Teaching gold medal know-how
Retired Norwegian alpine skier Finn Christian Jagge is just getting used to nuances of coaching ski racing out West.
And his students at the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy are just getting used to his coaching.
“He’s definitely a lot different than my last coach,” said Paris Tolmachoff, a 15-year-old racer at the academy. “He’s really good, but his style of coaching is a lot different. I think European coaches are a lot different than American coaches. They explain things different, and have different techniques and stuff.
“And,” Tolmachoff added, “sometimes you can’t understand him.”
Jagge, a four-time Olympian and men’s slalom gold medal winner in the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games, is in his first year as coach at the academy, and is coming off two years as coach at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont.
“It’s a whole different way of skiing out here,” the 39-year-old said. “It’s more of a Western style.”
What distinguishes a Western style of skiing? Jagge explained: “Because the snow is not as hard here, [the racers] have to be softer on their edges. They’re not skiing as aggressively as they are back East. They have to have a little more finesse, to be fast on their edges. If you’re too hard on your edges, then you’re just slowing down. That’s the difference.”
Jagge, after 17 years on the Norwegian ski team, knows a little bit about racing. In addition to his gold medal performance in 1992, he competed in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, as well as the 1994 (Lillehammer) and 1998 (Nagano) Olympics.
He also won seven World Cup races from 1991 to 2000, the year he stepped away from competitive ski racing, and was ranked third in the world in 1992 and 1999, and fourth in 1998. Norway even produced stamps of him in honor of his 1993 gold medal.
When Jagge retired, the most natural career change he could think of was coaching.
“For me, I’ve been a racer all my life,” he said, “so coaching is the second-best job in skiing. It’s the closest thing you get to being a racer.”
But that was never part of the plan.
“I don’t think any racer ever wants to be a coach while they’re racing,” Jagge said. “Everybody says, ‘When I’m done [skiing] I’m going to go to Hawaii. Never ever am I going to set foot on snow again.’ But this is pretty much what I know and what I like.”
The best part of the job, Jagge said, is working with the students. Sometimes watching them compete gives him the urge strap on the old racing skis, but seeing his racers do well while continuing to improve keeps the impulse in check.
“I really like watching them,” he said about his pupils, most of whom are J1s and J2s, ages 15 to 19. “Mostly I enjoy working with them and seeing how they get better. I like sharing my experience, and seeing if I can help them become racers, as well.”
Jagge on the academy and Truckee
“I think that we have a great program here,” Jagge said of Sugar Bowl Academy. “The training opportunities are awesome. The schooling fits in with [the students’] skiing schedules, instead of them trying to fit their skiing in with school.
“It’s also about getting an education and preparing everyone for college. And skiing can get you into a good college. If you’re a good skier, you get scholarships.”
Jagge said the only difference between Burke Mountain Academy and Sugar Bowl Academy is that the Burke Mountain program is older ” 39 years old, compared to Sugar Bowl’s six.
The big difference is living in Truckee, as opposed to the tiny town of East Burke, Vt., where a decent cup of coffee did not even exist, Jagge said after moving here last summer.
“We love it here,” Jagge said, speaking also for his wife, Trine-Lise, and their son and daughter. “Truckee is a really nice town. There are a lot of nice restaurants and we go out and hang out there a lot. The people are really nice, too, so it’s been a warm welcome.”
The scenery got Jagge’s approval, as well.
“It’s beautiful. We’ve got everything we need here,” he said.
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Students from North Tahoe and Truckee recently made the trip to Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley to compete in the annual Kays Ostrom Invitational.