August marks a time when the U.S. Ski Team usually sends athletes to South America for on-snow training to test new equipment and get ready for early season competitions. This year, things are different. In early March the FIS World Cup Tour came to an abrupt end due to COVID-19. April and May are normally off-months for the athletes, but this year the team worked tirelessly through those months to organize extensive protocols, including reworking their online athlete platform to check and monitor coronavirus symptoms.

Thanks to these efforts and the hospitality of domestic resorts, the athletes have not missed any days on snow this summer. Copper Mountain in Colorado, plus Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood in Oregon, are among the ski areas that have found ways to accommodate the U.S. Ski Team.

Taylor has been with the team for five years as the High-Performance Director. The job entails oversight of every aspect of athletic performance, from sports psychology and medicine to conditioning plans. Taylor is constantly finding new ways to enhance the athletic performance of individuals by introducing new ideas, techniques, and machines to the U.S. Ski Team as well as USSA coaching staff across the country. 

Due to the pandemic, Taylor and the team initially worked with the Olympic and Paralympic committee to work on testing facilities and protocols. The team’s USADA lab, usually reserved for drug testing, was converted into a COVID-19 testing facility capable of performing a saliva-based coronavirus test that provides results within hours. 

George Steffey training slalom at Mt. Hood

George Steffey training slalom at Mt. Hood.

Related: FIS Cancels 2020-'21 North American World Cup Races

Taylor explained that although rapid testing is extremely beneficial for the team, it is a priority of the team to test in a responsible manner that does not affect the testing capabilities of local hospitals. The team is “respectful of mountain communities and works to avoid any burden on their healthcare,” says Taylor. Athletes are required to have two negative tests within 24 hours of each other after every travel day and before they can attend team events.

The protocols in place have been stringent and enforced. Athletes not only have to report symptoms twice a day, but the team must also complete surveys on a weekly basis for contact tracing purposes. The U.S. Ski Team has fostered a safe environment for athletes to train in, but “everything is ultimately up to the discretion of the athlete—if they don’t feel comfortable at the Center of Excellence or at a camp or joining a bubble, they are not required to,” says U.S. Ski Team athlete George Steffey,

Steffey, who started on the National Training Group after his high school graduation from Stratton Mountain School, is in his fifth year with the U.S. Alpine Team. After recovering from a knee injury sustained in the 2018-'19 season, Steffey grabbed a World Cup start during the 2019-’20 circuit and has now secured a spot on the B team for the upcoming year with the U.S. Ski Team.

This spring, Steffey was in Europe competing in Europa Cup events when the virus hit. The team was sleeping in their hotel in preparation to travel to another venue when “the coaches woke us up at four in the morning and told us we had to get back to the U.S. because there was going to be a travel ban in place soon and the season is canceled,” Steffey recalls.

Kristina Revello – Rocky/Central Region Development Coach

Rocky/Central Region Development Coach Kristina Revello rocking her way forward at Mt. Hood.

Learn more about Mt. Hood: A Legacy Since 1938 - Timberline Lodge, OR

Since that departure, the team has developed extensive and ever-evolving protocols to protect both athletes and the communities they are in. The goal is to be “conscious of the world’s situation,” according to Taylor. 

During summer camps each host mountain has also had its own protocols in place to ensure social distancing. At Mt. Hood, the capacity has been controlled by Oregon laws banning overnight ski camps for camp-age athletes. In lift lines, six feet of distance is required between skiers.

“In a normal year, if people stood six feet apart, in the lift line it would take up half the hill,” says Steffy. Skiers and riders are used to necktubes and Buffs to protect from intense summer rays reflecting off the snow, so wearing face coverings has not been an issue.

Both Steffey and Taylor are focused on the controllable variables of the current situation. The next few months for the team are uncertain, but, according to Steffey, “we’ve gotten used to shooting from the hip. Do what you can for now and wait for hopefully good news on where we can ski next.” 

More from SKI's Racing Coverage

US Ski Team Aims to Making Program More Inclusive

Top 10 Moments from the 2019-'20 FIS World Cup Tour

SKI Magazine Takes over Operations of NASTAR

Related

Julie Parisien

World Cup Racing Returns East

The last time the White Circus lit up an Eastern resort, an Eastern girl won the GS. Julie Parisien would love to see it happen again.

Mikaela Shiffrin, Soldeu Andorra, 2019

'Mikaela: Out of the Gate'

When Mikaela Shiffrin isn’t skiing, she’s talking about skiing.

Domonik Paris Bormio Downhill

American Bryce Bennett Fourth in Bormio Downhill

Italians Paris and Innerhofer go one-two on home ice.

Tommy Ford skiing Birds of Prey

Ford Wins GS at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek

The American earned his first World Cup podium and first gold medal on American snow, wrapping up a strong weekend of racing for the men’s U.S. Ski Team.

P-20160208-00052_HiRes JPEG 24bit RGB News.jpg

Four Burning Questions for the U.S. Ski Team

As the World Cup kicks into high gear, there’s reason for excitement…unless you’re a Ligety fan.

Ilka Stuhec

Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec Clinches First World Cup Victories Since Injury

Shiffrin and Vonn set to return to racing in coming weeks.

Lauren Salko 9

Lauren Salko: Type 1 Diabetes and Skiing

How one professional athlete navigates the world of competitive skiing while managing her autoimmune disease.