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Marjan Cernigoj Talks Shop: Women's Development

By Megan Harrod
October, 10 2018
Women's Development Team
Marjan Cernigoj (second from right) was hired as head women’s development coach in May. From L-R: Brett Jacobson, Ainsley Proffit, Keely Cashman, Nellie Rose Talbot, Zoe Zimmermann, Brynne Hitchcock, Nicola Rountree-Williams, Cernigoj, and Shaun Goodwin pose for a photo while training in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

In late May, U.S. Ski & Snowboard announced the appointment of Marjan Cernigoj as head women’s development coach and counterpart to head men’s development coach Sasha Rearick. Since coming on board, Cernigoj has been on snow with the women’s development group across the globe, hard at work improving communication between all levels of the program, including regional director, club alpine directors, club coaches, personal coaches and the management of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

With renewed focus on development at U.S. Ski & Snowboard as a result of “Project 26,” the organization has brought in club-level athletes and invitees to train with U.S. Ski Team coaches, staff and Development Team athletes in an effort to create consistency in their approach to development that coincide with the U.S. Ski Team’s philosophies. This group has been deemed the “National Development Group” (NDG). To ensure the Team’s philosophy filters down to the club level, key club coaches have also been included as an integral part of these projects.

What do these projects look like on the ground? This summer, it all started with camps at Squaw Valley and Mammoth, Calif., Timberline Lodge, Ore. and Saas-Fee, Switzerland, with Development Team athletes, NDG athletes, and invitees.

Rearick took a men’s development crew to California, and shortly thereafter, Cernigoj was hired as Rearick’s counterpart on the women’s side and hit the ground running with development projects in early June. Their first joint project was the on-snow camp at Timberline Lodge Ski & Snowboard area in Mt. Hood, then Cernigoj had a short break before hopping the pond to Saas-Fee in August. We caught up with Cernigoj while in Saas-Fee to talk shop.

Alpine Press Officer Megan Harrod: So you’re in the lovely Saas-Fee, Switzerland - how is it there?

Marjan Cernigoj: We are kind of stuck in this cycle where nights and mornings are really good, and in the afternoons the thunderstorms come in...but all of the snow on the glacier is unbelievable. A week before we came, it was raining at least four out of the seven days, so yeah - it was super warm and there were some thunderstorms but this weekend it is just unbelievable. I can’t say how good it is for us.

Megan: I know you kind of hit the ground running with a camp in Hood with a large group there.

Marjan: I will start at the beginning. So, I got hired on June 1st, which was actually quite late for the preparation season so I had to learn very quickly what “Project 26” was all about, and what the new development format consisted took me quite a while to learn all the moving parts but I think I am getting better and better at understanding of the entire project. I definitely learn when I am on the ground you know from the athletes, coaches, program directors and so forth, but also the valuable thing is I read about the background, the support fundamentals, the budget, programming, and just the philosophy of the Development Team. The first project was at Mount Hood. I went there to learn from Sasha because it was his project. When I heard that he was going to have it there I wanted to invite as many girls from the Development Team as I could, though many of the athletes had already committed to the other projects in South America, New Zealand, and Europe. I was able to start working with three Development Team women, and a couple athletes I invited from different U.S. club programs. While I was there, I think I learned a lot about the whole philosophy by meeting the directors, coaches, regional staff, and regional directors. In that sense, that camp was a huge learning curve for me. The project was really fun. We worked hard. There was a lot of work on basic fundamentals from day one to the very last day, so it was a fun project to be involved with and I hope the athletes also liked it and learned a lot.

Megan: Can you give me a sense of how that camp went and then how the crew is doing at this Saas-Fee camp?

Marjan: The second project, in Saas-Fee, is my first standalone project. I invited two club coaches here with me is Shaun Goodwin from Vail - who is Nicola Rountree Williams’ personal coach - and Brett Jacobson, Head Women’s U19 FIS Coach at Sugarbowl Academy. Additionally, we are sharing an athletic trainer from Sugarbowl Academy, Brandy Barna (who is the High Performance Coordinator, Asst. Athletic Trainer and U19 Women’s Asst. Coach). She is a shared resource with Magnus Andersson’s group - the B and C Teams - and that’s been outstanding for the girls. She is really really good,  so it’s a really positive set up we have here.

Megan: How has your progression has been in terms of training days at Saas-Fee?

Marjan: The Saas-Fee project kind of encompasses everything- you know, the strategies the Development Team is about. It provides added exposure; we have a really high-quality training menu. It emphasizes the fundamental skills of giant slalom and slalom. As an added benefit, we were able to secure four days of super-G as well. We can hardly believe ourselves here on the ground. There are numerous world cup teams up here, and it’s a great environment. The Swedes, Slovenians, and Swiss are here and there are national teams more coming.

Megan: That’s great. So what have your training blocks looked like?

Marjan: We arrived in Europe on the 14th of August. We made a plan to start with a good block of giant slalom because Mount Hood was very focused on slalom and we wanted to catch up on the fundamental work of giant slalom. We were super successful, I think, in these past five days. So five days was just a lot of giant slalom, directive freeskiing, short giant slalom courses in a contained environment, 21-meter courses all the way up to 26-meters and on various terrain, including moderate terrain, steeper terrain, rolly terrain and the best slopes up here on the south side glacier. Since we’ve been training with Magnus’ group, we are able to get the very best courses. We have been really lucky the past five days with the giant slalom progression. We have done some crossover training with him, which was also in the plan, and a huge benefit for our women. We are also doing afternoon conditioning together - not on a daily basis, but whenever our programs align. These five days were really good quality with high intensity and high volume. From there, we are starting a four-day progression in super-G. We are the only one on the hill that has a four-day reservation, top to bottom, in Saas-Fee. It’s incredible.  

Megan: Have any of the athletes really surprised you in a positive way or are there any standout performances happening during training sessions?  

Marjan: You know, I am seeing the progression. I mean, for me, seeing these athletes from Mount Hood until now, I can really see the changes already happening just because of the volume and quality of progressions we have done. There are a couple of girls here that really stand out, but I’d hate to single out any of them. We are super stoked that everyone is getting along well and working hard. They all have a lot of fun together. We have a volleyball court at the hotel, and whenever they have the chance they are just pounding this volleyball back and forth and just overall it’s a really positive experience so far. The level of skiing is great, but of course, everybody needs the corrections to get to the higher level of performance and execution of the technical and tactical elements both.

Megan: And has there been any connection with any of the other national teams? Or have you guys watched or connected with any of them at all - the Germans, Swedes, and/or Slovenians?

Marjan: Absolutely yes. We were training one full day next to the Swedish World Cup Team - with [Olympic gold medalist] Frida Hansdotter and everybody else - and we had a parallel course, so we can watch the video of those athletes and see where we stack up because the courses were completely identical. We were able to shoot a lot of video, and in the afternoon compare the basic athletic stance to everything else we wanted to see between technical and tactical performances. It was invaluable.

What’s next for Cernigoj and the women’s development crew? They’ll hit the slopes at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain, Colo. in early November. Cross your fingers, but it appears that Mother Nature is being kind to Copper - with a dusting of snow already on the ground, and the snow guns blasting.

Athletes Involved with Saas-Fee Project:
Keely Cashman (U.S. Ski Team)
Brynne Hitchcock (Park City Ski & Snowboard Club)
Ainsley Proffit (U.S. Ski Team)
Nellie-Rose Talbot (U.S. Ski Team)
Nicola Rountree-Williams (U.S. Ski Team)
Zoe Zimmermann (U.S. Ski Team)

Brady Barna - High-Performance Coordinator, Asst. AT, U19 Women’s Asst. Coach, Sugarbowl Academy
Marjan Cernigoj - Head Women's Development Coach, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team
Brett Jacobson - Head Women’s U19 FIS Coach, Sugarbowl Academy
Shaun Goodwin - Nicola Rountree-Williams' Personal Coach