[Editor's note: In our latest interview series, Behind the Curtain, we talk to the people backstage in the ski industry, the often-invisible, always hard-working coaches, techs, ski patrollers, course builders and more. Here is part three of the series (check out part one with ski tuner Kenny Nault and part two with event announcer Frankie Alisuag). Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing next Thursday for an interview with a guy who builds jumps for the pros.]
You may have never heard of Elana Chase, but you've definitely heard of the skiers she's coached: Jen Hudak, Torin Yater-Wallace, David Wise, Tucker Perkins, Jess Cumming, Anna Segal, Walter Wood, Anais Caradeux and more. Chase, a former member of the U.S. Freestyle Development Team for inverted aerials and moguls, is currently working as the program director for Vail's freeski and big-mountain teams. This winter, Chase was awarded the Pioneering Women's Award from the Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition for her work as a mentor and coach and in 2008, she was named Freestyle Coach of the Year by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the first time a park-and-pipe coach or a woman has earned that distinction.
Halfpipe being in the Olympics will be a game changer. It gives athletes another level of focus, a pinnacle of an event to reach for. Childhood dreams will be realized. It'll be interesting to see who makes it to 2014. There have been so many athletes who've worked so hard at this for over a decade and will they be able to make it another three years?
I would be so proud to have an athlete I worked with hang an Olympic gold medal around their neck.
When I first started coaching freeskiing, I wouldn't actually call myself a coach in public. The athletes didn't want anything to do with the people who represented traditional skiing or someone telling them what to do like a traditional coach.
I was once called "the secret weapon" by an athlete and I am still pretty proud of that statement.
I'm the only female coaching freeride at the elite level. And sure, the book gets judged by the cover every day. People have a hard time not looking at me differently. But it's not about me on the hill. It's about my athletes. They know I will do whatever it takes to help them achieve their goals despite the challenges.
For years, I did everything. I offered technical advice. I tuned skis. I set up dryland training programs. I was emotional support. I did logistics for traveling and helped with sponsor contracts. But now, at the higher levels and with the news of the Olympics, we have ski techs, team trainers, physios, agents, and coaches. My job is getting more specialized.
Winning isn't everything to me. It's paramount to be a good person first, a good skier second. I work with younger athletes too and these are the things we talk about as they rise through the ranks. Just ask Jen Hudak.
I coach the physics part of skiing and the athlete adds the creativity. I tend to just listen and not put my own opinion out there as to what tricks they should perform. I help them understand how the tricks are going to happen but not decide their run for them.
One of the unique elements about freeskiing is this thing we have called style. It's hard to put words to it, but it's the fluidity of the skiing, the way the athlete puts their run together and how visually pleasing it is to watch. It's their own personal interpretation of how freeskiing should look.
You never say something's impossible in this sport because someone will prove you wrong. Whether it's a unique way to grab your ski, axis of rotation or sheer amplitude of the tricks, never say never.
I'm not a believer in the idea that it's all natural talent, that someone's sports career is decided at age eight. There are so many factors that come together to make someone reach the highest levels -- hard work, the ability to stay positive, being a good person. You can see when someone has all of those special qualities. The stars start to line up.
Take Torin Yater-Wallace. He's only 15 but he's been working really hard for many years. He had adversity in his life and he still managed to show up to training every day and work really hard. We all saw it.
These athletes care so much, they're going to get a little angry when they don't do well. But I try to lighten it up with a joke like, 'It's only skiing.' The fact that they get to do this as their sport, a career for some, is extraordinary. They have to remember how good their lives really are.