With athlete Zoe Bacca and coach Rick Millett; evidence of the early days; with the team at the top; 24+ years of ski passes; leading a crew at Mt. Hood in 2008; presenting Jon French with the Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award.
The Sun Valley Ski Education has been in existence for 51 years; Andy Gilbert has guided athletes through the snowboard program for nearly half of that time. Born in Sun Valley, Gilbert caught the “snowboard bug” at Mt. Hood in his late teens and early twenties, ultimately bringing his enthusiasm and love for the sport back to the area in 1992. After leaving for the summer and realizing he was “making a terrible move and needed to come back,” he settled here for good, and SVSEF has been all the better because of that decision.
Upon returning to the valley, Gilbert was hired by Callie Galpin to help coach the snowboard “D” team during the winter of ‘93/’94. Gilbert recalled his initial years as a coach. “Jon French and I were working D team on the weekends, and I got a pass and thought it was awesome. But I got the bug working with those kids – it’s really infectious. I really started to enjoy it and realized it was a good avenue for me – I had big dreams of being a pro snowboarder, but I was fairly mediocre. I loved it and loved everything about it, and this was a way for me to stay connected to snowboarding and give my take on it to some younger kids, so I stuck with it.” The rest is history, and as the SVSEF snowboard program grew, so did Gilbert’s role. French was promoted to program director and created a “B” team; Gilbert was handed a bunch a kids and started traveling with them. “Being on the road and showing the kids the ropes was really fun and I just stuck with it,” explained Gilbert. In 1999, he became program director, and ran the program for the next 13 years. Since then, Gilbert has continued to coach, most recently with the Progression Team.
I try to imagine the immensity of perspective that Gilbert, who has guided athletes through the snowboard program for 24 years, must have. He’s seen kids stumble along down the slopes, their bodies and movements seemingly disconnected, almost foreign. He’s seen these same kids grow into themselves, both physically and mentally, until they leave the SVSEF program as confident, competent, unique individuals. And he’s seen this many times over.
This perspective will lend itself to Gilbert this season, as he has accepted a coaching position with the U.S. Snowboarding Rookie Halfpipe Team. He will be responsible for four athletes between the ages of 17 and 20, supporting and guiding them at a range of events; from Olympic qualifiers to the Grand Prix series, from the Dew Tour to the Rev Tour. With the caliber of competition, Gilbert and his athletes will have the added benefit of working closely with the pro team. Gilbert explained how his transition to this new position is so fitting. “The rookies are the up-and-comers, so it falls in my wheelhouse – I’ve been coaching high school aged kids for a long time and this falls in that realm, so that was something that was attractive about it.”
Gilbert is looking forward to the new opportunity. “It happened pretty quickly. I’ve worked projects for U.S. Snowboarding in the past – I’ve gone to Junior Worlds, I’ve worked junior camps and events like that, and we’ve always had really close relationship with the U.S. team. So for them to call, I’m flattered and excited and it’s going to be a fun year.”
Right now, they’re in the initial stages. “We’re just starting the process – we’re introducing ourselves,” said Gilbert. “I’m trying to get a feel for where they’re at, what tricks they’re doing and that sort of thing – that’ll progress as the season goes on. For now, it’s a lot of Q&A and watching Youtube videos of these guys to try to figure out who they are.”
Figuring out who an athlete is and what makes them unique is something Gilbert seems to have a knack for, and something he’s used to the benefit of each boarder he’s worked with. Gilbert shared his approach to guiding SVSEF athletes over the years. “With our riders here, I’ve always tried to instill in them that they can trust me and I’m not going to steer them in a direction I don’t think they’re ready for, or into a run or trick that doesn’t suit their style of riding. I think dealing with so many different personalities at SVSEF is what makes it possible to walk into a situation like this, and hopefully earn the trust of these kids as we go through the season.”
Gilbert touched on his goals going into his role with the U.S. Rookie Team. “First and foremost, I want to instill the fact that we’re a team. If we all work together and work towards the common goal – which is to be as successful as we possibly can this season – the individual stuff will come naturally with that. If they trust the process and what we’re going to try to do, hopefully they will realize that I’m there for them and will do whatever I can for the athletes, and the rest will come.”
Achieving self-defined success is laudable, but the process of working towards that point can yield long-lasting benefits. “I always hope that being on the team and going through those challenges of learning a new trick or being away from home or whatever it is, will help everyone be a better, well-rounded human, and be able to deal with the things that come at them,” observed Gilbert. “Snowboarding has always been there for me through the good times and the bad times, and I’ve met the majority of my best friends through the sport. As much as we want everyone to work hard and push and try to achieve goals, they also have to enjoy the ride as well.”
Gilbert acknowledges that it is easy to point to contest results when talking about success. He has helped guide the careers of snowboarders who have achieved national and international recognition – Kaitlyn Farrington and Chase Josey, for example. But reflecting on his years with SVSEF, he considers his biggest achievement to be the quality of kids that have come out of the program, and who they are now. This success has been the result of the combined efforts of dedicated coaches over the years (AJ Grabos, Jacob Tyler and Josh Keefer, to name a few). Together, they’ve brought these athletes up through the program, Gilbert points out. “There are a million avenues these athletes can take, and for me what I’m proudest of is the number of kids who have come through the SVSEF snowboarding team who have made snowboarding a lifelong thing – it’s a huge part of their life,” he concluded. “It helped them then, and it is helping them succeed now in all of the other things they’re doing.”
While Gilbert’s new role will take him all over the country, he will still make the most of his time at home, riding with the SVSEF athletes he’s ushered through the program. For him, it’s about the journey and the process – and he plans to continue to be there for it all.