Alpine program putting boots on the ground

Published Thu 11 Jul 2024

An important but often unnoticed element of the national alpine program is the interaction between Snow Australia and racing clubs around the country, which forms a critical connection in the athlete pathway.

A mainstay of the Australian snowsports scene, ski racing clubs for decades have produced athletes who have gone on to compete on the international stage.

An increasingly important part of the development strategy is to ensure a strong level of collaboration between the national body to bring the next generation of talented athletes and coaches through the ranks.

While the Coach Academy and FUTURES programs work seamlessly to provide this pathway for some disciplines, the historic success of racing clubs and the sheer size of the discipline means time on snow is prioritised and rather than alpine racers centralising at camps throughout the season, Snow Australia visits them directly.

Over the past weeks, Alpine Director Shawn Fleming has been on the road visiting the race clubs at Perisher, Falls Creek and Mt Buller, listening to athletes, coaches, and parents to identify areas Snow Australia can assist aiding athlete development and high performance.  

"Within the alpine strategy there is a specific focus on the clubs to develop athletes’ on-and-off snow skills and to really make sure we have time to achieve some meaningful development,” said Fleming. “We’re conscious of not pulling kids out of clubs and travelling mid-season which is also why races are pushed to the end of the season: to allow clubs to provide meaningful training for their athletes. 

“It’s way easier for me to go to the clubs - I really enjoy it. Going to the clubs and having ‘boots on the ground’ gives you a feel for what’s going well, if there are struggles, how can Snow Australia be better involved and better utilised as a resource.”

Having spent time with two established programs at the start of the season, Fleming is excited by what the next few months hold after a tour which further confirmed that each club is different and has different needs.

“At Falls Creek, working with Mike Gould who does a great job with their program, we did three days of training with the staff and coaches - on/off snow, indoor sessions, sitting around the tables with interested instructors and coaches,” he said. “We tailored the visit to be specific to their needs and where they saw value before their program starts.

“We stuck around and got to go around with their program operations, watch the coaches work and talk with them.

"At Mt Buller Race Club, Mark Mitter is the new technical program director for MBRC, and in speaking with him and Lesa Brown (Manager MBRC) they were like ‘come out earlier than later and get to meet him, have some talks with him as he settles in’.

“We spent time out on the hill most mornings with the staff and with Mark in the first week of their seasonal program. I got to see some athletes I know, and meet more.

“In the evenings they held their start of season seminars with parents and I was invited along to help answer questions and provide advice on how the parents can be a valuable and contributing member of their young athletes team.”

Before the Victorian trip, Fleming spent a couple of days at Perisher conducting on-snow staff training with respect to Interschools coaching and racing, as well as working with development coaches who run their season-long programs. He will continue to visit and conduct skills assessments with Thredbo Ski Racing Club in mid-July and visit Hotham prior to Australian New Zealand Cup Ski Cross racing in August.

“We’re not there to disrupt what the clubs are doing,” said Fleming. “We tailor it for each club - time it where they see the most value and modify the visits to get the most of them.”

“Learning is born from curiosity, asking questions, and surrounding yourself with experience. I am always looking to evolve development systems and build a common language we can use nationally within the clubs. Being able to visit the clubs and work with the individual Program Directors and their coaches is instrumental in this.”