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Women's Alpine Development Hits Snow with All-Female Staff

By Megan Harrod
July, 16 2019
Women's Development Camp Staff
A portion of the all-female coaching staff for the Mammoth women's alpine development camp poses for a picture, including Head Women's Development Coach Marjan Cernigoj and Alpine Development Director Chip Knight (middle) and newly-hired women's C Team coach Katie Twible (far right).

The second women’s development camp of the 2019-20 prep period at U.S. Ski & Snowboard official training site Mammoth Ski Area in California wrapped on June 28, led by head women’s development coach Marjan Cernigoj and highlighted by an all-female coaching staff from across the nation. 

Cernigoj, who has been with U.S. Ski & Snowboard in the alpine development role for just over one year now, said the first camp was in late April, early May and Mammoth served up excellent training conditions and hospitality for both camps. 

“Everything was amazing,” reflected Cernigoj. “We got lucky with the weather - ninety percent of the success of the camp came from our luck with the weather, with the ability to have daily situations for good training. Mammoth gave us pretty much everything we asked for on the hill - space, very accommodating. Both camps at Mammoth were incredible. We’ll return here. We had great service.” 

This second camp was slightly different in nature, as Cernigoj and Alpine Development Director Chip Knight invited U16 girls from across the nation, for a total of 21 athletes, eight women staff members and Cernigoj as the leader of the camp. “We had eight days on snow, four days of giant slalom and four days of slalom each,” Cernigoj said. “It was quite a big span of skills and ages, from 2005 birth years all the way to C Team member Abi Jewett (Ripton, Vt.), who joined us for the beginning of the camp.” 

But that’s not all that was different about the second women’s development camp - what was most unique about the camp was that, apart from Cernigoj, the entire coaching staff was composed of women. One of the few female coaches on the FIS Ski World Cup circuit, women’s speed coach Karin Harjo made history when she became the first woman in World Cup history to set a slalom course. This year Katie Twible joins Harjo on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team coaching staff as an assistant coach for the women’s C Team. However, at the U16 level, Cernigoj realized there are many female coaches, and saw an opportunity to create something special for the June Mammoth camp. The results? “It was awesome,” beamed Cernigoj. “It worked so much better than even what I had envisioned or anticipated from the beginning.”

The concept all began at Athletic Summit while in Park City, Utah this spring, noted Cernigoj.  “We were planning this second camp of the season together with the U16s, which is the age group I’m not really used to coaching,” admitted Cernigoj. “When I was looking through the coaching staff who could help me out, I noticed that a lot of female coaches are coaching at the U16 level. So, that was kind of the first hint that I had to create this project. Then, at U.S. Ski & Snowboard Congress, there was a lot of talk about female empowerment in coaching and in sports and in general, so that made me realize this is what I needed to be doing to show these younger athletes that there are females on all levels of sports preparation. If you look through the eight female coaches that were here, they come from all sorts of backgrounds.” 

Mammoth Women’s Development Camp Coaching Staff:
Marjan Cernigoj – U.S. Alpine Ski Team, Head Women’s Development Coach
Katie Twible – U.S. Alpine Ski Team, Women’s C Team Assistant Coach
Brandy Barna – Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, ATC
Mary Joyce – Rowmark Ski Academy Coach
Katharina Golik – Mammoth Ski & Snowboard Team, Conditioning Coach
Kathy Okoniewski – Eastern Region Youth Development Coach
Lisa Perricone – Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Coach
Kristina Revello – Rocky/Central Region Development Coach
Lisa Segal – Park City, PSIA Examiner/Specialist 

Cernigoj said that this well-rounded staff, with expertise from the entire spectrum of coaching, gave the athletes a chance to see that opportunity exists at all levels - for both men and women. He added that having Twible join the crew for what was her first on-snow camp, was exceptional. “It was so awesome to have Katie on snow with us,” Cernigoj said. “She’s extremely knowledgeable. She helped on the snow, she helped the girls a lot with her knowledge of setting up the boots, so that’s definitely where her expertise came into this camp.”

Formerly a U16 coach at Craigleith Ski Club, and an elite ski racer herself, competing for the University of Colorado, Twible had never been a part of an all-female coaching group, but was blown away by how amazing the camp was. “Growing up I never really had female coaches it was really cool to be a part of that and be a part of a group of women who were all so different, with such different backgrounds,” Twible commented. “To be there and help build the next generation of U.S. Ski Team athletes was really rewarding.”

Newly-hired rocky/Central Region Development Coach Kristina Revello echoed Twible’s sentiments, “It was an incredible project; I look forward to creating more environments like this one in the future. The athletes made gains on snow and felt support from our staff in ways I think many of them never have before. It was a refreshing way for the staff to work with such a great group of young women!”

The camp was not only empowering for the athletes, but it was empowering for the staff, too. “The staff was exceptional, super positive, and worked really hard.” Twible continued. “Working together was so gratifying; everyone was really committed. These girls had questions and the coaching staff handled it super well. It was an open environment with no holding back. I think the girls learned so much from it. On and off the hill, we promoted that message of strength.”

The purpose for Twible’s involvement with the development camp was twofold: first, it was an opportunity to get her feet wet and get on snow for her first U.S. Ski & Snowboard camp, but second - and perhaps most important - Cernigoj’s goal was to bridge the gap between World Cup, Europa Cup and NorAm levels. The first step in doing so was involving Twible so she and Marjan could get to know each other, get their communications down and speak the same language - as they’ll be working closely together this winter. Since the alpine development program is project-based and Cernigoj and his men’s counterpart Sasha Rearick are often solo, integrating new coaching staff in with each project, Twible said it’s important for her to show more support and open communication with Cernigoj down to the D-Team level. 

Twible is beyond excited for the opportunity to work with the Team and feels she can learn a lot from fellow Europa Cup/NorAm coaches Magnus Andersson and Kris Shampeny in more of a support role. “Since I started coaching, I have only been a head coach and have only run teams, so I was excited to take this role because I think it’s actually a lot harder to be an assistant than a head coach,” she said. “I wanted to work with Magnus and Kris and get more experience, and I really wanted to work with this group of girls who have excelled, and help bring them a different dynamic. A lot of them haven’t had a female coach. In my role, I feel like it’s so much more than coach - it’s also sports psych, trainer, etc. I really like the strength and conditioning aspect, and I like a holistic approach. I told Magnus I can help with that and am super-invested in. I felt like I could really help fill in the gaps.”

Cernigoj feels positive about the progression the women’s alpine development program has made during the last 12 months, and believes that U.S. Ski & Snowboard is getting a bigger pool of athletes at a higher skill level from across the nation. Now one year in, he’s had the chance to meet almost every athlete from the 2005 birth year and up. 

“I thought we had quite a good first season last year with moving Keely Cashman (Strawberry, Calif.) up to B Team, and some other athletes skiing very strong,” reflected Cernigoj. “This year again I have five girls on the D-Team and then everything else is invitation-based. The experiences have been great, and the coaches that come to join us during these projects see that we are tackling a really, really big issue - all the way from the athletes just joining us at the FIS level with no points all the way up to the ladies that we have to help connect to our C Team. I believe this team has the biggest span of skills than any other team, so it’s challenging. The young athletes have many issues, from growth to conditioning to ski levels to growing up. It’s challenging.” A challenge that Cernigoj is tackling with passion and creativity. 

What’s next for the women’s development crew? Next up: Ushuaia, Argentina, where four D-Team athletes and four invitees will travel July 23rd for a three-week slalom, giant slalom and super-G camp.