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Local Legend: Coach Willie

by Catherine Lutz

Willie Volckhausen isn’t your typical alpine ski coach. Then again, he’s not coaching in a typical place.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, where Volckhausen has coached for 13 years, is a unique organization, he explains. Unlike other large ski clubs, its approach to development of athletes involves more freeskiing and less training.

“Freeskiing is an important element for developing ski racers, because if your routine is training gates all the time, you become a one-dimensional skier,” says Volckhausen. “In freeskiing you learn reactionary skills, how to balance fore and aft, how to recover, and how to ski instead of train to ski.”
AVSC doesn’t confine its athletes to one section of the ski hill, either. With “access to some of the best skiing” on four different mountains, and resort managers who “encourage us to go fast, take chances, free ski, bomb, jump, ski powder, shred moguls, and ski in trees — that’s a unique aspect to AVSC,” he adds.

That philosophy works well for free-spirited Volckhausen, a lifetime valley local and unabashed enthusiast for the ski lifestyle (his Instagram description reads “second-generation ski bum”) who is well loved in his job.

“One reason I ski coach is I firmly believe these athletes are the future,” he says. “They’re on their way to the Olympic Games and World Cup podiums. And I love seeing them develop and becoming part of that.”

Coaching can be intense and stressful, notes Volckhausen, who recently witnessed an athlete breaking her leg in a bad crash in a local competition. Yet, the next day, he was able to lead a dozen junior skiers on the hike to the top of 12,326-foot Highland Bowl, “and it helped me remember why I love skiing.”

In coaching for AVSC, Volckhausen has clearly found his calling. It satisfies the ski bum in him — a still-vibrant segment of community who very happily “live in trailers, ski every day, and eat Ramen noodles for dinner every night.” But it also “puts me in a place where I can contribute to our community, and feel like I’ve done something as an ambassador for the town, for our ski club, and for the ski company. It gives me purpose.”

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