Building a tradition of success-Sneak Peak-12/18/13
Posted on 12/18/2013
In 10 years, SSCV and Team Homegrown’s Dan Weiland has created one of the most successful Nordic programs in the country
SSCV Nordic coach Dan Weiland. Photo: Katie Anderson.
By John O’Neill
At Northside, behind his computer, Weiland recalled some of the specifics in his 10-year lead-up to where the Nordic program is now. With the inception of Team Homegrown, Weiland recognizes that to have four of the best athletes in the country skiing together in a professional team environment shows their growth.
“I remember the first time we took a trip to West Yellowstone,” Weiland said. “We took two personal cars and a couple of skis. Now we are doing our best to send these guys up to Canada and over to Europe.”
Weiland has also worked to grow the small aspects of the program that qualify it as being truly elite. While Tad Elliott deals with some sickness at a hard time in the season, Weiland works to get him in for blood analysis and diagnosis. Just one example of what Weiland does to take care of his team.
Team Homegrown seems to be growing, and in a very positive manner no less.
Under the baton of Dan Weiland – the team’s founder – and Coach Eric Pepper, athletes like Sylvan Ellefson of Vail, Noah Hoffman of Aspen, Tad Elliot of Durango and Ryan Scott of Boulder – who all train in Vail – are seeing success in the Olympic leadup.
Last week Ellefson finished second in a 15k classic race and fourth overall in a skate sprint at a NorAm in British Columbia. Earlier in the season Noah Hoffman won a world cup. Of the four elite skiers in Team Homegrown, three stand a good-to-great chance of making the Sochi Olympics with the fourth being of the same caliber but unfortunately suffering a bout of mono.
While local Nordic fans skim the headlines in expectation of success from this talented bunch, this culture of success was not of virgin birth.
Behind the athletes and making their recent success possible is a web of support weaved by the team’s founder, Dan Weiland. The Wizard of Oz, so to speak, Weiland pulls at the levers that has positioned Team Homegrown and the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s development Nordic programs where they are today.
Sitting at Northside Coffee and Kitchen in Avon, sipping coffee and busying himself with the weekend’s results, training plans, future logistics and qualification, Weiland is received by local skiers as a name synonymous with Nordic skiing success.
Ten years ago there wasn’t a Nordic club program in the Vail Valley. Before 2003, Nordic skiing was run casually out of the valley’s high schools and as a winter fitness interest from locals at the Nordic Center in Vail.
Today, one of the best – if not the best – professional and junior developmental programs in the country stake their training on Vail snow.
“I never imagined it,” Weiland said. “We have our own ski facility in Maloy Park. We have 7k of trail. We have our own cat. Three days ago we set our own track for the athletes to do intervals on. It is astounding to me. In 10 years we have created one of the best Nordic programs in the country.”
Of the 10 years that Nordic skiing has grown as an elite sport, sent kids to college on scholarship and rose in all-around participation, Weiland has been there for all of it.
Weiland grew up in Vail. He attended Red Sandstone Elementary, Minturn Middle School and then Battle Mountain High School. He started skiing Nordic for Battle Mountain and won the junior national championship his second year in. He recalls following his older brother around the Nordic center trying to learn the sport.
Weiland went on to ski in college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There he had a rough relationship with a business-minded coach and resigned back into skiing on his own. After graduation, he returned to the Valley. He explored other endurance sport and competed as a Nike athlete and adventure racer for seven years. But he would ultimately end up back on his skis over the winter.
“When I came back and got into it, the Nordic culture was myself, Kevin and Karl Höchtl. We did it because we loved it,” Weiland says. “We still love it. But now we also do it because we’re very good at it.”
Slowly and methodically, and with much help from SSCV, he has built that Nordic culture enjoyed today. Weiland sends younger athletes from SSCV off to college on athletic scholarship annually. As those athletes return seeking an extended career, they now have Team Homegrown.
As the years have passed, so the team has grown. His 10-year efforts started with juniors and have culminated, thus far, with probably Olympians.
Stream of athletes
Not only a builder, but also an architect, Weiland has organized his programs to feed into and off of one another. Pairing Team Homegrown’s elite athletes like Hoffman and Ellefson with the younger SSCV athletes, Weiland finds an interloop of inspiration and success.
“Our club program basically supports what we do and the professional and development programs only help one another,” Weiland said. “We have young guys on any given day training with a professional and you know they’re thinking ‘I’m training with this guy and we won a World Cup last week.’”
This cuts down the barriers of success and one of the reasons SSCV Executive Director Aldo Radamus was quick to absorb Weiland’s first and ever evolving plans for Nordic in the Valley.
“I think it takes vision to create a program like we now have,” Weiland says. “Luckily Aldo has all of those capabilities to turn some the visions into realities. He has to be one of the best Executive Directors in the country.”
While Ellefson, Hoffman, Elliott and Scott rally for medals on an international stage, younger athletes like Cal Deline, Ian Boucher, Parker McDonald and Hannah Hardenbergh are ranked as the best junior Nordic skiers in the country.
“These younger guys are skiing so well,” said Ellefson. “They stand a good chance of going to college and coming back ready to ski professionally. Now we have established this professional team. They have something to reach for.”
While Weiland has created a vertical plan for success in feeding athletes from one program into another, he also diversified his team’s skill set. Nordic skiing can essentially be split into four segments: classic and skate, sprint and distance.
In seeing the Team Homegrown roster, it shows that Weiland has also expanded the team’s talents horizontally as well. Ellefson and Hoffman are great all-around skiers leaning toward distance events. Scott is a sprint specialist and Elliot is a distance specialist.
“It’s great having a team of Colorado athletes who get to train together and compete at such a level that gains national attention,” Ellefson said. “Having all the different types of teammates and seeing everyone succeed is an inspiration.”
In terms of professional Nordic skiing, there are few contracts and the livelihood disconnect can be likened to a Ramen payment with prime-rib need. One of the reasons Weiland stepped in to create Team Homegrown was to create an avenue where skiers could train and race at a professional level in the sport of Nordic.
Ellefson, for instance, left Vail for a collegiate skiing scholarship. With the ability to ski professionally at graduation, the financial frustrations and training load were nearly too much to succeed at the professional level. He couldn’t be working full time and training full time.
Where Weiland was once out on the course coaching the athletes up and down local hills, he now spends time behind the computer working on ways to make it logistically possible to ski at a competitive level without national funding.
“We are a self-funded club program,” Weiland said. “Luckily we have communities like Vail and a club like we have (SSCV). We live in a place where 200 people will show up to a fundraiser to support us. These guys aren’t making salaries.”
Weiland went on to explain that this is one of the biggest misconceptions in the sport. He compared Nordic skiing to halfpipe skiing saying that while local halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck will make more money from Monster energy drinks in one season than any of the Nordic skiers will make in their careers.
“There are $0 coming in for these guys,” Weiland says. “One thing that we do is try and create the support so these guys don’t come to the end of the season a $25,000 debt to pay off. It is a tough road.”
Keeping in mind the rocky relationship he had with his coach at CU, and the business mind that coach employed, Weiland says that influence has led him to create the program as he has – with full intention of having the best interests of the athletes in mind at all time.
Since Weiland has created the web of support from the community and SSCV, guys like Ellefson have been able to recommit themselves to being the best in the world. The team also gained the attention of Hoffman, Elliott and Scott – the nation’s best Nordic skiers – as being a professional team that is completely committed to its athletes.
“Dan has played an enormous role in getting this whole team set up,” Ellefson said. “From the beginning it was his brainchild to start a team in Vail. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to grow the program from a Nordic tradition at a young age to a professional team. Now, here we are.”