Carson Valley skiers among the nation’s best
Last year, Douglas County residents Nick Cohee and Bryce Wehan began making a name for themselves on the J2 Western Region Skiing Circuit, each turning in a solid showing at the national championships in New York.
This year, both 16-year-olds have true shots at winning a national title and are widely-considered to be among the elite young skiers in the country.
The step up in each athlete’s ability could be credited in part to a month-long trip to New Zealand over the summer where they were able to train with some of the top skiers in the world along with their coach, Guenther Birgmann, the Austrian National coach.
It may also have something to do with their participation in a new dry-land training program designed by former U.S. Ski Team trainer Isaiah Tannaci.
Or, it could simply be that each of these motivated athletes has dedicated themselves to putting in the work and the effort to become two of the top skiers around.
“Ski racing is one thing, but just skiing in general, I don’t know what I’d do without it,” said Cohee, who has been skiing since he was 2 years old.
Wehan has similarly been involved with skiing for most of his life.
“I’ve been on skis since I was one and a half,” Wehan said. “My parents used to put me under their legs and they would ski. I liked it from the beginning. From the time I was eight or nine, I knew I wanted to race.”
Skiing takes up a majority of each athlete’s life.
Wehan takes independent study courses and lives up at Kirkwood during the ski season in order to allow for more flexibility in his practice and travel schedule.
Cohee attends Douglas High School during the fall semester, and plays on the varsity soccer team, but has traditionally switched over to independent study for the second semester to free up time to travel to the various races.
“It’s pretty hard,” Cohee said. “I missed the first two weeks of school this year coming back from New Zealand and that was pretty hard to get all caught up. During the winter, skiing is my main deal, but I would like to come back after the ski season is over in May this year.”
“Skiing is basically my life,” Wehan said. “I have to stick to a set schedule and keep up with a dry land training program.
“When you’re not burned out it is pretty easy, but by the end of the year it gets harder.”
The two are beginning to reap some of the benefits of their hard work.
Cohee recently blew away a competitive field at Boreal, beating the No. 1 and No. 3-ranked J2 slalom skiers in the country. He’s expected to be ranked among the top three in the country soon.
“Last year the giant slalom was my best event, but this year I’ve been having good results in the slalom,” Cohee said. “It could be my best event.”
Cohee said the combination of the extensive training he got to experience this year, along with new equipment from his sponsor, Salomon, has been the difference in his marked improvement.
“The new equipment and the training I’ve done have kind of helped me to take a tighter and faster line in the slalom,” he said. “The line I’m taking now, I’m just kind of going out of control and on the edge the whole time, hoping I make it to the finish,
“With the coaching we’ve had, I’m learning how to just go out on some free skiing runs and work things out if I’ve been having bad training runs.”
Wehan has noticed improved strength in his own skiing with the off-season training.
“I seem to be more aggressive when I race,” Wehan said. “I am stronger, just from working out over the summer, I got into the whole thing easier.
“We’ve been doing a lot of plyometrics to help with spring and jumping. We’ve just been trying to strengthen our core with weight training. It’s made a big difference.
“Something I’ve been working on a lot is just concentrating at the top of the course. I’ve been working on forgetting about most of it, just trying to let reflexes and my instincts take over – to naturally handle what the course brings.”
Both skiers are working toward making the U.S. National ski team and have done much to cement themselves in a track to do so.
Wehan, who said he considers the giant slalom to be his best event, took 12th in the slalom at nationals last year and took 29th in the giant slalom. Cohee, who was battling bronchitis at last year’s nationals, took 29th in the slalom, 45th in the giant slalom and 44th in the Super G.
“Kirkwood has really made a commitment to supporting its athletes more, and it’s showing up in the results,” Wehan said. “I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”
Both athletes have been working with Birgmann going on two years now, and just began working with Tannaci on dry land in the past year.
“Given the combination of Guenther Birgmann and Isaiah Tannaci, and the support of the Kirkwood Mountain resort, along with the supreme dedication, focus and ability of these athletes, we believe they will battle for national championships this year,” said Tim Cohee, Kirkwood president and general manager, and Nick’s father. “Right now, Kirkwood has five of the top 15 skiers in the western United States, which is phenomenal. One-third of the elite skiers in the west are Kirkwood athletes. That makes for a great team.”
Cohee said that with a little luck, Carson Valley could see two athletes on the podium at this year’s nationals in Sugar Loaf.
Nick Cohee and Wehan met when they were each 7 years old, skiing at Kirkwood.
“We’re good friends,” Cohee said. “We race all the time. I don’t see him a lot except at races but it was awesome getting to travel with him and all those other Kirkwood guys this summer.”
Birgmann arranged to have the Kirkwood skiers train with him at Treblecone, New Zealand, along with the powerful Austrian national team, and the U.S., the French and the German national teams in August.
“New Zealand was awesome,” Cohee said. “The scenery there was crazy. Everything looked so new and everything was green, and there were waterfalls all over the place. It was very comparable to the winters here. They have mountains that just sprout up out of nowhere. There are hills and sheep everywhere and lots of farmland and then snow-covered mountains just spring up.
“The snow was great. We got to train on perfect snow for an entire month.”
“We got to ski on a lot of World Cup training runs,” Wehan said. “We met a lot of the top skiers in the world, and it was just us and them on the mountain. It was an awesome experience.”
The ski season heats up in January, leaving the racers with little time to train. They are basically on the road for the entire month.
The national championships will be in mid-March.
— Joey Crandall can be reached at email@example.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.