ALPINE SKIING: Over 12,000 kilometres from the last remnants of snow on Australian soil is a little town at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that most Aussies would have never heard of.
For two young Australians though Norden, California, could just be the site where dreams could become reality.
Home to world class sports school, SugarBowl Academy (SBA), which they both attend, Louis Muhlen and Katie Parker are putting in endless hours on the slopes in pursuit of their dreams.
Their efforts are evidently paying off with the budding alpine skiing stars securing a position to wear the green and gold at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games if, as expected, Australia do receive the quota positions in the events.
The pair beat off a host of rivals to secure their spots for Lillehammer with strong results both in Australia and abroad and are now back in the US and are non-stop as they build for the biggest competition of their careers to date.
“I’ve just finished an intense dry-land block at SBA which was several hours a day, every day of the week,” South Yarra athlete Muhlen said.
“Now we’re on snow (in Vale), the first few days were drills and familiarising with the mountain – we also had a big dump of snow so this makes it hard to train gates.
“I’m heading into the gates now - and just finished a Slalom race series. I will be finishing off with some speed and Giant Slalom training before I have a break for Thanksgiving.”
Just like her counterpart, Parker is also busy on the slopes.
“We just came across to Colorado to train for a couple of weeks,” Parker, who hails from Mulgrave, said.
“At Echo Mountain we are doing some morning and night sessions for about five hours a day split into two blocks. We just trained Giant Slalom for about a week and now moving onto Slalom to prepare for the Slalom races at Echo.”
Attending school during the North American winter obviously provides its benefits for up-and-coming winter stars.
“Going to a ski academy where my academics, conditioning, skiing and being a community member are all in the same place which is much easier to manage,” Parker said.
“The move to the US was about getting a really solid education and excelling on snow with excellent dry-land (training),” Muhlen added. “The days are really long but I have improved both spheres – school and alpine.”
With the season just about to get underway the 17-year-olds are looking forward to converting their hard work in training to progression on the slopes.
“All competition builds skill and experiences – racing in Canada and the US reminds me I’ve got a long way to go and even when I begin to think I’m doing well and might be ok I know there’s another 10, 20, 50 or 100 guys who are much better,” Muhlen said.
The pair both have a busy schedule of competitions as they countdown the days until the Lillehammer Games kick-off.
Muhlen races twice in Canada in December, before four events in January including three FIS competitions that will see him take on some of the world’s best alpine skiers.
Parker will fly down Echo Mountain before heading to Canada for the Panorama NorAm and another event in Keurig, Montreal. She will round out her preparations at the home of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games slalom competition in Park City.
Set to be officially selected to the Australian Team in the coming weeks the pair will join an expected 13-15 Australian athletes in Lillehammer.
Along with alpine skiing, Australia is expected to compete in snowboard, biathlon, cross country skiing, freestyle skiing, ice hockey (skills challenge), luge and short track skating. The Team is also third reserve for a ladies figure skating position.
The Lillehammer Games will be the second Winter Youth Olympic Games, following on from Innsbruck in 2012. The 2016 version will include many of the venues from the Winter Games in 1994 with 1100 young athletes from 70 nations competing in 70 events. It will be a competition and education experience they will never forget.