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Patch Chats With Kris Kellenberger

Needham High School's alpine ski coach talks about her start in the sport, how the team has evolved and the keys to a successful season.

The varsity alpine ski team is eager for another season to begin but they're also focused on improving, getting better and working hard, according to first-year head coach Kris Kellenberger.

“Winning races, winning our meets, but also just improving times and working hard," Kellenberger said. "The kids always have one thing to focus on when they get through the gates, so at the top of the mountain each kid has that one or two technical things that they’re focusing on their whole race, and even if their times aren’t better, if they’re improving on that one thing, I’m happy."

Needham Patch sat down with the coach recently to talk about the upcoming season.

How did alpine skiing become a varsity sport at the high school level? It was a club team [in Needham] for a while, and then I guess, two, three, maybe even four years ago it became a varsity sport, but it was still viewed as kind of a club team, and it was still handled in that way. [Since the previous coach] came on board, he wanted it to be a competitive program, so I think starting maybe three years ago it began this push toward being a more competitive team, and not just a recreational get together.  

How many current students are involved with alpine skiing? There’s about 57 of us, which is pretty crazy, but the program sort of shifted gears a little bit, and we’re trying to be a lot more competitive. Last year, we had five kids go to states, so we’re making moves. It’s a more regimented squad. Last year, I came on board and sort of revamped the cross training dry land program, and I think that helped a lot bringing the team together and sort of enforcing attendance rules and having a more competitive mindset.

When did you discover a love for skiing? When I think I was about knee-height, I started skiing on those ridiculous plastic skis in my cousin’s backyard. They had a little hill and it was terrifying, but when I got to be about six-years-old, [my family and I] started hauling up Jay Peak [in Vermont]. I grew up in Northern Jersey, so you wouldn’t think skier. My cousins had a house up in Vermont, and my uncle was a race director at Jay Peak, so my father and I would haul up there on the weekends, and I just got really, really into it. I took lessons until I can remember, raced around the mountain with my cousins, who were also competitive skiers. I moved to Colorado after I graduated from college, and I ski instructed out there for a little bit, and that was pretty cool, and then got certified with SIA [Ski Instructors of America]. When I moved back to Boston, I realized there’s a big kind of gap—I teach and I love it—but there was something missing, so finding this to sort of slot into was pretty cool.  

Being that this is your first season as the head coach, what were some things you’ve learned from being an assistant the previous year? Last year, I was in a unique situation to be handed a lot of responsibility with regards to revamping the program. I bring a strong background having been a varsity athlete for four years at my high school. So I knew what those programs were like, and I talked to parents, went to the meetings with the folks in the league, learned the league’s policies and was up at the start to coach kids through the gates. As someone who’s been skiing my whole life, a lot of it came really naturally, especially as a teacher, the communication stuff came really naturally. But now the biggest switch is that I have to deal with a budget in addition to communicating with the kids, the parents and the league.

Which schools are you excited to compete against this season? We are in a league called Ski East, and our biggest rivalry for the guys would be Boston College High School, and the biggest rivalry for the girls is Notre Dame Academy of Hingham. Next in line, I would say, are Natick and Norwell. Those are the teams that are on our radar.

What’re you expecting from your captains this season? We have a really diverse pool of captains. We have four captains, all seniors, and they’re very different from one another, which is nice because I think they each have a way of connecting, communicating with the team. And they’re at different places in terms of their own strengths as far as racing is concerned. We’ve got some really strong skiers for folks to look up to and to model, physically, technique on the mountain. It’s also good to see a strong work ethic—they step up to the plate and you say, ‘Wow, this is awesome.'

Where do your athletes find motivation to work hard, and improve? I think in general these guys want to work hard and move up in the league, and moving up in the league means doing better on the mountain, doing better in training, so they’re pretty self-motivated. Anyone who’s not self-motivated gets their motivation from me cheering them on.

What are three keys to a successful season? We train together, we’re a solid unit, so I would say, one of the keys would be working together as a team and not leaving anyone behind but making sure we’re all motivating each other, pushing each other. The second one, I would say, is being here day in and day out, being focused and challenging ourselves, constantly upping the antae and pushing ourselves physically. I would say the third thing would be staying focused, eyes on the prize. 

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