Madison Lord is a New England girl through and through. She was born in Maine, learned to ski in New Hampshire, and honed her racing skills at the same Vermont ski academy that graduated alpine racing phenom Mikaela Shiffrin. Lord says she's known since the sixth grade that she wanted to be a ski racer, and her sights are set on the podium of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
So when USSA chose the East to establish its first year-round Regional Training Group this year Lord jumped at the chance to get on board.
"I think doing something new, training with the RTG, is going to help me break through to another level," said the 2015 graduate of Burke Mountain Academy. "I took a risk, and I think it's working out."
The risk was choosing an untested program rather than opting for a post-graduate year of continued training at Burke or her planned move to Vermont's Middlebury College and the ski team there. As a top racer in the Eastern division, Lord was invited to participate in the RTG. Ultimately, it was the chance to try something different—and to work with coach Mike Kenney—that tipped the scales.
The logic behind the RTG is in allowing these speedsters to maintain a familiar home base, where they can continue training and improving without the disruption of packing up and relocating a couple thousand miles west.
When Eastern ski racers began clamoring for a top-notch regional program—one closer to home than the USSA's Center of Excellence (COE) in Park City—the ski racing powers that be recruited Kenney to lead the year-round training effort. Kenney has spent the past few decades coaching ski racers, from juniors to the top Americans on the World Cup circuit—including his nephew Bode Miller—and is highly regarded in alpine racing circles.
"I had heard so much about Mike," says Lord. "He's a legend in ski racing."
Decision made, Lord moved to Franconia, where she learned to ski as a toddler at Cannon Mountain—and where Kenney lives—and trained nearly daily with her new coach through the summer and fall. The RTG's other inaugural members, Cecily Decker of New York state and Anna Foley of New Hampshire's Waterville Valley, also spent time in Franconia for a week-long training session in July, and a pre-season dryland session in October.
The three women, who are among the fastest female ski racers in the East and are U.S. Ski Team hopefuls, will train and compete together through the winter. Ski racing is a pay-to-play venture—at least until an athlete claims a spot on the U.S. Ski Team—which means the RTG ladies are funding their own travel, equipment, and training. The logic behind the RTG is in allowing these speedsters to maintain a familiar home base, where they can continue training and improving without the disruption of packing up and relocating a couple thousand miles west.
There's still plenty of travel. The RTG spent two weeks training in Europe in October and will head to Colorado in November to train there until the first race of NorAm circuit, which is a step below World Cup races and will be the focus of the RTG members this winter. But between Western competitions they'll return East to train and regroup in a familiar landscape.
"We sometimes suffer from an information gap between the Euro-centric nature of Alpine skiing and our regions, where our next group of elite skiers will develop," says Kenney. "The goal for the RTG is to establish a legitimate platform for girls in their senior or post-grad years to give them the best opportunity to reach their goals."
The RTG is one of several recent initiatives by USSA to put more impetus on developing top racers throughout the country, namely those with the potential to make the leap to the national team, but not quite ready yet. Others include National Training Groups for U16 and FIS level racers, based out of the COE in Park City, and the National University Team, created earlier this year and focused on transitioning top college racers to the U.S. Ski Team.
The flexibility of the RTG will allow the group to move around the East to where the best training conditions are. They'll work with different "host clubs," providing the chance for those clubs' best skiers to train up with the RTG athletes. The regional group will also train with the U.S. Ski Team's D Team women and National Training Group members at certain points of the season.
Not one to follow strictly conventional methods, Kenney had the young women pedaling uphill mountain bike intervals during their summer session and training in the gym set up in the family barn.
"It's the COE of the East," says Lord. "We have a barn, a rusty barbell, and we're getting strong in there."
Strong enough in her case that she reached the podium in her first two races as a member of the RTG, claiming gold in the slalom and bronze in the giant slalom of the Australia New Zealand Cup (ANC) in August. Lord likes the view from the top of the podium and hopes to find herself there often.
"The RTG is a great opportunity and a great experience that's just one chapter in my long ski racing journey," says Lord. When she turns the pages in her mind, that journey brings her beyond the NorAm races of the coming winter to the Junior World Championships, the World Cup, the Olympics. "I have it all mapped out. But you never know what's going to happen along the way."
Marquee Photo: USSA