Edie Thys Morgan
That’s a wrap. The unofficial 20th century US Ski Team reunion took place last weekend in Park City, UT, drawing more than 100 US Team athletes, coaches and techs of bygone eras. Attendees spanned US Ski Teams from 1968 (Robin Morning) through 2021 (local Ted Ligety) with heavy representation from the nineties. There were 16 athletes from the 1994 Olympic team alone, while 1988 and 1992 tied for silver, at 13.
Events included a kick-off party Friday night, with taco trucks at John and Kristi (Terzian) Cummings’ house. Saturday was an outdoor gathering at the Peaks Hotel Versante restaurant. On Sunday morning, USST alumna and current Chief of Sport Anouk Patty led a tour of the COE. Twelve year USST veteran Heidi Voelker organized the event. She first conceived of it a year ago while talking with coaches Paul Major and Chris Poletis. From there, it was a simple matter of herding cats.
IF YOU PLAN IT THEY WILL COME
US Ski Team reunions have been a notoriously tough nut to crack. Alumni can be prickly, as many of them left their athletic careers under sub-optimal circumstances. They shy away from anything that feels too structured or carries a fundraising agenda.
When diving into the task, Voelker relied on the advice her mother offered up when, at age 15, she headed to Europe for her first US Ski Team trip. “My Mom said, ‘Heidi, if you can read and ask questions, you’ll be fine,’ ” recalls Voelker. Once a few key people had committed, Voelker secured discounted lodging and a venue for the main event on Saturday. Then, she reached out to her network to gather names and email addresses. When she needed another event to lure people in, teammate Kristi and her husband John stepped in with Friday’s party. Patty offered up the COE tour. “We all know it takes teamwork,” says Voelker. “We’ve all got to work together.”
AN ORGANICALLY GROWN, FAMILY REUNION
As people passed along names and addresses the list grew organically. The first invitation went out on April 1, with reminders two months and one month out. Each reminder had a kind but firm call to action and an updated list of confirmed attendees. That, in turn, drew more commitments. The idea was to include everyone from the US Ski Team family who wanted to come, but focus on those from the 20th century. This crowd had seen enough of hard qualification criteria. Eventually, of the 130 people invited, 110 showed up.
A key part of the USST family, especially in the days before cell phones and the internet, were the equipment service techs and representatives, AKA “the reps.” The reps did their critical jobs in cramped ski rooms below ground but just as importantly, they served as listeners, counselors and confidantes. While the assembled crew had shared many “Kodak moments”—Salomon rep Curtis Bacca and Kyle Rasmussen at Rasmussen’s first World Cup win, Dynamic rep Alain Veth celebrating with Tamara McKinney after she clinched combined gold in Vail 1989—that is not where the bonds were made. Rather, those were forged in the unglamorous spaces between the highs.
“The reps got the vent from all of us,” says Voelker. “If we were mad at a coach, or sad about our performance, they tried to manage it. They kept us positive and moving forward.” Considering the era, with no viable, affordable communication from home, that day-to-day support was a lifeline. Voelker sees the reps and coaches as the glue that kept everything together on the road. “I think by having it all together it’s a big family instead of just the athletes.”
AWARDS? NOBODY SAID ANYTHING ABOUT AWARDS
Another unique thing about this US Ski Team reunion was that it had no agenda: namely, no fundraising, no hierarchy, no honorees and no awards. That said, if there had been awards…
The “Long Distance” one would have gone to coach Chris Poletis, and long-time Rossi tech Hughes Anzermos, both of whom traveled to the reunion from Switzerland. The “Most Athletes Coached” honor would have gone to Georg Capaul. Over coffee, Capaul ticked off more than 20 athletes at the gathering he had coached during his long tenure with the USST. In the couples division, Deb and Swampy LaMarche (featured in this article on development) earned that same prize. “Most Overqualified” would go to Terry Palmer, who resided on all branches of the US Ski Team family tree. He was a 1972 Olympian, a Slalom World Cup coach, and Dynamic’s competition manager. “Unsung Hero” went to Lorri Sargent, who kept the wheels on the bus for every Alpine Director from 1978-1995. “Best Recovery” to Eva Twardokens, and the “Hail Mary” went to perennial USST supporters John and Kristi Cumming, for once again saving the day.
Steve Porino was on hand to emcee. “I wasn’t asked. I was told I was doing it,” joked Porino. “When Heidi asks you to do something, you do it!” In addition to his usual, professional level banter, Porino acknowledged those we’d lost in the past few years, including American Downhillers Bill Johnson, Tori Pillinger, Eric Keck, and most recently Todd Kelly.
As it turned out, having two events was critical to serving the pent-up demand to reconnect. Chad Fleischer described the Friday event as “US Ski Team speed dating.” With so many consecutive conversations, people barely had time to put in a taco order. As Porino put it, “I’ve never been to a party this big where I knew everybody.”
GETTING UP TO SPEED IN A NEW ERA
Anouk Patty enjoyed the event from the perspective of an alum, and as current USSS Chief of Sport. She led a morning tour of the Center of Excellence. It kicked off with an impromptu photo shoot, featuring Johnny and Lynda Walsh (one of seven couples at the reunion who met during their time with the US Ski Team). The two, clad in matching monogrammed Shaklee sweatsuits posed next to an equally vintage USST Subaru that had recently and mysteriously appeared at the COE.
Once inside, Patty and Per Lundstam walked the group through the latest sports science initiatives and equipment. Highlights included: the ski simulator used at the early stages of the return-to-snow process; the full body scanner used to create avatars of each athlete and then search for aerodynamic advantages; the new SEGR leg press designed to prep the body for ski racing’s punishing eccentric loads (see related story here); and the extensive rehab facility. Lundstam fielded questions from the group. Among them were athletes, like Toni Standteiner, who now coach and have kids in the sport. Former trainers Bill Egan and Steve Victorson talked shop, while Daron Rahlves jumped in to demo the SEGR. Rahlves retired in 2006, three years before the COE opened, and had the unmistakable look of a kid in a candy store.
For her part, Patty enjoyed the chance to circle up with a family she hopes will feel closer to the current US Ski Team. “Not only are we a tight knit family, we have an incredible legacy of success,” says Patty. “In my role I want to tap into that legacy to help our current athletes. That knowledge transfer is invaluable!” Picabo Street has recently engaged with current athletes, and Patty gladly accepted Rahlves’ offer to help the next generation of American Downhillers.
For athletes wanting to opt into the official US Ski Team alumni list, send your info to USSS ACE Manager Mackenzie St Onge [email protected]. Family wanting to get on the unofficial reunion list can contact Reggie and Zach Crist, who are hosting the next reunion in two years in Sun Valley. How? You figured out how to navigate Europe without phones, computers or credit cards — you’ve got this!