A few years back, it was always the way that anyone who wanted to “make it” had to choose between doing seasons, and getting good at riding and all that comes with it – or going to university or other further education.
It seems after my last trip, that in order to get good at snowboarding nowadays, the best thing you can do is to go to school. That is if your lucky enough to be able to speak Norwegian or Swedish to get into one of the snowboard schools in Geilo or Malun, or alternatively have some Swiss German in your back pocket and even more cash in your other pocket and being able to afford to go to the school in Davos.
I visited the NTG school from Geilo last week. They were on their second two week stint of the autumn down in Saas-Fee and it was here that my eyes were really opened to the way these guys operate such a successful set up.
Great visionary leaders
Think of any of the guys you have been watching in various movies and contest wins recently. Chances are high these schools have a good deal to do with it. Torstein Horgmo’s part in the standard movie is unreal, with that triple cork at the end it’s insane, but mark my words it wouldn’t haven happened without his time spent putting in the hours up in Geilo under the watchful eye of his school coach Per Iver Grimsrud. You heard that name before? Yeah me too, and you know why? He enters contests alongside the riders he is coaching, and he invariably makes finals at least. You ever remember your school sports teacher being that cool? Our teachers were cool if they could even kick a ball in football let alone give you a run for your money in a 22-foot super pipe.
It’s not like this schools just popped up from nowhere near good resorts. No, they had great visionary leaders within their governments who saw the benefits this would bring to a country by having great national heroes in winter sports. Too many countries feel that the only role model people need is an over-hyped footballer who ends up sleeping with someone he probably shouldn’t have. Take a look at Norway, in 1998 Stine Brun Kjeldaas was on the podium at the Olympics, and since has been on every TV show under the sun and become a national hero. Kids look up to her, and a very young Silje Norendal even knocked at her house in Kongsberg to ask for an autograph. So these countries have great athletes to follow, but it does take very forward thinking governments to invest in this kind of programs. Damn in Finland they even built an indoor half pipe to hopefully one day have a Finnish guy on the podium. Oh wait, they already did, with Peetu Piiroinen, who was incidentally the most successful Finnish athlete at this year’s Olympics.
Cooperation with national teams
So is it just these schools out on their own, crusading and fighting the good fight for snowboarders everywhere? Well in a word no. Up in Norway, the government also has set up one of the best national teams in the world, with Thomas Harstad being one of the main coaches there, and so all of the guys at the school have their term time under the watchful eye of Per Iver and then when they are with the national team Thomas Harstad. Not a bad combo. Both of them work closely together along with their organizations, to ensure athletes are in perfect shape when they need to be.
So how can they go to school whilst they are in Saas-Fee I hear you ask? Well how would you do it? Close the school of course and move the whole lot to Saas-Fee. So you have slalom and downhill skiers and snowboarders all down there but all with their own sports divided up. They get up at 7am, have a good breakfast, take as much brown bread as possible up the hill (of course that’s the healthy choice) and then ride with half a dozen or so other equally talented riders until about 2pm. Then down the hill for some stretching, some facebook time, and the 4pm school starts until 6pm. Then repeat that everyday for two weeks. It’s like there is a production line for riders coming from the schools, and it’s a shining light of how national teams, and governments should think. Watch the video of Tor Lundstrom, that’s pretty much how he gets down everyday. If you haven’t heard of him before either, he shreds, and he loves it. He is going to be on fire this season.
Tor Lundstrom being awesome and Jon being bad at holding his iPhone.
Meanwhile down in Austria and Germany the riders are stuck with regular school, and having to ride at weekends and Fridays when they finish early. But there is no weeks off to attend contests, no understanding teachers to help out balancing your studies and snowboarding.
Take Ethan Morgan for example. He started doing his further education at the age of 16 in in Garmisch/Germany, but had to leave after a couple of months and begin the tough task of self-motivating himself to learn online. Why was that? Because the German school didn’t ever understand his need to travel to ride or attend contests, and if he was to attend an event with the German national team – would the school help him by sending him school work to keep up to date? Of course not… They only were interested in helping out the “ski springers”, which they felt was an Olympic sport, because of course snowboarding doesn’t compare to that much vaunted sport of giant lemmings flinging themselves off jumps and giving it their best erection poses to go the furthest…
So if the schools in central Europe aren’t set up to help future stars, what about the national teams? Well, in Germany, they are certainly motivated, but still under FIS rule, and so the TTR takes a secondary status. Whilst our friends from over the border in Austria – well along with not realizing smoking should be banned in bars yet – still haven’t really realized the need for a good national team to help the nation’s hopes. There is a school, but it’s not churning out riders at the rate that Geilo or Davos is, if any at all.
So is this a dig at central European governments, national bodies, and school systems? No, I mean without a role model to say “look that rider podiumed at the Olympics” it will be tough for the countries to realize the significance the grass roots play in the whole thing. It’s just a shame though that for a country to really sit up and get its house in order, it will take a rider to do it on their own, fund their own schooling, pay for their complete career just to make the Olympics, for these people to take notice. By that point they will all be jumping on the bandwagon claiming it was all them.
Anyways, tale from this week? Heads up and hats off to everyone from NTG, the schools in Davos, Norwegian and Swiss national teams, you guys are keeping Europe one step ahead of the rest.
In two weeks time: Why my pre-season used to mean stopping drinking and now means gym routines and strength training.
Jon asked us to add that most of this was written while he was on a plane and without any fact-checking opportunities. If you find anything wrong (or particularly right) with this post let us know in the comments. More from Jon Weaver on his blog www.the-goodlife.co.uk!