(photo: Tad Eliot rocking the stars & stripes. ‘Murica.)
Back when it was the NCCSEF (The Needless Collection of Consonants Substituted Entirely for Fatuity), the organization was started to be a clearinghouse for skiing support. Begun by the intrepid, Reid Lutter, of Podiumwear fame, the NCCSSSEFSSA sold calenders of mostly clothed skiers with proceeds going to support junior trips in Europe. As an organization, the NEAACPSSSEFUSSAMENSA, was more successful than anything prior to its creation, in large part, because there was, and remains, no other organization that catered to skiing development.
USSA and the US Ski Team have long held the spiritual powers to do what the NCCSEF (mercifully renamed the National Nordic Foundation or NNF, a few year’s back) has taken on as its primary directive. As the sports governing body, one might expect from USSA, team camps, support for European skiing or funding for talented juniors. While in recent years, more support has come from the US meetings (happening this week in sunny Utah) in the form of ideas like Rick Kapala’s J2 talent identification camp or the coaches education process, no further funding has come to support programs or to keep things rolling in the Olympic cycles post-Sochi. In fact, not unlike the last quarter century in nordic skiing, there is preciously little support of ANY domestic American skiing from the head offices in Park City: witness the profound mediocrity of US Nationals held in Rumford for two years since there was, frankly, no one else who would do it.
We are, for all intents and purposes, alone as a skiing community when it comes to developing athletes. This is our role.
This might cause a sport to do some soul searching, which it did over the last two decades. If you’ve seen the Liam Neeson movie, The Grey, an atheistic, desperate movie about a plane crash and survivors in the wild, there is a scene late in the film after (SPOILER ALERT) the last of Neeson’s companions have drowned. Neeson’s character has a moment laying alone in a snowbank staring up at the sky screaming at a hypothetical god and demanding a sign of support. A few minutes of silence happen (figure this is reflective of the late 90s in American ski racing) when Neeson finally looks down and mutters quietly and resolutely, “Fuck it. I’ll do it my self.”
So it’s been with the NNF. Thanks in large part to organizing efforts of Dave Knoop (with support from James Southam and Kerry Lynch, as well as a board of supporters), the organization that started with calendars has grown to thrive again with a budget of over $160,000 in the 2013 season. A large chunk of that money came from the highly successful Drive for 25 program that enlisted donations from predominantly within the ski community.
Here is, perhaps, the NNF’s most important role. Sure it gives money, without which trips like the OPA cup experience or support for the B-team racers on the US team might not happen. Bigger than that, however is the flag waved by the NNF that is our flag. This is an organization for our community, not to be shared with recreational alpine skiers, snowboarder cross, or freestyle USSA license holders. In the eyes of the NNF, nordic skiers are not the forgotten children of an unfeeling or nonexistent USSA god, rather the most important folks.
It isn’t just junior skiers or junior coaches that can feel the difference. The enthusiasm of US camps around the REG experience has sharpened thanks to a feeling of support from the NNF and support for US team staff. College programs have encouraged their skiers to partake on European trips since they are supported by the NNF. Putting these folks together is no easy feat. For that reason, the NNF, and its most critical organizers are award a prestigious Johnny5 award. (Along with the cash prize of $0.00)
Fate gives us the hand and we play the cards. – Schopenhauer
When he was still the head coach at Burke Mountain Academy, a little less than a decade ago, Matt Whitcomb gathered accolades for putting together a strong team of young ski racers. Most folks know that Liz Stephen got her nordic start from a Whitcomb-recruited Burke effort after the tiny climber began her career as an alpine racer, but there were other heavy-hitters born from the culture that Whitcomb built. Ida Sargent, Lucy Garrec, Sam Tarling (who was 46 years old when Whitcomb recruited him as a freshman at Burke and just celebrated his 50th birthday by graduating from Dartmouth) all worked with Whitcomb early on. Around this time, when asked about the pocket of success he rode from Burke to a handful of trips as a Junior Nationals Team leader to an early position as US Ski Team staff, Whitcomb explained it as fate, “I was dealt some good cards.”
Under that logic, one might look over the last two years and accuse Whitcomb of stacking the deck. The US women finished 5th this year amongst World Cup teams, led by Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins’ World Championship performance in Val di Fiemme. Moreover, the women were the symbol of relief for those who’ve spent a life in skiing hoping for international success. The day-to-day details are very simple to do in ski coaching: ensuring a team is supported logistically is a simple matter of time and money. The intangible pieces, what one does beyond logistics or lucky cards, are tougher to get right. In skiing, especially in the US where entropy is grinding away at training an focus, authenticity and certainty go a long way to set a foundation for emotional security, a type of steadfast support. Whitcomb has both authenticity and certainty and he deploys them well..
Moreover, he has the ability to get out of the way when things are going smoothly and is unafraid to look silly if it benefits his cause. (Witness his participation in the team-bonding activity that was the Taylor Swift parody and know that for a devout Motley Crue fan, that had to be akin to farting in church on Easter Sunday.) Finally, and this is an important deal, Whitcomb knows how to navigate the political currents and eddies of ski racing without making a lot of noise. Credit his years as a fly fisherman to inherently understand going with the natural movements of sport. (He once brought a freshly caught and frozen fish to his Middlebury College dorm in the winter months to have it thaw and begin thrashing to the horror of his less outdoor-inclined dorm-mates.) Or credit a New England upbringing that valued quiet ambition. That history combined with Whitcomb’s ability to know just which cards to play and just the right times to play them have made for higher winning margins in US skiing. For that, especially in light of his 2013 efforts, Matt Whitcomb can claim a position as a Johnny5 winner.more →
The famed literary critic, Harold Bloom, wrote, for much of his career, on the difficulty of creating something new as a poet. He called it the “anxiety of influence” and marked its presence in the history of poetry. “Lesser poets become flatterers,” Bloom wrote, “They never achieve immortality.” Bloom railed against mimicry. He decried imitation. If Harold Bloom, were to ever turn his web browser towards the most frivolous and upstart of nordic skiing websites, he would hate (if not be completely confused by) Skierssaywhat. Yet, the mimicry that #Skierssaywhat has cobbled together on a small patch of internet, with its regurgitated reality TV show gifs, nearly-satirical love of Alex Harvey, and devoted following of any tween in skiing has done more to push the culture of nordic forward than any isolated coach, any erstwhile athlete or any development pipeline poster. Here’s why:
There exists, in American Skiing, an ugly indulgence akin to a poet in a black turtleneck, furiously scribbling. It’s is the isolated identity of skiing. I am SO nordic. I am an authority on Nordic skiing. It stems from the difficulty of the sport, the consuming lifestyle of being a skier and the marginal numbers overall in the sport that allow, in many cases, for people to actually gain an odd notoriety in our larger world as a cross country skier. It is too easy to become a caricature of a skier, to put on a costume without the identity. Building the sport isn’t about the costume. It’s about what the sport does to people, how hard it is, how hard one has to work.
There are rarely costumes on #Skiersaywhat since rarely are skiers featured in posts: no heart rate monitor straps, rollerski ferrules or klister torches. The site does not traffic in the typical trappings of nordic. Rather, Skierssaywhat has mostly emotional currency. It posts feelings, the sense of something, Roland Barthe’s noeme, the shared feeling that cannot be described easily with words.
Stringing together the tiniest clips of Community and Seinfeld and Reservoir Dogs with re-appropriated contexts that only those who live in the nordic ski scene can understand creates an inter-sport camaraderie that can’t be recreated elsewhere. Not in camps. Not at the JNs dance. Not in the most earnest of REG powerpoint presentations. #Skierssaywhat is at its best when it holds a mirror up to the ski world, when it allows for small bits of reflection and insight, when it sticks to the GIFs-as-emotional-sharing posts that its followers log on to see. The posts are simultaneously asinine and bumble bee sweet. They boast the cuteness of a baby polar bear, but the straightforward tone of a Maine lobsterman.
Most importantly, and unlike much nordic skiing media that came before #Skierssaywhat, it is accessible. It can be appreciated by those just starting the sport: those who need to see what lives at the guts of nordic. Thanks largely to the potluck format of submissions and sharing, the format and accessibility allows #Skierssaywhat to avoid any anxiety of influence. Rather, it embraces meme after meme in an online ode to skiing culture and a lightning rod for the feelings of those that would call themselves cross country skiers. Hence, mimicry, repetition and flattery are #Skierssaywhat’s tools to something very original and elevating for the scene. For that reason, they are awarded a prestigious Johnny5 award and the immortality that accompanies it.
The Johnny5 is awarded annually to the 5 most instrumental persons or institutions who pushed US skiing forward.
…Until then, here’s a guy on a unicycle serving a tennis ball just to waste your fucking time.
We’re collecting some input on the Johnny5…
Add your thoughts: HERE.
“They were living in the very cold climate doing ordinary work, like cutting and packing wood and going down to the river to bring water up. It gave them the right components.” – From THIS ARTICLE.more →
We’ve all been down this road before. Send along the people you think pushed US skiing forward in 2013 and WHY to firstname.lastname@example.org. 5 Winners (carefully selected by writing their names on paper airplanes and measuring which goes the farthest) get a nice write up here and the pride of knowing they’ve been selected for an award from a website read mostly by people in dirty spandex.more →
The New Triac Au Naturale