‘All kids want to go fast’: Bruce Manske talks about the growth of the Winter Park Nordic program
For Sky-Hi News
When Bruce Manske first took over the Nordic program at Winter Park Resort’s Competition Center, there were just 16 dedicated young athletes, now there are 55. And although the team is still in its infancy, he says the team exemplifies the term up-and-coming.
“We’re a pretty young program, so our promising group is seven kids who are 13 and in the U14 (racing category),” says Manske. “We don’t really keep track of points in that age group, but next year, they’ll be 14 and in the U16 category.”
In U16, kids can qualify to compete in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association-sanctioned junior nationals race series. If they do, Manske and the Winter Park Nordic program will have come a very long way in the four short years since the lifelong skier took over.
Manske hails from Stillwater, Minnesota, where he and his wife (and co-coach) Karen had kids who raced in the Central Cross-Country regional ski division. Manske had done his share of citizen races, like the Birkebeiner, and found “the whole health and wellness part of the sport pretty awesome,” he says.
As his kids’ race careers and his own passions merged, things “sort of snowballed,” he says, and soon enough, he had gravitated toward youth development coaching, which involves teaching kids to ski and then race, and they started attending junior nationals, too, he says.
Prior to 2015, Winter Park’s Competition Center hadn’t had a Nordic team in decades. But at one time, it had offered Nordic jumping. Diehard skiers who lived in the Fraser Valley loved cross-country racing enough that at one time, they organized to create their own Nordic combined competition, which consisted of jumping at the resort and racing at Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Snow Mountain Ranch. The sport thrived for a time, but eventually its popularity faded. Winter Park decommissioned its jumps, thus ushering out Nordic skiing at the resort.
When Manske moved to Grand County, he naturally gravitated toward the valley’s Nordic scene. After a couple of staff changes occurred in the Winter Park Nordic program, leaving an empty director seat. With Manske’s background in youth development, he was a perfect fit.
At the time, the kids trained primarily at Devil’s Thumb, “but they didn’t really have a home,” Manske says. So he sat down with Snow Mountain Ranch and hatched a plan. Snow Mountain remains the team’s primary training venue. Now, on weekends, Manske sets up a utility trailer and pop-up tent. They take over a corner of the resort’s parking lot for the 55 kids, plus eight coaches. Manske is also certified through U.S. Ski & Snowboard to train coaches, so his skiers are getting a lot of bang for their buck.
This year, as usual, he’s focused on developing youth athletes. He said had a discussion with USSA about the importance of development. The organization has developed a plan for training skiers from age five all the way to the Olympics, he says. He adds that doing so in a manner that’s safe and effective for the athletes is priority no. 1. Coach trainers “know how little kids develop in terms of their motor skills, personal skills and personalities,” so they teach coaches this first. Then, with higher level coaches, the trainers start teaching “what a child can do at what age.”
From there, the trainers teach coaches how to determine “how many hours (kids) can train that creates a progression without hurting them. I had a training today,” he says, “and I had this discussion with the athletes as well.”
He says developing a great Nordic racer starts with interest, passion and a desire to try different things from the skier and their family.
“As they try and get more involved, they grow in the sport,” he days.
Generally, he says kids are involved in the sport for three reasons.
First and foremost, “it’s to have fun and be with friends, so it doesn’t matter if you’re at the Olympic level or in our little program.”
Secondly, “kids want to learn and get better at their skill and sport, so to be able to give them that introduction to the sport and skills and keep it fun is key,” he adds.
Thirdly, he said that “crazy enough, all kids want to go fast. That correlates with racing. So we do a lot of really fun, goofy relays, which engage a skill, keeps it fun, and puts in a little competition.”
Every practice ends with hot cocoa. That goes back to the fun and social factor of skiing, says Manske. As for racing, he trains his youngest skiers in baby steps.
“With young kids, to be able to go fast for a really short distance is super cool. To say we’re gonna ski 5K— no 12 or 14 year old can do that fast. But they can for 10 meters and then 20 meters, building up to a kilometer. That’s how they get a feel for cross-country ski racing,” said Manske.
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