March 2016 - Athlete Profile
Kris Cheney Seymour
Sports: Cross Country Skiing, Hiking, Biking, Paddling, Horseback Riding
Family: Wife, Amy – Skiing, Running, Equestrian, Cow Girl; Sons, Colter (13) – Nordic Ski Racing, Soccer; Lauchlin (16) – Nordic Ski Racing, Biathlon, Cross Country Running
Horses: Jack, Penny, Lucky
Dogs: Nye, Golden Retriever; Esther, Pug
Education: St. Lawrence University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Masters of Architecture
Occupation: Nordic Manager for Olympic Regional Development Authority
By Mim Frantz
On any given race day, Kris Cheney Seymour corrals the young ski racers, urges them to pay attention, to be good sports and reminds them very intently, “Now remember, you are about to embark on the World Championships of Nothing!” He wants them to work hard, race hard, but most of all “be good people and not take themselves or the processes so seriously that they aren’t having fun.”
During practices at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, you will always see Kris out skiing with the pack and playing carefully constructed games and drills that entertain, while teaching the kids to ski. In between sessions, he can be found waxing team skis, rebuilding broken poles, designing new ski trails, or conceptualizing new development programs and events.
This year has shown a significant increase in the development program numbers in the Lake Placid region. A success he credits to the vision of Robert Lazzaroni, Director of United States Ski Association Nordic. “Traditionally sports development models are shaped like a triangle. Many filter in at the base and few rise to the top. In this case the life model of the Nordic skier is rectangular, attracting as many as possible to the outdoor lifestyle to identify as a Nordic skiers, long-term,” Kris summarized. He explained that if you only focus the development lens on an elite group of accomplished skiers, you build a shortsighted culture of skiing. Therefore, his mission and vision is to create an atmosphere of ‘something for everyone.’ “Some go fast, some go tour in the backcountry, some watch chipmunks, but all show up for the love of skiing,” he said.
Kris sees the sport as more than a sport, it is a foundational lifestyle. He explains how it teaches respect for the outdoors, self-awareness, self-reliance, accountability and honesty. He finds there’s no downside because it really is something you can do for life.
Kris is living proof of this lifelong relationship with Nordic skiing and to watch him ski, coach or just talk about cross country skiing, it is instantly clear that being an ambassador for this sport is his passion and his calling. Kris grew up in Saranac Lake, and from a very young age was Nordic skiing in programs at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center in Saranac Lake, and with New York Ski Education Foundation, a regional training and development program based at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, a site of the 1980 Olympic Games.
When asked to describe his athletic accomplishments, he dismissively circled and waved his hands and spewed out a monotone, run-on sentence about being a pretty decent competitive skier that went to Junior Nationals and skied for St. Lawrence University while earning a teaching degree. He has also done some adventure racing, and canoe and kayak racing. Quick to follow up, however, he goes on to qualify that he feels his biggest mark and achievements in Nordic sports has been through his contributions as a coach.
“Actually,” he added, slightly sarcastic, self-effacing kind of way, “I am a medalist at ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games, held at Lake Placid in 2000. My dog, Phelps, a chocolate lab, and I won bronze in the big air (dock jumping) competition with a 23-foot jump! He was the most agreeable athlete, I ever trained!”
Other agreeable athletes Kris describes having had the privilege to train, include development years (middle school and high school) of six different Olympians that came out of the Lake Placid area, who all trained under his coaching days as Nordic Program Director at NYSEF. They include Billy Demong (Olympic gold medalist, Nordic Combined) and Olympic biathletes Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Haley Johnson, Annelies Cook and Andrea Nahrgang.
A career of skiing for all of these athletes has spanned over decades. Kris describes that you have to help them to fall in love with the sport to have this type of endurance and longevity. A coach needs to find ways to make and keep training fun and engaging, interesting and inspiring, adventurous and supportive. “There’s so much more than technique and conditioning, and it’s all mixed in,” he elaborated.
Billy Demong, whose childhood home is a few doors down from the Cheney Seymour 30-acre rural home is a close friend and colleague of Kris. Billy remembers his days training under Kris’s direction, “He made it fun, he made it fast and I’m still skiing, so you know he inspired us for the long haul.”
Haley Johnson, Olympic biathlete from Lake Placid, commented, “It was Kris and Amy’s fun-loving, inspiring, quirky earthy approach to skiing and sport that nudged me to choose and love Nordic. It is what helped me choose a lifestyle that has shaped my life entirely. And that has made all the difference. Every time I race now, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of the coaches, mentors, and supporters who decades ago gave me the foundation.”
After his earlier years of coaching at NYSEF, Kris went on Maine to become the Nordic Director at the Maine Winter Sports Center. For this career move many of the formidable elite athletes such as Haley, Annelies, Tim and Lowell transitioned with him to this next step. Other future Olympians that he would had the opportunity to train here included, Brian Olsen and Russell Currier. Over the years, various other highlight coaching opportunities included a stint at World Championships as head coach for Greenland, and working with the Nordic Paralympic Committee. His career opportunities took him to many exciting places around the globe, but always with the pull of his childhood home drawing him back again.
In 2012, the Cheney Seymour family relocated to Park City, Utah where Kris pursued another opportunity with the Utah Olympic Park. In Park City, his focus broadened beyond coaching and raising competitive athletes. His duties included education, awareness, outreach and promotion of Nordic sports and Nordic lifestyle. Park City is a community that was already very active and outdoor oriented, but extremely focused toward alpine skiing. “As part of this initiative, despite the big picture objective of exposure recreational enjoyment, you are inserting highly trained, elite level coaches who know how to be entertainers, but still communicate all of the vital information of making great skiers. You attract a huge pool, out of that pool, some really fast skiers eventually rise to the top,” summarized Kris. In his 18-month tenure, they saw a 300% increase in the sport participation, an accomplishment Kris feels as proud of as training the future Olympic athletes.
In 2015, a few factors drew the family back to their roots in the Adirondacks, the proximity to family, their love of nature, and a new professional challenge. His challenge is to shape the future of Nordic sports in Lake Placid, and weave together and expand a community that is near and dear to his heart, in an area steeped in Olympic history with world class facilities.
Despite a less than ideal winter regarding snow and trail conditions, this year under Kris’s direction, Mt. Van Hoevenberg debuted Josie’s Cabin, a quirky, fun, waffle hut destination in the woods off the trail system – featuring live music and a cozy respite off the ski trails. Additionally, when without snow on the ground anywhere in the Northeast, the Olympic Jumping Complex was able to blow enough snow and keep it groomed, for a challenging and ample a 2.5K loop to host many high-profile events – and keep the local teams training on snow!
When Kris and his wife, Amy are not on the trails at the ski center working or working out, they are ringing a cowbell trailside to cheer on their two sons, Colter and Lauchie. It is no surprise that both boys are formidable skiers, each at the top of their class.
When it’s not ski season, the family can be found working around the house they designed and built, in the woods, hiking mountains, jumping off rock ledges into ponds or riding their horse. Their busy outdoor lives represent the quintessential Adirondack lifestyle.
Kris’ philosophy of what goes into coaching a successful athlete, or developing a successful program, is to create a whole picture that shines in both his principles and his personal life. To anyone who has the opportunity to work with or know Kris, it is clear he leads by example.
Mim Frantz (email@example.com) of Lake Placid is a freelance journalist, event coordinator and yoga instructor. When she’s not writing, planning or in a warrior pose, she can be found enjoying outdoor adventures with her husband and three young sons.