Chasing his dream | Squaw Valley product Bryce Bennett selected to U.S. Ski Team |

Chasing his dream | Squaw Valley product Bryce Bennett selected to U.S. Ski Team

Courtesy of Zeev Gur / Bryce Bennett of the Squaw Valley Ski Team, shown in a slalom race at Heavenly this past winter, was recently selected to the U.S. Ski Team's Development Team. Bennett, 18, was on the cusp of making the U.S. squad for several years prior.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. andamp;#8212; andamp;#8220;I want to be like Bode Miller. I want to win the overall and sweep the Olympics. It’s hard but I think I can do it. I just got to keep skiing well.andamp;#8221; Those aspiring words came from Bryce Bennett, spoken in a March 2005 interview with the Tahoe World, when he was 12. Six years later, at 18, the Squaw Valley skier and Alpine Meadows resident has made his largest stride yet toward that ambitious goal.

Bennett was one of nine elite junior ski racers in the nation selected recently to join the men’s U.S. Ski Team Development Team, also called the D Team. Nineteen athletes were named to the D Team in total.andamp;#8220;It’s been my goal ever since I started ski racing,andamp;#8221; Bennett said of his selection, which was based on his performance at a U.S. tryout camp as well as his collective body of work during the race season. andamp;#8220;I always looked up to Marco (Sullivan) and all those guys, and now it’s finally come true.andamp;#8221;

Like Sullivan before him andamp;#8212; and fellow Squaw Valley products such as Travis Ganong and Julia Mancuso, among others andamp;#8212; Bennett grew up shredding all aspects of the mountain.

It’s part of what makes him such a strong ski racer to this day, his coaches say. andamp;#8220;He loves to freeski, just like every kid from Squaw that has made it to the U.S. Ski Team. They’re all freeskiers who ski race. That’s kind of the model, and Bryce certainly proves that,andamp;#8221; said Dick Banfield, a former longtime coach with the Squaw Valley Mighty Mites, where Bennett began his ski racing career before kindergarten. andamp;#8220;You had to drag him off the hill every day because he loved it so much.andamp;#8221;He still does.

Bennett said he skied 215 days this past year, about half of them on powder days. He said he’s still andamp;#8220;ampedandamp;#8221; from all the powder turns. andamp;#8220;Not only does he like ski racing, but he’s into powder skiing and being the first guy on KT on a big day,andamp;#8221; said Lee Schmidt, head coach of the Squaw Valley Ski Team. andamp;#8220;He just loves skiing so much, and that’s what it takes.

The kids who are there from 8 to 4 and never in the lodge are the ones who really go far. Like Travis (Ganong), (Nick) Daniels, Marco (Sullivan), all those kids are the same way. They could just never get enough of skiing.andamp;#8221;That love for skiing in general translated well to the race course, where Bennett, a big kid from an early age, excelled against his competition in all disciplines andamp;#8212; from speed events to technical slaloms. That hasn’t changed.andamp;#8220;I don’t have a strength in any particular event,andamp;#8221; Bennett said. andamp;#8220;I like them all. It’s all different. I like skiing whatever. I basically ski everything andamp;#8212; park, pow, whatever you want.andamp;#8221;

No longer a kid andamp;#8212; Bennett turns 19 on July 14 andamp;#8212; the once-lanky youngster has matured into a 6-foot-7, 215-pound force on the race course, thanks in large part to his hard work in the gym. Bennett said he works on everything from cardio to power lifting.andamp;#8220;He’s tall. It’s very rare, even in all my days, to see someone his height make it that far,andamp;#8221; Schmidt said. andamp;#8220;But he seems to use it to his advantage. As he’s developed into his body, he’s made all the necessary adjustments to reach the next level.andamp;#8221;Bennett said he thinks his height plays to his advantage due to the leverage it creates. He used World Cup alpine racer Aksel Svindal of Norway, who he said is 6-4, as an example of a tall skier who has had success at the highest level.andamp;#8220;There’s not too many tall skiers, but I’m going to hopefully change that,andamp;#8221; Bennett said.

Aside from the size he’s possessed since his early days of skiing, Bennett still shares the same zest for the sport that he did when he was 5, said Banfield. That, too, contributed to his selection to the Development Team. andamp;#8220;The first thing you remember about Bryce is his passion for the sport. He was just very enthusiastic to be out on the mountain,andamp;#8221; Banfield said. andamp;#8220;He was such a fun kid to coach. He would immediately be able to process whatever you threw at him. He was just super talented, super passionate, super fun andamp;#8230; just a coach’s dream.andamp;#8221;

Bennett, who graduated from Forest Charter School in 2010, was on the cusp of making the D Team for several years, said Randy Pelkey, head coach of the men’s Development Team.

His performance at the most recent U.S. tryout camp in May was stellar, Pelkey said, but it was also his personality and results from the past year that landed him on the team. Bennett, who’s been on the U.S. Ski Team’s radar since he was a J3, has posted solid results for years. As a J2 in 2009, he won the giant slalom and overall titles among junior racers at U.S. Nationals.

This past year he finished in the top three for juniors at the NorAm finals, and performed consistently at Nationals.andamp;#8220;(His selection) was really based on his whole body of work. It wasn’t just one camp for me,andamp;#8221; Pelkey said. andamp;#8220;He performed really well at the camp, but I’m not going to choose a guy very often based on two or three days when I’ve known him for years. It’s just everything he’s done. He’s worked very hard on his fitness, he’s worked hard on his skiing and he has a great attitude. So we thought he deserved a crack at it.andamp;#8221;While he wasn’t discouraged by not being selected in previous years, Bennett conceded that he did feel as though time was running out to make his move. andamp;#8220;I knew that it was kind of a make-or-break situation, so I actually felt pretty confident that I was going to make it. I put everything I had toward it and it worked out,andamp;#8221; he said.

Bennett and his new teammates have already been put to work, as they recently returned from a andamp;#8220;rookieandamp;#8221; camp at Mount Hood in Oregon. There, he joined more than 40 members of the greater U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams, from racers to aerialists.

It was a bonding experience, with campers playing soccer and climbing ropes courses together, as well as learning the ins and outs of what’s expected of them on the team.andamp;#8220;It was so much fun meeting all those kids from different disciplines, because we’re kind of in it for the same thing, but we’re doing it in different ways,andamp;#8221; said Bennett, adding that Mark Engel of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team, who was named to the C Team, also attended the camp.

It was pretty fun to pick their brains a little bit and see what was going on.andamp;#8221;Bennett leaves on Monday, July 11, for about a month of training at the Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah. The team then heads back to Mount Hood for a week of on-snow training. That’s followed by a week’s break, then another training trip to Chile in September. The season kicks off in Colorado in November.andamp;#8220;I just want to keep stepping up the ladder and be a consistent top five on the NorAm circuit this year, maybe do some Europa Cups, and hopefully end up on the World Cup,andamp;#8221; Bennett said.

With his skill set and love for skiing, there’s no reason he can’t achieve just that, said his old Mighty Mite coach.andamp;#8220;Bryce has got a lot of talent. If he can stay focused, there’s no limit to what he can accomplish. He’s a tremendous kid,andamp;#8221; Banfield said.

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