DAVID BLOW special for The Post-Star
When West Mountain ski area co-owners Spencer and Sara Montgomery took over the mountain nine years ago, they envisioned major upgrades and ultimately made Queensbury Mountain a ski racing destination.
On Friday, they took a big step towards realizing that vision by hiring Thomas Vonn, one of the nation’s best-known ski coaches.
A 2002 Olympic runner himself, Vonn, 46, also coached and married Lindsey Vonn, the most successful ski racer in history. He’s also known for taking good teenage skiers and making them great, said enthusiastic Spencer Montgomery on Wednesday.
“It puts us in a totally different category. It was basically the missing link, ”he said, adding that with Vonn, West Mountain can compete with prestigious racing academies.
Next winter, Montgomery said he envisions at least 15 teenage male runners living in the West Mountain home at the base of the mountain, taking classes in Queensbury and training in the afternoons and nights. .
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As the program grows, he said more housing will be needed and that he plans to hire a coach to open up academy-type opportunities for female runners as well.
He said Vonn has such an audience that runners will come to West just because of him.
West Mountain Racing has flourished under the leadership of Alpine Race Director Steve Lathrop, with over 100 riders this year, Montgomery said.
They were 65 when he started three years ago.
Lathrop, an accomplished former World Cup runner himself, did a great job with the young runners, but he couldn’t physically also train the top-level 16U runners, whose option was essentially to head to a ski academy, Montgomery said.
Now they can stay in West and Vonn will recruit more to join them.
“It sends a message to the ski racing community that we are serious,” Lathrop said Wednesday.
Vonn, who was at the ski area on Wednesday, said he had been driving up the mountain on the Northway for years and always said to anyone he rode with, “I wish I could be on that practice hill.”
The Newburgh, New York native raced in West at the age of 13 and recently coached at Northwood Academy in Lake Placid. He said West Mountain is the basic European racing model with decent terrain and a chairlift with racing tracks right next to it.
When asked if West could compete with the ski academies, he answered without hesitation “absolutely”.
“And they actually have an advantage over the academies because they control the mountain. Most academies have to work with third parties and get permission to use the trails, ”he said. “And a huge plus is that we have night skiing. Having the ability to train day and night is incredibly valuable.
“The built-in benefits of this place are absolutely huge and I am delighted.”
While Lathrop acknowledged that Vonn’s success as coach of his now ex-wife, superstar Lindsey, is important, he stressed that he has had success before and after Lindsey.
“He has a very good record on his own,” said Lathrop, adding that he would continue to oversee the race program and work with the younger ones while Vonn takes care of the “FIS” duties. FIS is the abbreviation for “Fédération Internationale de Ski”, the entity that oversees international ski racing.
And Vonn said he’s confident he can recruit more runners at West Mountain.
“I have worked with a lot of children and they tend to follow me a lot,” he said. “We had a good relationship and good results and I know when I was a runner, when I worked with a coach who did well for me, I made a point of staying with that coach.”
Vonn’s hiring comes after roughly $ 15 million in upgrades to the mountain, including new ski lifts, renovated lodges, and significantly increased snowmaking capacity and lighting. Vonn also stressed the importance of the improvements made to the snow cover.
The move also comes as plans move forward to add accommodation on the north side of the mountain, making it a true ski and resort area.
Vonn said he was looking for homes in the area for himself and his partner, Shauna, and their three children “under the age of 4”. He said he liked the area, in part because it is close to a population base for growing the mountain.
“And it’s a beautiful region, with beautiful lakes and mountains. This is the whole, ”he said.
Montgomery said an ever-improving race program in West is also good for the community, as people travel for higher-level FIS races requiring local spending on accommodation and food.
For Vonn, the years of longing to train West Mountain runners while driving north or south are over, and he looked pretty excited about the endeavor.
“From a racing perspective you really can’t beat what they have here. When I was in Europe to train with the national team, these are the kind of places we look for, not the mega resorts. It’s those little places where you control the snow and control the slope, that’s all you need, ”he said. “I am delighted to take it to the next level here. “