When Felix McGrath was named head coach of the Norwegian Women's Ski Team this past summer, his peers in the business called it the biggest breakthrough ever for a U.S. ski racing coach. In the Euro-centric world of ski competition, McGrath's appointment was akin to the Dallas Cowboys hiring a Norwegian to lead them to the Super Bowl. To take readers behind the scenes on the World Cup, Felix will be filing weekly reports on skimag.com as the Norge women do battle on the World Cup.
McGrath is a five-time national champion who finished third in the World Cup slalom standings to Alberto Tomba in 1988. Most recently he coached the University of Vermont ski team. With a Norwegian wife and a young child, McGrath and his family decided to move to Norway last summer-where he was aggressively recruited by the team. "I didn't apply for the job. They just called me up and I got it," Felix says.
Despite the brutally high cost of beer ($9 a bottle) and golf ($100 a round), McGrath is taking to life in Norway-and as a coach on the World Cup. He is currently enjoying a perfect record: Norwegian Andrine Flemmen tied for first in the opening World Cup GS in Soelden, Austria, in October, and his team is second to the Austrians in the SKI Magazine Nations Cup. Flemmen's win triggered a finish-area celebration-and made front-page headlines in all the Norwegian daily newspapers.
McGrath was a steely-and occasionally gruff-competitor who went on to a successful pro career after his stint with the U.S. Ski Team. As he entered coaching, he assumed a much broader view of the sport and its potential pitfalls-his ex-teammate Tamara McKinney now refers to him as "the kinder, gentler Felix."
His athletes have taken to his organized yet flexible style, and vice versa. Felix is working on his Norwegian, but since the women all speak English, it isn't a priority. Winning, however, is.
"There's no screwing around with this team," says Felix. "They mean business. They want to win."
As the World Cup opens its North American swing in Park City, Utah, Nov. 21-24, then heads to Aspen, stay tuned to skimag.com as Felix McGrath shares the challenges, the wins and the losses, with readers. Click on the link to the right to read his first installment.