In the weeks prior to the U.S Women’s Alpine Ski Team training camps in Portillo and Valle Nevado, Chile coaches were, to say the least, a bit nervous. But if hindsight is 20-20, then Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser and his crew should be able to see in the dark.
“It was an incredible camp on all accounts,” said Hoedlmoser. “Leading up to it, we were all concerned. It was warm, the snow was melting and the weather reports weren’t looking all that favorable, but I kept in touch almost daily with the Austrians, who were training there before us and they kept saying the snow was good.”
A few days later, Hoedlmoser got word that the Canadian men balked on Portillo entirely and in the process essentially handed full reign of the training slopes to multiple Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso. The pair, along with Olympians Stacey Cook, Alice McKennis, Leanne Smith, Chelsea Marshall and young guns Laurenne Ross and Julia Ford took full advantage.
“As soon as the Canadians pulled the plug, our decision was clear,” he said. “We had the entire place to ourselves and could do exactly what we wanted on the training slopes. It was easily one of the most productive camps we’ve done in a long time.”
Perched at nearly 10,000 feet above the ocean (which is around three hours drive from the resort), Portillo is exposed. When the snow is falling, it’s pounding. Consequently, when the sun goes unshielded, it’s blazing hot.
“We had days were it was way warmer in Portillo, than it was in Mammoth,” said Cook, a two-time Olympian. “The weather made it feel a lot like spring break at times, but the training was a swift reminder that this was work – good thing I like my job.”
Mornings were those of the rooster with the athletes rubbing eyes and stretching well before sun rise. The lights Portillo’s Octagon were the first to flicker, then followed the predawn lift rides. Speed Head Coach Chip White, Hoedlmoser and their staff would have been on the training slope before the Team had breakfast.
“It was tough on all of us,” said Hoedlmoser. “The coaches were on the snow well before the sun came up and most days we were out there working on it until after dark. Every day new rocks were poking through and towards the last part of the camp, we were using a cat to push snow onto the lower portion of the slope, but Portillo really came through with its resources and made it happen. By the time the girls hit the snow, the course was ready and the training was incredible.”
On days when the sun wasn’t shining, the light was flat making visibility a serious challenge when speeding downhill upwards of 70 mph. Without a tree in site, a sea of white makes blue dye lines and gate panels the only means of definition.
“It was in their face, that’s for sure,” added Hoedlmoser. “On a lot of those mornings, it was bumpy, icy and rattling, but they learned to deal with those tough conditions in a hurry. The day-to-day improvements were really impressive with all the girls. After this, whatever conditions we encounter on the World Cup this season are going to be peanuts.”
“For sure the intensity was a lot higher than ever,” agreed Cook. “There’s been a lot of positive changes in the program made by the new coaching staff, plus we’ve got Julia back training with the speed group and Laurenne and Julia Ford are really pushing us. Normally we have either quality or volume at our training camps, but in Portillo we had both at the same time.”
Vonn and Mancuso will now have a few weeks off snow, but not out of the gym, before heading to Europe for final preparations for the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup opening giant slalom on Oct. 23 in Soelden, Austria.
North America will host the White Circus on Thanksgiving weekend as the World Cup swings through Aspen, CO for the annual Aspen Winternational.