Originally Posted by Rick
Most of us coaches know the importance of devoting training time to free skiing varied terrain and conditions out of the gates, but the pressure of having a full race schedule with each coming weekend a qualifier for a new level of competition, chasing points, and the pressure from parents who believe free skiing is just wasting time causes many coaches to abandon what they know to be in their racers long term best interest by overdoing gate time.
If, however, the coach at least spends time developing a broad skill base along the way the racer will possess the talents to quickly master any terrain they finally become exposed to down the road. That's what you're seeing in those older racers who "can ski it all".
Yes, it´s a well-known fact and it´s in all textbooks but everyday reality is unfortunately different.
(i) A friend of mine took over a team of young racers. After the first season he found out that they had so many ingrained technical flaws that the only way to give them a chance for further skiing development was to sacrifice one season and to re-build their skiing. He moved them to the French Alps next winter and skied almost no gates there but lots of various exercices and skiing free (I saw on the video that they really couldn´t ski powder = they hadn´t got the chance to ski it before). (Almost?) no races attended that season.
As you might expect, most parents, although they were in favor of the "correction season" first, couldn´t accept this in the typical atmoshere of chasing points and comparing rankings. The team started to disintegrate (there were some more issues as well but this was probably the beginning).
If I speak to a guy today who stayed, who later prefered his university studies and now races on the FIS Skicross Worldcup only he says "I know how grateful I have to be for all this".
(ii) I found my notes from a seminar with the Swiss Philippe Chevalier who was the coach of their women wunderteam of the 80s (Figini, Walliser, Hess, Schneider, and some more).
He told us about Vreni Schneider: she joined the national team very late and she had little specialized race training before. Her mother died when Vreni was in her junior years and she had to take care of her brothers and sisters. She mostly could ski free only, just alone, with lots of tree skiing and on not-so-well groomed runs.
That way, she developed enormous variability and was the best in conforming to the course.
(She was lucky to live in the village called Elm which is a smallish but still good ski resort.)
(iii) The insiders knew that a Benjamin Raich, back then a 5times Junior World Champion, was an exceptional young racer. I contacted him and had an interview with him a few months before he started to race on the WC. I was surprised to learn how relatively late he started serious gate training and how much free skiing he did till he was about 15. At least that´s what he told me. (I would have to find out what exactly he said in a back issue of the magazine, sorry, no time now.)
As an issue it´s nothing knew but you/we may find the Schneider and Raich examples useful.