U.S. women’s downhill coach has best year ever
Chip White, 56, a Sacramento native and Mammoth resident since 1978, has put six athletes on World Cup podiums this season, just one year in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.e is the “father” of the U.S. Women’s Downhill Team, and this year, every day seems like Father’s Day.
Yet with just two weeks left in the World Cup season, casual followers of the racing circuit may not even know who he is, even though he has coached pro skiers for 14 years and his picture seems to be in the background of every podium image of Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and, of course, Mammoth’s Stacey Cook.
The one place people won’t see much of him at all in winter is on his home ski hill—Mammoth Mountain—owing to the fact that he’s too busy coaching in Europe, leading a team that many consider to be a top Olympic contender.
By any standard, it has been a banner season for the U.S. speed teams, both for the men and for White’s women’s team.
“It’s fortunate that I have a very talented group of athletes,” said White in a telephone interview from the team’s European headquarters in Sölden, Austria.
“That’s the most any coach could ever ask for. I’m fortunate to have a talented group of coaches and service people, too, who actually make the skis go fast.
“We also have a very talented physical therapist to keep the girls in running order. It’s like having a really good mechanic working on a fine race machine. So to me, it’s very much a team effort and I’m just part of that.
“I am the head coach, and so everybody works for me, but it’s a collective effort and everybody has an intricate part to make it all come together and make it happen.”
White, a graduate of the San Francisco Culinary Academy who first came to Mammoth to open the old Roget’s restaurant, said his role is very much in the “father figure” model, which spans physical coaching, along with skills in motivation and understanding each of the athletes.
“It’s hard to call them kids, since they’re all young adults, but you still have to manage them as if they are a family, and manage them like they are your own. You build personal relationships and you feel what they feel a lot of the time.
“We travel together so much, I’m with the athletes and coaches on this team more out of the year than I am with the people I love at home.”
White also brings plenty of ski coaching chops to the family table, though, and that’s tricky on a “team” that is made up of individuals.
“It’s always difficult,” said White. “You have to deal with a lot of different aspects with individuals as far as their physical abilities go: strength, coordination, athleticism, all these things come into play, and are very important.
“On top of that, they also have different personalities and mind-sets, which is also a huge part of the process. Half the time I feel like a psychologist.
“But for the athletic side, we look at someone like Lindsey Vonn, who is a very tall woman, but we also have some athletes on the team who are quite short.
“The way they move and the forces and leverage they put on the ski or onto the boots changes, so the style of their skiing is different, and we need to look at the nuances and the differences and make them all fast.”
Among the members on the team, White said Cook has been terrific this season.
“This year,” he said, “she’s having the best year of her life. She got her first podiums this year at Lake Louise, and that’s exciting for her, for me, and for U.S. Skiing.
“She’s one of the strongest athletes on the women’s circuit right now. She’s extremely fit, very self-motivated, very determined, and very professional. She’s a pleasure to work with.”
But mostly, he said, it’s still about skiing and ski racing in particular.
“I love the sport of ski racing. I always have and I love skiing. I still love to ski myself. I don’t get that opportunity much anymore because I’m always on the hill working, carrying equipment, and providing training.
“But I do have a passion for the sport and I also love working with young, talented athletes. To me, that’s very satisfying. Really, it’s about them; it’s not about me. I just want to try to do anything I can to help them make it to the next level, whatever that is, wherever they are.”