When asked out of context, Dave Courtney doesn’t recall the exact year he started working at the Quechee Ski Hill, but he does know that he recently retired in 2018. However, I’m not meeting with Dave to talk about his long, Quechee-based ski career. Dave and I are meeting to talk specifically about an exciting offshoot of his many years on the hill. Dave’s son, Will Courtney, who skied the Quechee Hill with his dad since he was three years old, was hired this year to be a member of the US Alpine Ski Racing Team as an assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach. So, “like father, like son,” it was Dave’s role at the Quechee Ski Hill, and his own passion for skiing, that lit the fire in his son Will to fall in love with the sport and pursue his own professional career.
Dave was instrumental in turning the Quechee Ski Hill into a member of the Mid-Vermont Council and starting up the Quechee Ski Racing Team. Dave talks about these social gains for Quechee and their positive impact on giving local kids the opportunity to have their own ski hill and to be able to advance into racing and grow as athletes should they choose to take up skiing as a sport. Dave’s passion for skiing and his drive to bring the local offerings to that next level benefitted an entire community, including his own kids who were just toddling when they started, to find excellence on their own hometown hill. Looking back, Dave says with a smile, “It was never about a World Cup Ski Racer coming out of this place.”
It appears that Will Courtney appreciated the old ski hill as much as his father did. Dave and his wife, Claire, knew that Will was enthusiastic and motivated and thus agreed to let him attend the Mount Mansfield Winter Academy for three months during his 8th grade school year. From there, Dave and Claire decided to send Will to Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine, a secondary school long known for its on-snow competition program for young athletes. Will (writing from the World Cup Event in Austria) speaks of the importance of ‘giving back to one’s home program.’ In fact, he credits discovering his affinity for coaching while helping out with the Quechee Ski Team’s Annual Christmas Camp while still in high school.
Later, while attending UVM, Will began working weekends with the Quechee Ski Racing Team as a Head J3 Coach.
“Once I graduated from college, my goal was to ski as much as I could. At that time, my most direct path to doing so was to pursue a career in coaching ski racing. I had the opportunity to coach full-time through the winter months at Killington Mountain School (KMS), my first professional’ coaching role. Once I completed that first season, I knew that I wanted to gain more experience and continue to work with athletes on snow. Meanwhile, I was able to support myself on my salary and live a rewarding life. I knew that, like my dad, I could not spend my life sitting at a desk.”
From KMS, Will coached at Green Mountain Valley School’s highly regarded Alpine Ski Program. For a few years, Will coached with former UVM athlete Paul Epstein’s Global Racing Ski Team, after which he was the men’s head coach for the Park City Ski Team in Utah where he was working under Jesse Hunt at Park City Ski & Snowboard. Jesse Hunt (originally from Vermont as well) was the previous Alpine Director for the US Ski and Snowboard Team, a position he returned to in 2018. In the spring of 2019, Will was hired by the US Men’s Alpine Ski team as an assistant coach and a strength and conditioning coach. Will went from learning to coach on the Quechee Ski Hill to coaching on the National Team in about ten years.
When I asked Will what makes him a successful coach, he obviously had a lot to say, but is modest about his own abilities, answering that “…the most important trait to being an effective coach is the ability to connect with an athlete. Effective connections can be derived from effective communication via open and honest dialogue between the athlete and coach… If the coach fails to develop a connection with the athlete through communication and trust, the effectiveness of the coach is minimal.”
Will explained that the highly competitive levels at which he’s coaching makes that personal element all the more important, describing how close coaches and athletes need to become:
“As an athlete achieves higher levels of success, the sport demands more attention to minute details, from sleep and recovery, to strength and conditioning, to extensive travel logistics, and to daily time management, among others. As a result, the role of the coach is to help the athlete manage the entire process effectively so as to maximize the effectiveness of the preparation,” said Will.
When it comes to his success, Will was much more eager to emphasize his family over his own abilities unequivocally stating that his “… parents, without question, supported my decision to pursue ski racing at a young age. They instilled in me a focused and deliberate work ethic, and I understand now that they had no doubt that I would work tirelessly to achieve my goals. My mother and father made tremendous sacrifices… I have my parents to thank for enabling my passion for this sport to grow into an obsession.”
Dave and Will both inherently speak to the communities of Quechee, larger Vermont, and New England as being a part of world ski culture through every little hill that is given over to the local ski runs and kids programs. It’s a story of accessible mountains, supportive families and peers. The story, as Dave and Will both tell it, makes the world of alpine skiing sound like another small, tight-knit community similar to Quechee or Hartland.
Familiar names and faces that Will has met through his many lessons, races and jobs grace his presence at the Olympics. As an example, Will
mentioned that he works with Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the nephew of his very own first coach in Quechee, Marilyn Cochran, of the renowned family of ski racers. River Radamus is another coworker and cousin of long time-friend, Andrew McNealus, with whom Will grew up skiing and is now the Assistant Coach at UVM. So the answer to what comes next for Will Courtney may not come as a surprise. Will said he hopes to maintain his role with the National Ski Team through the 2020 Olympics in China. “In the long term, I hope to return to the ski club or academy level to bring my experiences from the World Cup back down to the developmental levels of the sport, with the aspiration of guiding the next generation of athletes to the pinnacle of their abilities.”