story: Billy Brown photos: Brett and Matt Christensen
MT. SHASTA SKI TEAM
For many kids, winter marks the beginning of several months indoors. But Robert Baker doesn’t see it that way. As the head coach/coordinator of the Mt. Shasta Ski Team, Baker makes it his mission to help equip young skiers and snowboarders with the skills to safely take full advantage of the various terrain that Mt. Shasta has to offer.
“This place is a huge playground in the wintertime,” he says. “We’ve got a beautiful mountain that’s an hour away for people to play on. We want to help kids develop a lifelong passion for it.”
The Mt. Shasta Ski Team is run primarily out on Mt. Shasta’s ski area and is designed to teach athletes how to navigate and enjoy the entire range of terrain. Its coaches are certified by both the United States Ski Association (USSA) and the Professional Ski Instructors of America. The team features a multi-tiered series of programs that teaches kids a wide range of skills from learning to safely navigate groomed trails all the way up to competitive racing.
The programs, which begin in January and end in April, include training on Mt. Shasta with around 15 full-time coaches. The team consists of three main tiers: the Development Program, the Regional Program and the Far West Program.
The Development Program, which runs over the course of six Saturdays and culminates in a fun race, caters to children ages 6 to 12 and teaches fundamental skiing and snowboarding skills that they’ll need to fully and safely enjoy every aspect of the mountain. “The development team is the meat and potatoes of the team,” Baker says. “We take kids who know how to put their skis on and can get on and off of the lifts, and we teach them how to ride and ski, and the basic fundamentals to let them to ski the whole mountain anywhere, any given time, and to just have fun.”
Graduates of the Development Program can continue the season with the Regional Program, a 12-week program for athletes ages 8 to 18 which consists of nine training sessions and three local races. The Regional Program focuses on allowing more advanced skiers to continue to improve their skills and grow familiar with racing. “It’s more involved,” Baker says. “They’ll do a few races, like the Siskiyou Cup at Mt. Ashland.”
From there, students move on to the third and most comprehensive tier: the USSA Far West Program. “It’s the full-time team,” Baker says.
The Far West Program is comprised of practices on Saturdays, Sundays and Thursday evenings with weekday mornings available for practice as well. Athletes in the Far West Program can also participate in USSA and International Ski Federation races with an accompanying coach.
The Mt. Shasta Ski Team offers the two other programs: the Shasta Freeride Team, which teaches skiers and snowboarders to safely ride on Mt. Shasta’s terrain park and its natural features; and the Mt. Shasta Masters program, which caters to adults who aim to improve their skills and ski the entirety of the mountain with ease.
Behind the dry land workouts, agility drills, video analysis and competition lies one main objective for the Mt. Shasta Ski Team: having fun. “The main goal of this whole thing is to instill a lifelong passion for winter sports in these kids,” Baker says.
But the intangible rewards aren’t just for the kids, he says. “As a parent or an instructor, when you see a bunch of little kids tearing down the mountain having fun...it’s awesome. ”