“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
Yes, Al, you got that right.
BC ski team speedster Gerrit Van Soest and BC team assistant coach Montana Molyneux both had the opportunity to take that motto to learn and grow from six days spent with the Canadian national ski team in Lake Louise during the men’s World Cup downhill and super-G week.
Van Soest, 20, in his third season with the provincial team, received an invite to forerun the men’s events, creating a unique opportunity to work directly with the team and coaches. Coach Monty was also invited to join Van Soest.
“There are so many little things in downhill that you never really learn about until you get the perspective of the people who have raced the track,” Van Soest said energetically.
From witnessing the Austrian team skiers inspecting the course at high speed on the race track during inspection – “is this even allowed?” he asked with a laugh – to watching video analysis with the team coaches, or the individual approach of each skier, Van Soest was vigorously processing all the information he had absorbed over the few days with the team.
Learn, study, adapt. Repeat
Van Soest commented about a conversation with long-time Canadian men’s speed coach Serge Dugas, at Tickety Chute, a section on the upper course.
“It was crazy, there was so much information about the terrain there … I was trying to absorb it all and I’m still thinking about it now,” he said from Lake Louise after the men’s super-G cancellation.
Van Soest also singled out a video session with another national team coach, as a stand out learning experience. The coach spent considerable time with him analyzing one turn in great detail. “Chris [Powers] was running me through that first turn and he showed me where I was on and off my edge like three or four times … and every time I do that I’m losing a tenth of a second or more, so it really adds up.”
“You have to be moving over every little bit of terrain so that your edge angle doesn’t change at all and your edge pressure doesn’t fluctuate,” he explained. “When you see the top guys you don’t even see the terrain because their legs move so subtly.”
Bumping shoulders with the sports elite was invaluable for the Vernon Ski Club alumnus, who has seven FIS podiums to his credit.
“I realized they aren’t “gods” and it sort of brought them down to a more observable perspective,” he said. “They’re just guys and they’re better at it and they’re super calm and tactful.”
Adding to the Coaching Toolkit
For Molyneux, in her first season coaching with the provincial team, having the fly-on-the-wall experience helped her see the finer points of prepping skiers at the highest level of the sport.
“The big one for me was inspecting with Geritt, we’d stop at each of the coaches to get feedback. He’s getting all the information that he needs from the Canadian coaches and I’m able to talk through with him what he just heard.”
With multiple course inspections over the week, the information volume was high. “I’d never been on a big boy downhill track and so the information that I was getting was endless,” she said.
For Coach Monty, seeing the off-the-hill approach from the coaches was equally as valuable.
“You walk in to the video session and they have all the data there, the interval timing sheets, the GPS with speed on every turn and data on different guys from the Canadian team … and then you have the video,” she explained.
You see what happens on the hill but there’s so much more that happens off the hill especially on the training days.
For take home lessons learned, Monty commented that her coaching toolkit was expanded.
“The speed side was an area I wanted to work on,” she said, regarding her season coaching goals. “I hadn’t had the experience and wanted to be able to coach the guys more confidently on the speed side. Now I can go into the NorAms with more confidence with this week of experience so it helped my progression as a coach a lot.”
The women’s Winterstart Lake Louise World Cup kicked off on Tuesday this week, with the downhill races scheduled for Friday and Saturday and super-G on Sunday. Gerrit Van Soest’s sister Katrina, will be competing the super-G.
Running a ski club is a “labour of love”, according to the Smithers Ski and Snowboard Club president Cormac Hikisch, but one that is also tremendously rewarding.
As the club president for past five years – and a former competitor for the same club in the 1980s and early 90s – Hikisch is encouraged by the growth and stability of the program, even during Covid times, and with the announcement of two high quality coaches is brimming with excitement.
The Smithers club recently announced that Leslie Firstbrook has joined as the program director and Dillon Prophet, the U14–U18 lead coach. Firstbrook’s coaching resume is long and impressive, including the Alberta ski team, the Osler Bluff club in Ontario, Nakiska and one season with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
Prophet, also an experience coach, has worked with clubs in Alberta and spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Quebec ski team.
“We’re so excited to have such quality coaches taking the helm,” Hikisch said. “This leadership role will define and build our club programming and provide oversight to all club coaching and athlete development.”
According to Hikisch, the Smithers team is very much looking forward to travelling after a stalled season with Covid restrictions keeping the local ski team training on the same slope every weekend. “It was like groundhog day at the ski hill, but coaches Dick Eastmure, Claire Challen, Clay Collingwood, and Jessica Hall all did a great job getting creative and keeping the athletes challenged, having fun and learning.”
“We’re really looking forward to out-of-community competitions this season, like the BC Winter Games, the Teck Open Races and Whistler Cup in April,” he said.
Active and engaged executive
“We have a great mix of former club alumni and some new blood as well [on the Board], and a mixture of professionals, Hikisch said. “It’s a really keen group for fundraising, organization and all the factors of a non profit. We’ve done some great work with grants; we received a Nik Zoricic grant for safety netting, a local forestry service grant, NDIT supported us for a major cabin upgrade and ViaSport … new gates, radios. We’ve been successful on a lot of fronts.”
But what excites Hikisch the most is the stability and retention of the skiers.
“The momentum of all of our athletes returning is so exciting,” he said. “To have four girls punch into the U18 age group is awesome. “We want to help create skiers for life – first and foremost – and to have an avenue for that calibre of racing is important to us as a club. The number of athletes who have returned just shows that we’re helping them create that passion and to put the effort in. That’s really exciting to me; I’ve seen so many young boys and girls stop playing sports too young.”
All ski racers enrolled with the club returned and the club has grown to over 120 competitors for the 2021-22 season. “It’s the most we’ve had in a generation,” Hikisch beamed.
The club is preparing for trip to the Mt Sima, Yukon, next week. “We’ll based out of Whitehorse with six days on snow planned and also we will utilize the Canada Games Centre for our off snow training.”
The Smithers club continues to prove the value of community, team effort, creativity and quality leadership can propel an organization to great heights.
Smithers Club executive team (2021-22)
Cormac Hikisch (President), Dave Bobb (VP), Ben Weinstein (Treasurer), Jeanne MacNeil (Registrar), Matt Sear (Alpine Chair), Mike Sanborn (Snowboard Chair), Lara Collingwood (Fundraising), Margaret Groves (Director), Gavin Murdoch (U10 Coordinator), Ryan Willman (U10 Coordinator), Charla Kilback (Secretary). And new member Joanne Devlin-Morrison (Fundraising).
It’s what every business, every team, every athlete strives for. Without it, the path becomes less clear, the outcomes less predictable, and the road bumpy. When there’s a positive growth-oriented culture in place, the necessary leadership direction crystallizes.
Creating a positive culture in any workplace is much easier said than done. And when you have it, cultivate and maintain it, a take a step further.
This is the fortunate position in which former World Cup racer Mike Janyk finds himself as he settles into the role of executive director for the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
Janyk spent the previous five years as the program director of the Grouse-Tyee Ski Club, wearing down the tread on his tires during a 120km daily commute on the Sea to Sky highway … but coming out the other end having developed and refined his approach to running a club and ensuring consistent growth is attained.
The creative-minded 39-year-old commented that his experience and time with Grouse-Tyee was exceptional, with personal and club growth attained over the five years. Janyk pointed towards a creative culture within B.C.’s largest ski club — located in North Vancouver — where all members played a role in the successes behind a “top-shelf” coaching leadership team.
Implementing a slogan “Dare to Care” with the Grouse-Tyee club, Jaynk’s focus was to inspire young skiers to “develop confidence, physical literacy and exceptional skills” all under the overarching focus of building “skiers for life” a core component of Alpine Canada’s long term athlete development plan.
“I don’t think I can take the slogan with me so we’ll need to come up with a new name,” Janyk said with a chuckle. Now with a much shorter commute, he has returned to his home club in Whistler, coming full circle back to where it all started in his ski racing journey.
“I have to pinch myself a little,” Janyk admitted. “I’m humbled by it … and stoked and excited on the other side of it too.”
The 14-year national team skier, three-time Olympian and world championship medallist with 27 World Cup top 10s in slalom to his credit, Janyk is well versed in the high performance pathway for elite skiers. But his approach leans towards holistic development and creating programs and leadership which applies to every club member, at all levels.
“Of course we need to keep a focus on high performance pathway and strive for excellence but I want all members to develop themselves,” he said. “Helping all of our athletes tap into the emotions around performance and working on mindfulness and body awareness and those kind of things.”
When Janyk took over the reigns of the Whistler club in mid May, he inherited a well-oiled machine from interim leader Bob Armstrong, who managed the club for nearly a year after Mark Tilston – Mike’s brother-in-law – took over the role as men’s head coach with the Canadian ski team after leading the club for many years.
Now as the face of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club – one of the most recognized ski clubs in North America – Janyk intends to use his experiences to develop the next generation of athletes, with a focus on physical literacy, confidence building and superior skiing skills at the core.
Since retiring from World Cup ski racing in 2014, Janyk has been involved in a diverse range of activities connected to the sport, including the Mike & Manny Foundation, a funding and skier development initiative, alongside his former teammate Manny Osborne-Paradis. The highlight of the program was an annual four-day ski camp with all expenses covered for 10 to 15 young ski racers from across Canada.
“I have a technical eye for the sport, so that helps,” Janyk said. “I know what it took for me, and for my teammates—the work ethic—and so I can help guide a lot better, because I have an understanding of what it takes.”
Coaching Culture Hotbed
Janyk quickly discovered a robust coaching system in B.C., which was organized, strategic and collaborative. Attributes that work well with his personality.
When Janyk took on the role with Grouse-Tyee, he was unsure of the system set up for coaches and the nuances of coach development but soon learned of the collaborative and forward-thinking system which challenged him personally to refine his approach.
According to Janyk, coaches in the province take pride in their professional development and role in guiding youth skiers. “B.C. is a real hotbed of coaching,” he said.
Janyk’s vision of the sport and its direction should be aligned with Alpine Canada, who announced this week its five-year strategic plan labelled “Made for Canada – The Future for Ski Racing in Canada,” with the goal of progressing into a top 5 alpine nation at major events (i.e. Olympic Games) as well as continuing its dominance in ski cross and para-alpine.
Alpine Canada CEO Therese Brisson, now with 10 months at the helm, said the strategic plan identifies earlier talent identification, increased fan experiences “that excite Canadians”, a stronger brand presence with a broader audience … and increased excellence in coaching, member services and safe sport.
“In a year that we celebrated 100 years of ski racing, we took the opportunity to rethink our strategy to ensure it best meets the needs of our athletes and carves a path towards a better future for the broader ski community,” Brisson said. “The plan articulates the vision, priorities, and commitments needed to be a world-leading ski racing nation and achieve our dual mission to increase podium performances and inspire growth in participation and fans.”
Part of the strategy is to continue to “develop a pipeline of national team caliber Canadian coaches”.
At the grassroots level, Janyk – now a development level certified and performance level trained Alpine Canada coach – is clear about what he envisions as the pathway for the sport and how to guide not only young skiers and coaches but also general members towards a goal, with purpose.
As part of its new social media strategy, BC Alpine recently hired two “Social Media Interns” who are tasked with helping publish interesting content on a regular basis. Stef Fleckenstein (@stef_fleck), a Whistler Mountain Ski Club and BC Ski Team alumna who is currently racing World Cup with the International Ski Racing Academy – and Molly Raymond, an up-and-coming racer from the Okanagan Ski Team and Apex Mountain Ski Club, are ready to roll.
BC Alpine is pleased to announce that Dustin Koepke has accepted the BC Ski Team Assistant Coach position and is expected to hit the ground running at the end of July when he joins the team for a dryland block in Whistler.
Koepke lives in Lake Country, BC and has been coaching BC athletes since 2007. He started at his home club of Big White as a seasonal coach for 13 to 17 year-old racers. In 2014 Koepke began a 3-year stint with the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club managing the U16 program. In 2017 he moved to the Okanagan Ski Team as Associate Head Coach of a large group of U19 athletes. This led him to his most recent role as Head Coach of the Vancouver Ski Team for the past two seasons.
Dustin comes to BC Alpine with considerable experience running ski teams in BC. He has a good understanding of the BC system and familiarity with most of our current FIS athletes. He believes strongly in ongoing professional development and is currently working on his Advanced Coaching Diploma.
“Adding Dustin to the team couldn’t excite me more,” said BC Alpine VP Johnny Crichton. “I believe in hiring from within and he’s a BC boy who’s put in the work! Dust also has a huge passion for learning and comes into this with a growth mindset attitude. It’s going to be fun!”
“We are very excited to have Dustin join the BC Ski Team staff,” said Morgan Pridy, BCST Head Coach. “His work with different clubs and age groups in BC over the past several years has given him excellent experience and perspective within our province’s development system. I think he will be a great addition to the team.”
As he enters his fifth season with the BC Ski Team coaching staff, we are excited to announce that Morgan Pridy has accepted the BC Ski Team Head Coach position! Following in Nick Cooper’s footsteps leaves Pridy with some big shoes to fill, but the two have spent four years together building a strong foundation of professionalism, teamwork and high-performance. Pridy is an obvious great choice for the role, and with Nick not far away, the transition is sure to be smooth.
“We are thrilled about Morgan Pridy stepping into the Head Coach role”, said BC Alpine VP Johnny Crichton. “As a life-long athlete and now coach in BC, he has been training for this role his whole life. Morgan’s vast race experience, his ability to clearly communicate with the athletes and his tireless work ethic really stand out in his long list of attributes.”
“Morgan will be assisted by Montana Molyneux, who starts her second year with the team,” added Crichton. “BC Alpine will be looking for a third coach to round out the staff, and they will be tasked with not only the continued success of the men’s team, but also building back a strong women’s team. We are excited for the future!”