On again, off again: Schwartz, Steamboat athletes strive for U.S. team
Steamboat U.S. team members
U.S. Freestyle Ski Team
Jaelin Kauf, B team
Ryan Dyer, C team
Olivia Giaccio, D team
U.S. Snowboard Team
Taylor Gold, men's pro half-pipe team
Matt Ladley, men's pro half-pipe team
Arielle Gold, women's pro half-pipe team
Nik Baden, men's pro slopestyle team
Mick Dierdorff, men's snowboard cross B team
Cole Johnson, men's snowboard cross development group
Rosie Mancari, women's snowboard cross development group
Steamboat Springs — It wasn’t that Sophia Schwartz decided to do nothing.
A little more than a month away from graduating from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience, Schwartz had more than enough to occupy her time earlier this month, when the United States Ski and Snowboard Association released the names for the 2016-17 U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.
Schwartz, a moguls skier on the team since 2014, wasn’t on the list.
At first, she did nothing, holding off on any quick decision or rash judgment. Instead, she let the news settle in and considered what it meant. She talked to friends, family and coaches and tried as best she could to hone in on what she really wanted.
Was this it — the end of a ski career that’s defined her life?
Finally, three weeks later, she decided.
“I’m planning to keep skiing,” she said. “Getting cut from the U.S. team was hard and painful, and I wanted to make a decision not immediately following it, so I gave myself some time. I decided I still love it.”
On the cusp, on the team
If March means the end of one competitive winter sports season, May means the beginning of the next, and that can manifest itself in comings and goings of skiers from the U.S. teams.
With their funding, coaching and resources, those teams are the goal for any competitive skier or snowboarder, and being left off can signal the end of a career.
This year, a trio of Steamboat Springs freestyle moguls skiers were off.
Schwartz, on the fully funded A team in 2014 and on the semi-supported C team last winter, was out. Lane Stoltzner was off the C team after just one season on. Jeremy Cota was also left off after competing with the team since 2010.
At the same time, two new Steamboat Springs skiers were included on the team.
Jaelin Kauf turned a sensational, breakout winter into a spot on the B team, while Olivia Giaccio, second at March’s U.S. Freestyle Championships in Steamboat Springs, made the D team.
Steamboat’s Ryan Dyer also was on the squad, retaining his C team spot after missing much of last season due to the after effects of a concussion.
The U.S. Snowboard Team, made official Monday, included seven Steamboat Springs-connected riders.
Half-pipe riders Taylor Gold, a 2014 Winter Olympian, and Matt Ladley, champion in February’s X Games, lead the way on the men’s half-pipe pro team. Arielle Gold, also a 2014 Olympian and second at the X Games this winter, is on the women’s pro half-pipe team.
Nik Baden is on the men’s slopestyle pro team, while Mick Dierdorff is on the men’s snowboard cross B team. Cole Johnson is on the men’s snowboard cross development team, and Rosie Mancari is on the women’s snowboard cross development team.
Not ready to retire
For Schwartz, being left off the team means returning to Steamboat, where she lived and trained before moving to Park City, Utah, last year to train with the U.S. team.
After years skiing World Cups and at the 2015 World Championships, she’ll be back to Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Ski Area, training with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
She said the quality of the club’s freestyle program will keep the training similar, but as a matter of prestige, it’s a major change.
“It definitely feels uncomfortable, having to step back, but at the same time, I have a lot of friends and really good teammates at the Winter Sports Club,” she said. “The key is to put your ego aside and recognize you still love skiing, regardless of what team you’re skiing for.”
It’s a long way from what stands as her career’s pinnacle — the 2013-14 winter, in which she went from off the team to on, then came within an eyelash of making the U.S. Olympic team.
She didn’t place worse than ninth in a World Cup that season, but hasn’t been better than 11th since.
Those were all things she grappled with during that three-week gap, from the news she was off the team to her recent decision to continue her career.
She said there were three major factors in her mind.
“First, I still feel like I can progress,” she said. “When I close my eyes and dream about moguls skiing, I see myself skiing at a level I haven’t reached yet.”
Second, she still craves some of the numbing small things of the sport — the early morning workouts and the toe-freezing days on the mountain.
“I still love it,” she said. “I still love the training, and I love being in the start gate. I love all the work it takes to be a competitive athlete.”
And finally, simply put, she’s not ready to be done.
Eventually, she hopes to put that neuroscience degree to work in some sort of medical field, perhaps with more schooling, first.
For now, though, it will have to wait.
“I want my ski career to be something I’m proud of,” she said. “I want to take ownership of that, and if I retired now, I’d be quitting. I want to retire. I don’t want to quit.”
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