By Nicole Birkhold
In the world of freeskiing, the name Olenick is arguably as storied as they come. Peter, Michael, and Meg Olenick — three siblings born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley — have all competed at the highest level when it comes to freeskiing. But the most decorated of the three, the one who paved the way, is the oldest, Peter.

With multiple X Games medals, movie credits, and magazine shots to his name, Peter helped define professional freeskiing. And now, he’s making his mark on the world of freeski coaching. In 2013, freshly retired from his own competition career, Peter signed on to coach at the club that shaped him, the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. He mentored local kids such as Tristan Feinberg – whom he still works with when he is not busy with his team — as they worked their way through the ranks. But as of 2015, Peter and his coaching skills have a new set of ranks to work through as the coach of the South Korean Ski Association and more specifically, the coach of the four South Korean athletes that make up the national freeskiing team.
“Michael Spencer [the long-time sports agent of freeskiing athletes, although not Peter’s] got wind from the South Koreans that they were looking for an international coach. He passed along the information to me about the job and I applied. They seemed to like me because here I am now on my 3rd season coaching them,” says Peter of the job, smiling.

The need for a full-time, dedicated freeskiing coach with a proven track record became evident when South Korea sent one athlete to the Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. No coach accompanied Kwang-Jin Kim and he didn’t produce a great result in the halfpipe. With the 2018 Winter Games coming to home turf, the South Koreans decided to increase the investment in the freeskiing team. And the results are showing.
Peter Olenick story, coaching in PyeongChang
Peter Olenick story, coaching in PyeongChang

“I have four Athletes on my National team. Kangbok Lee is 17 and he will compete in the halfpipe at the Olympics,” says Olenick about his team, with obvious pride. “Yujin Jang is 16 and she will compete in halfpipe as well, Meehyun Lee is our women’s Slopestyle representative, and Kwang-Jin Kim will be back in the halfpipe. My goals for all of them are to land a run that they are proud of and could make their country proud. We are a new team and are still playing catchup. I can see for sure the younger two being medal threats in Beijing.”

Peter was a year retired when the Sochi games came around and leading up to the qualifiers, he was on the backside of his career with young guns going bigger and spinning more rotations. Being an athlete in the Winter Games wasn’t in the cards for him. But when you watch Peter on the snow with his athletes, it’s obvious his passion remains as strong as ever, not just for skiing, but for coaching as well.
“Peter takes you under his wing when he is coaching you,” says his younger sister Meg, who has been the beneficiary of Peter’s coaching herself. “He is going to do everything in his power to see his athletes succeed, whether that is adapting to what coaching style works best with each athlete or helping raise funds and finding sponsors for his athletes, all while treating them all like friends.”

Beyond being a former athlete and having the deep passion for the sport, the experience of having competed himself gives Peter insight into what it takes to make it to the top.

“Since he was at the top of his sport for many years he knows what it takes to be mentally tough as well as physically tough on the hill,” continues Meg. He keeps the mood light and is always reminding his kids that they are out on the hill because it’s fun and if they are not having fun he starts to mess with them -- throwing snowballs, making jokes, etc -- to get them smiling and light-hearted again. Skiing for him was always something he did because it brought happiness to his life, even when he wasn’t winning, and he tries to instill that same mentality to the younger generation.”
Working with a team that comes from such a different culture than what Peter grew up in has posed a unique set of challenges, but all ones Peter has tackled with commitment and his own brand of personality.

“The hardest thing for me is all the rules and steps our team need to take in order to accomplish what we want,” says Peter. “I am a freeskier at heart so all the rules and regulations are a tough one for me. Also, I am not a great eater of foreign foods so that is very tough for me in Korea!”

Peter Olenick story, coaching in PyeongChang
Peter Olenick story, coaching in PyeongChang

“The culture in South Korea has been welcoming to him,” adds Meg. But this is where that unique and incredibly lovable brand of personality shines. “Not many people speak English at the training facility where he spends a month or two each year but he is still able to build bonds with different people and they have gotten to know him through different ways of communication. The way he interacts with his athletes that speak little to no English is very impressive and creative, even though their communication is sparse and spotty they all seem like they are best friends out there doing what they love.”

When the 2018 games commence, the Roaring Fork Valley will have eyes on all the local athletes that will be competing including Torin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira in the men’s halfpipe contest. But those eyes will also be looking at Peter Olenick as he experiences his first Winter Games.

“I am looking forward to Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the different countries and the pride that everyone has. It was always a dream of mine to be in the Olympics. This isn’t necessarily the way I had pictured it, but I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

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