was like, ‘If those boys are doing it, why can’t I do it?’ There you go. It’s the confidence building up and realizing you’re good at it.”
In the U-16, Ava Liles qualified for nationals with 10th place in slalom, and 15th in super-G. The results allowed her to experience racing against top national competition.
Danza was also excited about Hunter Eid’s results in the U-19 this past season. He was invited to be part of the PG West Team, one of the highest level teams below the national level for the western region. He finished the season with two strong races, finishing first and second in Alpine Meadows in California.
“He confirmed 38 points in giant slalom,” Danza said. “He’s very competitive. He also got good results point-wise in Alyeska and Nakiska, Canada.” For the U-19 level, these points are international ones in a system used across the world.
“Having 56 points in slalom and 38 points in giant slalom is pretty great for a second year U-19 athlete.”
Danza said the program is becoming more competitive through mentorships and strong organizational support. She said it will take a couple years to see the program’s effectiveness and results in order to attract and develop young skiers who can compete at the highest levels, despite the challenges of training in Alaska.
“It’s tough because they’re racing internally between each other here in Alaska, but they have to compete in the Lower 48,” Danza said. “What we’re trying to do with this program is preparing these kids physically and skiing-wise well enough to compete in the lower 48 nationally and internationally. Sometimes an athlete wants it a little bit more, and the support of the club and the parents makes them excel.”
Alaska and ASC have a small pool of athletes ski racing compared to lower 48 places like Salt Lake City, which has many other ski areas. Teams can easily travel from one side of the state to the other for training and competitions, which is not the case in Alaska. Regularly finishing first against the same small pool of competitors can make it harder for skiers to push themselves in racing and training. Traveling to the lower 48 and Canada for competition and training helps motivate ASC skiers.
“Here you have to fly and obviously we’re limited with resorts,” said Danza. “The main resort is Alyeska, and even though they’re doing a great job, we don’t have enough of a pool of people to race against each other. It’s difficult. In the lower 48, we’re racing against a lot of athletes, and you get pushed. You don’t know these athletes. You want to beat them.”
ASC’s athletes will have additional motivational and team building opportunities in July when they go to a ski camp in Cervinia, Italy, Danza’s hometown. There they’ll engage with the local culture, food and varied training opportunities, which will help prepare them to excel at future competitions at national and international levels, if that is the trail they choose.