An Interview with Kirk Dwyer, Alpine Program Director

Interviewed by Kim Karn
I got to sit down with Kirk Dwyer, the Alpine Program Director at Carrabassett Valley Academy, who is entering into his second year as a leader of the CVA Alpine Program. 

As with any shift in leadership, programmatic changes result. I wanted to take some time to chat with Kirk about what changes CVA families can expect to see in the Alpine program for the 2022-2023 school year and moving forward.  
What would you say, is your philosophy around training next year? 
Ski more, with quality. This doesn’t mean endless repetitions; it means repetition underscored by a deep understanding of what you’re working toward, and practice where you raise your level of attention, focus, and application to the highest degree you’re capable of at that time. It’s not simply the total number of days that matters, but the amount of quality skiing. 

What changes can families expect to see regarding next year’s programming?
#1 There will be one centralized point of communication for all Alpine, and that will be me. My primary responsibility will be leading, establishing our vision, strategic planning, and coaching the athletes and coaches. My intent is to share more of the detail-oriented responsibilities such as conditioning and equipment ordering to the coaching staff. We want to be a program coaches will be attracted to based on their opportunity to develop professionally.

#2 There will be a core goal of team culture – the greatest success for individuals in skiing comes from within a strong team dynamic. A team culture where people are competing with one another, while still having a team dynamic that encourages one another, truly moves athletes forward in their sport.

#3 A core objective of mine, and inherently of the other coaches, is to focus on the core group of athletes - those with the requisite and intrinsic motivation. Success will be based both on our relative strength within Maine, our region and nationally but more importantly on the progress of our athletes who make a significant effort and accumulate the necessary time on-snow.  The majority of the Alpine athletes are working hard. Physical testing this past spring went really well, and more athletes were pushing themselves closer to 100%. By focusing on these athletes, and their motivation, we will be able to make more effective progress toward goals. 

#4 In regard to organization, Alpine will be organized on a development basis, rather than chronological age or gender. In part to meet that end, and to also strengthen the team culture, we will be blending the gender groups. In short, there will be no divisions based on gender or age. Men and women will train together, in mixed groups, based on where they are developmentally. For instance, if an athlete is coming back from injury, and needs to phase into training, he/she may move from one group to another temporarily based on ability to progress.

Will there be significant changes to the current coaching staff as a result of this reorganization?
There will still be an identified point person or persons for each athlete. Our intent is not to divide into groups until we have a chance to see how much progress everyone has made with skiing and physical evaluations over the course of the fall. We have approximately 28 athletes skiing in August, which means we have slightly more who are not skiing this summer and will be getting on snow in November for the first time. The structure of who is skiing with whom will be finalized in November/December after everyone has had significant time on snow, and we can more accurately evaluate where each athlete is.

How do you think that the revitalized training venue, facilitated by the Podium Project, will help you meet the goals for your athletes?
The T-bar is key to our training success. Sugarloaf’s attributes allow for a longer potential season, largely in part because it’s colder further north. There used to be a sign at the top of Double Runner that said. “If you’re here, you’re at the top of Sunday River.” Because of the cold, and the elevation of the mountain, Sugarloaf can make, and keep, snow earlier. Sugarloaf currently offers great, varied training venues, but what has been needed is one, centralized venue where athletes have the ability to get a lot of repetitions in training. With the t-bar on Comp Hill, we will have a venue that allows for greater repetition.  

Another hindrance has been wind hold days, which we have more of because Sugarloaf stands by itself. By utilizing the t-bar, we will have fewer days lost due to wind. 

With the Jean Luce Building at the base of the training venue, we will also have more efficient training when it is cold because athletes will have the ability to go inside, for a quick warm up, then return to the hill. 

Comp Hill, with the t-bar will serve to create a “hotbed environment” where kids can go up lift and watch peers, or Colby and UMF athletes, training, allowing them the ability to learn through visual examples. Athletes will also have much more frequent interaction with the coaches, as coaches will be in one centralized venue. Everyone will be there, and this environment will be key. Comp Hill will also offer unlimited potential for volume of training. With a 2.5 minute lift ride, athletes will be able to increase repetition. With increased repetitions, we can reset courses multiple times during the training, resulting in higher-quality training and increased challenge for the athletes, creating a greater potential for growth. 

This doesn’t mean full-length training will stop. We will continue with full-length training on Narrow Gauge as well because we will have the ability to access both Comp Hill and Narrow Gauge from the t-bar. Athletes only need full length 2x per week during over a 4 week period to be conditioned for competition. Athletes can get more out of an increased number of repetitions and skiing with a higher tempo through shorter training courses.

You recently had an article in Ski Racing Media about the “cost conundrum” when it comes to ski racing, and not advocating for most racers to qualify and compete in National Events under the collegiate and Nor-Am level.  Is this something that you will be focusing on with the CVA athletes as well?
It impacted everyone last year because I was directing philosophy. It will be more consistently embraced this year. 

If you look at Eastern Region, we have fewer potential days on-snow than the Rocky Mountain Region. That means we need to make the most of those days. When attending a race, athletes are getting only 2 runs per day, if that. When training, athletes could be getting 15-20 in a day. The greatest success factor is time on snow and repetition. We can use the t-bar on Comp Hill to make the most of our training days. Also, the cost of attending races is significant but may not be the biggest payoff. Families tend to rush to go to races, but if the athletes are not prepared, they don’t perform as well as they hope. This results in the athletes feeling pressure to go to more races to improve their results, but that’s not how results are improved. Our athletes will race when they are prepared; we will not rush into races. Many top-skiers in the world have embraced this philosophy; many top athletes race much less than other athletes. With the Podium Project tbar and venue we will be able to extend our training at home; this will be a significant reduction in cost for our families. 

Do you have any recommendations to families over the summer, and into the fall, to help them better prepare for the upcoming school year?
#1 Ask questions. Always ask questions. Forward Alpine questions to me (Kirk). Send academic questions to academic staff. Families should be well informed and prepared.

#2 Embrace the potential gains off snow from visualization and feel imagery. I sent an email to Alpine families in early June about this.  When athletes are motivated, and missing skiing, spending time using these tactics can be as valuable as skiing itself. Mirror Neuron (google for more information) research establishes that the brain responds as positively to observing high levels of execution and or feel imagery as to actually performing the movements.

#3 Be consistent in training. Athletes should do a couple workouts a week, where they push to higher levels that challenge themselves. There is a wide range in volume that each athlete can train, and conditioning will be the biggest factor to set our athletes apart next year. To this end, when you’re on snow this fall, it’s all about repetition and conditioning. Remember, the top skiers tend to be first to the lift and get in the extra runs because they have the fitness to get more out of each day. Treat every day, run, and turn as precious. You are what you practice!