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Making the show

Ryan Dyer lived his US ski team dream for three years — he’s determined to get back

U.S. FREESTYLE CHAMPIONSHIPS

STEAMBOAT SKI AREA

VOO DOO RUN AT THE PARK SMALLEY FREESTYLE COMPLEX

■ Friday: Single moguls

10:05 A.M. — WOMEN'S MOGULS QUALIFICATION

12:20 P.M. — MEN'S MOGULS QUALIFICATIONS

2:30 P.M. — WOMEN'S MOGULS FINALS

3:05 P.M. — MEN'S MOGULS FINALS

4 P.M. — MOGULS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE

■ Saturday: Aerials

11 A.M. — AERIALS QUALIFICATIONS

12:15 P.M. — AERIALS FINALS NO. 1

2:25 P.M. — AERIALS FINALS NO. 2

3 P.M. — AERIALS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE

■ Sunday: Dual moguls

11:40 A.M. — WOMEN'S AND MEN'S DUAL MOGULS

2:30 P.M. — DUAL MOGULS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE





Ryan Dyer couldn’t hang during his first stint on the U.S. Ski team. He’s dedicated himself to getting a second shot.
Joel Reichenberger

— There are roughly a dozen ways to make the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, but only about three that matter to an up-and-coming skier.

Dyer said he’s improved his skiing, learning to absorb the face of a mogul and press down the backside as fast as possible.Joel Reichenberger

Making the team doesn’t actually guarantee anyone much of anything. Only a fraction of the team’s members get to compete in World Cup events.

It’s even more difficult to make the cut for the Olympics. No more than eight moguls skiers — four men and four women — can represent the United States at the Olympics, and often the country doesn’t even send that many, allocating some of the spots that could go to moguls skiers to athletes in other disciplines.



World Cups and Olympics are the treasure at the end of the rainbow and making the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team is not a ticket to either, but it’s still a lofty achievement, and a step skiers dream of taking.

There are a dozen ways they can officially earn that spot. A World Championship medal gets a skier in, as does a World Cup win or two World Cup podiums in one season.



Those are tough for a skier who has next to no chance to compete at the World Championships and who would be lucky to even start two World Cups.

For that skier, there are three good options.

  1. He or she can finish the season in the top six on the United States Ski and Snowboard Association points list, which takes into account competitions both big and small.
  2. He or she can win the Nor-Am Cup Grand Prix, the season-long points race in what’s essentially the minor leagues of moguls skiing.
  3. Or, he or she can win the U.S. National Championships, which are scheduled to begin Friday in Steamboat Springs.

In the eyes of Ryan Dyer, a 23-year old Steamboat Springs moguls skier, there’s no reason not to do all three.

“I WAS IN THE SHOW”

Dyer has been to the top of the mountain. He knows what’s there.

He actually qualified for the U.S. team in 2010 via a fourth avenue, doing well enough at the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team Selections event in Steamboat Springs to warrant inclusion on the squad. That fits in with a loophole woven into team qualification standards — coach’s discretion.

It was the culmination of his life’s work up to that point.

Dyer came to Steamboat Springs with his family about 15 years ago, and as he worked his way through the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club freestyle programs, only injuries seemed to stop him.

There was a particularly nasty one in late 2009 that left him lying flat on his back underneath a jump, coughing up blood.

Making the team a year later, thanks to a couple of the best days of his career to that point at the team selections event in Steamboat, marked a big comeback, and being on the team didn’t disappoint.

Dyer rose to the challenge. He placed 16th in his first career World Cup start, at Lake Placid, New York, then performed well enough the rest of that winter and through summer training to earn World Cup starts for the first half of the 2011-12 season.

“I had this huge opportunity,” Dyer said. “I had six World Cups lined up, and all I had to do was ski well in one or two of them and I was guaranteed World Cups the rest of the year.”

He still talks about those days with a sense of awe, the way Kevin Costner, playing Crash Davis, describes his stint in Major League Baseball in the movie “Bull Durham.”

“I was in the show. I was in for 21 days once, the greatest 21 days of my life,” Costner said to a bus full of Minor League dreamers.

Dyer lived his dream for nearly three years, some of them the best of his life.

THE A-B-Cs

There are three levels to the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, and the expectations and requirements for each level are carefully spelled out in a five-page document heavy with legalese.

No more than 20 athletes can be on the team, and that includes those who maintain their spots via a detailed “injury clause,” worthy of its own two pages.

The A team athletes — the stars of the team like Olympic and World Champion Hannah Kearney — have the best of it. The U.S. Ski team takes care of travel, equipment, uniforms, competition fees and training. There’s a per-diem thrown in to help on those long European road trips, but if you’re good enough to be on the A team, you’d better be good enough to be placing high in World Cups and winning money, and you’re surely good enough to have lucrative sponsorships and the incentive-laden contracts they offer.

The B team athletes fall a bit below that, with some of the expenses covered, and the C team athletes are largely on their own, allowed to attend team camps but forced to pay for travel and competitions.

It can be rough on the C team, “the most expensive ski season you could ever imagine,” Dyer said, considering the prospects of competing a whole season on the World Cup, paying for everything from plane tickets to ski jackets.

“It can go upwards of $25,000,” he said.

But, being on the team at any level is a special experience.

“You know, you never handle your own luggage in the show. Somebody else always carries your bags,” Costner said in “Bull Durham.” “You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals and the hotels all have room service.”

It’s similar on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, at least in principle.

You may have to haul your own luggage, but there’s staff on hand to help out for plenty of other necessities. There are physical trainers and video personnel on staff during training. Coaches will help out as much or as little as an athlete likes, but they’re not there to babysit or offer the same personal touch a club coach might.

But, it’s not a free-for-all.

Kevin Costner warned of pitchers with ungodly breaking balls and exploding sliders.

At his first World Cup of the 2011-12 winter, in Ruka, Finland, Dyer found himself lining up next to incredible athletes who skied faster, jumped higher and were simply better.

“In Ruka, I realized, ‘I’m not sure I can ski with these guys,’” he said. “‘I’m not sure I’m good enough.’”


“WHAT ARE YOU DOING AFTER SKIING?”

Friends, family, coaches, they never actually tell you to quit.

“It’s always a, ‘so, what are you doing after skiing?’ talk,” Dyer said.

In March 2011, at the U.S. National Championships, Dyer placed third, behind two other skiers with ties to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club — national champ Pat Deneen and runner-up Jeremy Cota.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, set for Sochi, Russia, were 34 months away, and for a moment, it seemed like it could be a Steamboat-stacked team.

A year later, 22 months from Sochi, it seemed like anything but.

Dyer’s big opportunity on the World Cup was a misfire from the start. He only competed in the first one, in Finland, and finished well back, 34th. He broke his collarbone training after that event, rushed his recovery to get back in time for a World Cup in Park City, Utah, and was never the same after that.

He spent the 2012-13 season back on the Nor-Am Cup circuit, and he struggled. Where he had once been hopeful to compete at the Olympics, he was suddenly in desperate need of a big result simply to keep his spot on the team.

His confidence was gone, and his skiing was going.

“That last year we could tell he was struggling,” said Ryan’s father, Ross Dyer. “We’re watching him press really hard every event. It was in his head, ‘I have to do well. I have to do well.’

“He was just a little more depressed, not as chipper. He clearly wasn’t happy with where he was and what he was doing.”

His results weren’t good enough.

Ryan Dyer held out some hope that even he knew was absurd — that somehow he’d still be on the team, that he’d get one more year. But, then the phone call came.

“I was here in Steamboat, at my house. It was in April. The mountain was still open. I pretty much knew. Right after breakfast, my phone rang and it said (U.S. coach) Scott Rawles was calling,” Dyer said. “He was cordial. I was cordial. There’s nothing they can do. There’s nothing I can do. Still, it sucks to hear those words, especially after I spent three years on the team, especially after they trusted in me and gave me World Cup starts right after I got on the team. Then, bam! It’s another year later, they’re cutting me from the team.”


ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS

The U.S. Freestyle Ski Team is a numbers game.

It’s not about distant potential or ancient history. It’s about recent results and current rankings, and it can be brutal.

No one knows that better than Jeremy Cota.

If Ryan Dyer had been a 2014 Olympic hopeful, Cota would have been justified to change some dollars in for rubles.

He only narrowly missed a chance to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and in the years between Olympics, he became one of the nation’s elite bumps skiers.

He won a national championship in dual moguls. He compiled seven podium finishes on the World Cup, and in 2012, Cota was ranked as the No. 3 moguls skier in the world.

Then he got hurt in 2013, bruising his heel.

“I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be to come back,” Cota said. “I struggled in 2013, then in 2014, I came back, but with the pressure of the Olympics and trying to qualify and coming off a fairly bad season, I didn’t have the confidence to ski well.”

Cota went from the top of the team, the fully funded A squad, to the C team, where athletes are left to fend for themselves financially.

From the team’s point of view, it was all about the numbers. Cota suddenly didn’t have them.

From Cota’s point of view, it was all about his mentality.

“Our sport, a huge portion of it is mental, and it was very frustrating to me,” he said. “After the injury, I felt fine and was skiing well, but mentally I wasn’t in the same place. It took me awhile to get that back, to trust myself again.”

He did get back, however, in a big way.

He finished in the top 10 in six World Cups this season and earned his eighth career podium in Japan in February.

He did it from the C team. Those years of success had helped him line up sponsors, and that helped him pay the bills that were previously taken care of.

Other C teammates resorted to different methods. Dyer took up waiting tables at Old Town Pub, but before, during and after his stint on the team, he relied on a network of families to support him — friends of friends who decided to help a young skier chase a dream.

Dyer said he does anything he can for his sponsors, whether that means sending them mementos from races or guiding them through a day at Steamboat Ski Area.

He writes them letters, too, tucking himself away in the Buddy Werner Memorial Library to send a message updating them on his career, thanking them for their help and, arduous no matter his skiing results, asking for more.

In spring 2013, after he was off the team, quitting seemed to make sense, and friends and family, coaches and competitors had that talk with Dyer.

“So, what are you going to do after skiing?”

Dyer, meanwhile, sat down to write a very difficult batch of letters, not offering a final thanks, but once again asking for support.

CAN’T GET AWAY

Rejuvenation for Ryan Dyer started with bacon and eggs.

That’s the way most meetings with freestyle coach Timmy Meagher start.

They don’t just give away the red, white and blue uniforms of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team seen here on Dyer, not in any sense. Ryan Dyer spent three years on the team, but his results weren’t good enough to keep him on it. He’s worked his way back, however, thanks to a season of stellar results, and will be named to the team when it’s announced later this spring. He still had to pay for the uniform, however.Joel Reichenberger

“It was just sitting down and saying, ‘If you’re really serious about this, this is what we’ll have to do,’” Meagher said. “Ryan has always had the talent, and he’s always had the ability. I believed in him.”

Booted from the ski team, Dyer asked himself all the introspective questions he could think of and listened to all the advice he could stomach.

His parents, Ross and Sally, said they just wanted him to be happy, but they suggested there might never be a better time for the then 21-year-old to give college a try.

Dyer had examples everywhere around him.

He could look one direction at close friends in Steamboat Springs who gave up their sport and enrolled in schools.

He could glance in another direction and see former teammates on the verge of making the 2014 Winter Olympics.

He could look a third way and see competitors approaching 30 years old, their youth spent, still convincing themselves that the big break was just one good run away.

When he looked inside himself, however, he found resolve, maybe more than he knew he had.

“I don’t know why I decided not to go to school,” he said. “There are all these things I think I can do well outside of skiing, but I don’t know. I couldn’t get away from the fact that I just love the sport.

“I felt like I was better than how I left it. There’s more I can do. I’m not satisfied. That’s something I talked to Timmy about.”

U.S. FREESTYLE CHAMPIONSHIPS

STEAMBOAT SKI AREA

VOO DOO RUN AT THE PARK SMALLEY FREESTYLE COMPLEX

■ Friday: Single moguls

10:05 A.M. — WOMEN’S MOGULS QUALIFICATION

12:20 P.M. — MEN’S MOGULS QUALIFICATIONS

2:30 P.M. — WOMEN’S MOGULS FINALS

3:05 P.M. — MEN’S MOGULS FINALS

4 P.M. — MOGULS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE

■ Saturday: Aerials

11 A.M. — AERIALS QUALIFICATIONS

12:15 P.M. — AERIALS FINALS NO. 1

2:25 P.M. — AERIALS FINALS NO. 2

3 P.M. — AERIALS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE

■ Sunday: Dual moguls

11:40 A.M. — WOMEN’S AND MEN’S DUAL MOGULS

2:30 P.M. — DUAL MOGULS AWARDS, GONDOLA SQUARE

Leaving the U.S. Ski Team and staying in the sport meant coming back to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which was a bit like having to go back to high school after spending a semester at college.

Dyer had to remember to do some of the little things that had been taken care of for him in “the show” on the U.S. team, and he had to get used to the funny looks he sometimes got when he was back at regional competitions.

The Winter Sports Club was going through some changes of its own at the time, and Meagher was a part of that.

Meagher has worked with the club for decades, but he spent much of the previous four years coaching American Pat Deneen to be one of the world’s top moguls skiers.

After that relationship ended, Dyer and his family helped convince Meagher to return to the club.

He needed some promises, though, and those came out over a two-hour breakfast at The Shack, a rustic log cabin-looking breakfast spot in downtown Steamboat Springs.

“He said ‘I’m not coming on to coach you for a year,’” Dyer said. “He told me, ‘If you want to work together, we are going to make a run for the Olympics.’”

RENOVATION IN PROGRESS

For Dyer, going forward required going back. Getting by on athleticism alone had gotten him to the World Cup, but it hadn’t allowed him to be competitive on it.

Coach Timmy Meagher returned to the winter sports club before the 2014 season, and the task of rebuilding Dyer’s skiing began.Joel Reichenberger

Meagher was determined to rebuild Dyer’s technique.

“We had to take about five steps back,” Meagher said. “His turn style was flat, and when he was skiing flatfooted, he would get caught low and that’s where the mistakes were coming. Once we got him in an offensive position, he could take control of his run.”

The results didn’t show much in the 2013-14 season, but this winter was an entirely different story — different from anything Dyer had previously accomplished.

He was very good in December at the annual team selection event, placing second twice and sixth once. He only narrowly missed on a chance to start at the two World Cups in the United States, where U.S. skiers are allotted extra starting slots, but ended up getting that chance anyway when Deneen withdrew from the Lake Placid, New York, World Cup with an injury.

Making his return to the circuit for the first time since 2012, Dyer shined, earning a spot in the finals and placing 14th.

Even more remarkable were his results on the Nor-Am circuit.

He’d never had a podium on the circuit, and his highest finish in the season standings was eighth.

He won the first event of this winter’s schedule, Jan. 15 in Deer Valley. Then he won the second, a day later. He won his third a week after that in British Columbia and a fourth in February in Quebec. He didn’t finish outside the top seven in the other three events.

WHY NOT ALL THREE?

Ryan Dyer had the Nor-Am Cup Grand Prix wrapped up before the final weekend of competitions.

There are a dozen ways to make the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, but only three that an up-and-coming skier has a real chance at achieving. Dyer achieved one when he won the Nor-Am circuit, earning a spot on the C team.

But, hey, why not all three?

He’s in a tight race with two other talented skiers for the sixth spot in the USSA points rankings — one is Winter Park ripper Bruce Perry, Jr., who was last year’s Nor-Am champ and runner-up to Dyer this year, and the other is World Cup veteran Sho Kashima.

And, this coming weekend, Dyer will have a chance to chase down the third option — a U.S. Freestyle Championship.

The event begins Friday in Steamboat Springs.

Dyer won’t be the favorite, not with Cota in the field, or Olympic bronze medalist Bryon Wilson or the eight other men of the U.S. Ski Team, all eager to have a big day and defend their spots on the team.

But, Dyer will have a chance, and he has a future, and for someone who’s been pushed to the brink of giving up on his dream, that’s plenty.

“I am going to go get it. I have to go take it,” Dyer said. “That’s something I’ve learned. No one is going to give you this. Now I really know, it’s tough, I have to go out there, and I have to step on people’s dreams to make this happen for me.”


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