How Ahren Stein balances school while training some of Canada’s next Olympians

When the student becomes the teacher

HELEN AIKENHEAD // FEATURES EDITOR

For most students, the last couple of weeks of the semester mean finally tackling that mountain of papers they know they really should have started earlier. For third year accounting student Ahren Stein, that mountain looks a bit different – a bit more real.

Stein works as a coach for young slopestyle skiers looking to make a competitive career out of the sport, and has even seen one of his former athletes place fifth for Team Canada at the Winter Olympic Games. Although he also coaches some half pipe, slopestyle is quickly becoming the most popular of the freestyle disciplines for Vancouver-based skiers, with moguls holding on behind it. As Stein explains the shifting interests, a discipline like half pipe is becoming harder to specialize in with such limited accessibility to good training facilities in the country, making slopestyle the more common choice.

It’s not just in Vancouver though, slopestyle is fast becoming a leading division nation wide. “It’s really popular right now,” said Stein. “The Olympic crowd was crazy – even making it on the Canadian team was really difficult, and the Canadian team is pretty far behind some of the other countries. There’s just so many good kids from everywhere, it’s really impressive.”

Growing up in Ontario, Stein began skiing recreationally with his parents before moving on to mogul competitions when he was just nine years old, which he continued into his mid teens. After competing with the provincial team and joining several national team camps, Stein’s interests changed. “Then I just decided it wasn’t very much fun anymore, just because it became really regimented. And then just moved over to slopestyle which was more fun.”

There, he continued to compete on a team until he was 19 before spending a couple of years competing without a coach. He spent that solo time up in Whistler supported by his bartending job and sponsorship money which allowed him to travel and compete.

With all the experience he’d gained both from competing on a team and on his own, the next step for the seasoned skier was to share what he’d learned with the next generation of competitors. “After I stopped competing it was just a natural jump,” Stein explained. “You know what it takes to create an athlete – what it takes to create a competitive athlete, and what they need.”

Now, working with his group of 14 to 17-year-olds, Stein has found that much of what they need is just somebody to look out for them. “Safety management is like 90 per cent of coaching…. [they’re] starting to get stronger and more confident in themselves. They really want to push for the next thing, learn the new trick, do bigger jumps, and it’s like, ‘pump your brakes; roll it back. Let’s keep you in one piece’.”

Two weeks ago, Stein took his athletes over to the Island to compete in the BC championships on Mount Washington. Despite not having the best luck with the weather, the group still dominated on the hill for their last event of the year. “All of my kids standing up on of the podium is always good to see,” he said. “Makes me know I’m doing my job alright. And there was no injuries which was also a bonus,” he added laughing.

Their success is a testament to the work and dedication that goes into training for a discipline like slopestyle. Just in this past winter, Stein estimated having spent at least 70 days out on the snow in Whistler, sometimes for up to six hours at a time. To be competitive is a full-time commitment that continues year-round. Next week marks the start of the trampoline program where the skiers will work on skills like agility, strength and coordination to translate back onto the hill. There’s also dry land training, where the group will work with physiotherapists on a tailored workout plan to keep them in shape over the summer, glacier camps to focus on jumps and rails, and water ramp training out at Blackcomb to practice their flips.

Although this is a tough workload for a student, especially taking so much travel time into account, Stein finds a way to make it all balance out. “I’ve made it work so far,” he said. “Most of the professors are pretty understanding. Everything’s online, I just have to make sure that I’m motivated after skiing to put in a couple hours of work. It’s fun though. It keeps me busy.”

Although he enjoys it now, Stein doesn’t necessarily see himself staying on in a coaching capacity come graduation, but he’s sure he will stay involved in other ways. “It’s obviously a really good job and I get to do it with a lot of friends and meet a lot of cool people,” he explained. “But, like I said, I was in ski boots probably 70 days this year, and I’ve gone skiing for myself like twice maybe. I never want it to get to that point where I don’t want to go skiing for fun.”

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