Mountain Athlete Institute


We’ve been doing work with mountain sports beyond strength and conditioning for several years now into such areas as mountain safety, decision making, mountain skills training, mountain sport technical coaching and training, mountain event nutrition, and mountain athlete professional development.

While our current emphasis is still on mountain-specific fitness, we are rapidly evolving toward a more broad, encompassing Mountain Athlete “Institute.” It’s very exciting.

What we’ve discovered during our forays into these non-fitness areas is the unique systems we’ve created to develop mountain sport fitness from the ground up can also be applied to these other other areas to generate new thought and exciting results.

We’re furthest along in the Institute vein with our FreeSki team. This will the be second year we’ve been able to get our athletes on-snow, technical coaching for freeskiing. Many resorts and clubs are loosely doing this for juniors, but to our knowledge, no own is offering high level on-snow coaching for professional freeskiers. We’re developing the methodology, progressions, lesson plans, etc. from the ground up.

Safety – on the avalanche safety side we’ve commissioned a custom course focused not on snow science and weather, but on the human decision making heuristic traps which research shows lead to most avy accidents and deaths. This area of avalanche safety is currently not emphasized in avalanche education, but we feel is the most important. How best to teach it? How best to test it? We’re trying to answer these questions now.

Mountain Skills – Last year I commissioned another custom course on ski mountaineering rope systems. I’ve been to several mountaineering courses and found at each that instead of focusing on and drilling the 20 percent of knots and systems work which covers 80 percent of the real world situations, many guides/instructors seem to teach every knot possible and cover every conceivable scenario. Quickly the students are so overwhelmed with obscure knots and information little is retained. Also, I found the on-mountain/rock/snow work to be an inefficient place to learn and drill knots/systems. Weather, travel, conditions can all conspire to condense teaching/learning time. For our two day course, day one was inside the gym, where the 20% rope systems and knots were learned, and drilled again, again, and again. Day 2 was on the snow, for more drilling – application in the real world.

It is so hard to get into these sports without a mentor. We need to make it easier.

Professional Development – this summer we worked hard with several of our athletes on the business/professional side of their careers. If you’ve been following the Monster Factory webisodes you know skiing is just the beginning. Next comes sponsor contacts, industry relationships, personal branding, social media strategy, etc. – all needed to make it in the sport. Working with our ski team members we had great success – two picked up by The North Face, two by Flylow, two by Arcteryx, one by Marmot. We had success is teaching these athletes the professional/business side of the game, and by becoming a great source of talent for needy sponsors.

As we move ahead, you’ll see a dedicated push on our part to become the Mountain Athlete Institute. Ideas include:

  • working with academics on mountain specific training and nutrition initiatives and studies
  • Working with clothing and gear manufacturers to create a “Mountain Professional” expedition award
  • Work to introduce Latinos to mountain sports.
  • Safety initiatives including avalanche decision making, mountain awareness, and decision making under stress
  • Further professional development aimed at bringing more balance to the athletes in the athlete/sponsor relationship

Currently we’re reaching out to mountain-specific clothing, gear and other companies to see if we can find a partner or partners who share our passion to explore this big, “Institute” idea. But partners or not, we’re moving ahead.

– Rob Shaul

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