A new career path? Maybe.
La Crosse Wisconsin – Over the weekend, my announcing skills debuted at the Dan Nagy Memorial in La Crosse, Wisconsin. That’s right. I went all the way to the heartland of America – there are 76,500 farms in Wisconsin and we drove by most of them- to watch and call one heck of a ski race. When I got the call from George Rolfs that the organizers wanted me to make the event a little more exciting by announcing, I was totally dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure what to think, but after a few minutes and a couple text messages with Nolan Kasper I knew I had to send it!
This wasn’t just any old race in Wisconsin. The way the schedule worked a lot of exceptional skiers could attended namely Nolan Kasper, Will Brandenburg, Chris Frank, Charles Christianson, Michael Ankeny, Massie Ide, Matt Strand, George Rolfs, Taylor Rapley, Keiffer Christianson, Cameron Smith, Anna Kikut, Sara Kikut, and Anne Strong among others. It’s a memorial event for Dan Nagy, a local racer, coach, outdoor enthusiast, and other accolades of an all around great guy, that died far too young in a tragic plane accident 6 years ago at the tender age of 30. He left a wife, Colleen, and two little rippers McKenna and Andrew behind. They among countless other friends and colleagues were on hand for the glorious event.
The weather was perfect for two days of epic racing on “Damnation.” (seriously, that’s the name of the trail.) Awesome, huh. And as you can see it’s actually pretty damn steep on the pitch.
How do you prepare for something you’ve never done before and really don’t want to suck at? Once it set in that I was announcing in 4 days. I immediately sent messages to the three announcers that I know and respected: Nick Fellows, Doug Lewis, and Steve Porino (in no particular order). I went for all three assuming there was a better chance one of them would respond. I told them I was going to announce and asked them for any advice that would be helpful. Within 9 hours they all responded and this is what they had to say.
Nick Fellow – Nick is the main EuroSport announcer for World Cup ski racing in the United Kingdom and if you haven’t heard him announce he brings tons of intensity. He wasn’t the most talented ski racer, but his love for the sport always radiantly shines through. Go to minute 8:50 and watch him call Aksel Lund Svindal’s run it gives you an idea of how he rolls. And this video is first run so he didn’t put it all on the table.
Anyway, he said:
“You will make a brilliant commentator and my advice is pretty straight forward. Naturally use your up to date ski knowledge and let people know of your World Cup experiences. If you can get a little biography info on the top ranked racers, results , age etc etc it will make it easier for you to fill the gaps. Talk tecnique in short and easy to understand segements. Have fun. If you enjoy it so will your audience and don’t be afraid. If you announce like you ski it will be dynamic, accurate, skilled and bloody exciting. Do the same behind the mic and you will have a ball… go fast Warner. Nick F”
I was really pumped to hear from Nick. I met him last year at World Championships and his points were totally money and really helped.
Doug Lewis – I first met Doug at his summer camp, Eliteam, when I was a J3 and have liked him ever since. If you’re young enough (less than 15), you should definitely check out his camp – it was exceptionally fun and challenging. He’s been in ski racing forever and was a two time Olympian and a medalist at the World Championships in 1985.
“I have a couple thoughts for you. 1) Sit down with an organizer or bunch of coaches and MAKE SURE you know the pronunciation of every racer’s name. That is the ONE thing you have to get right. 2) Meet with organizer day before if possible and check out the sound system, area where you will be sitting, and how close the timing system will be. Test the sound system so you know it works and have a place to sit and such. 3) Besides getting names right, the next thing is to announce times immediately and correctly. You are an athlete and know that you want to hear your time and place first foremost. 4) After that you can add your personality and stories. A great way to learn about athletes you do not know, is to get the Organizers to have a one page info sheet for all athletes to fill out when they pick up Bib. 6 questions on it – Name, nickname, hometown and ski club, favorite race day breakfast, Ski racing hero, favorite musical artist, and another of your choice. You won’t get all of them filled out, but those that you do get, put in bib order and try to fit in a factoid when they are coming down. 5) Things happen pretty fast so don’t be surprised if all you do is names and times. 6) Remember to thank coaches and organizing cmte over the air as they deserve thanks as you know.”
All great points and I did my best not to butcher each race’s name. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until an hour before the race when I was able to go thru the names. I should have been more diligent on that front. But luckily, we were in a different booth than timing so we could fit quite a few people that knew the proper pronunciation far better than me.
Steve Porino – I have only met Steve over the last few years on the World Cup tour and didn’t really get to know him until World Championships last season. He too is a badass ski racer that competed on all the great tracks throughout his career. Super nice guy, great announcer and really fun.
“1: Don’t let sucking get in the way, I don’t! Ha! Live (on-site) announcing is a bit different in that you want to be a cheerleader. If they crash, tell them to hustle and to hike. Of if they seriously thump, tell them “it’ll stop hurting when the pain goes away.” If they’re ripping, say Hirshcer needs to watch this. That kinda stuff. But I’d make sure you take care of the basics. Who is up next, on course, where they’re from (or team) and their time and position if you have that. If it’s on the FIS site you can always pull up the start order and with a fast connection click from bio to bio. 2 computers would be better: One with live timing so you know the standings, the other for bios. If you have a sense of what time or performance a skier needs to win or move up or whatever, play off that and make sure the people know what’s at stake.
Where I think a guy like you will shine, is to keep being a guy like you. Be your cheerful, upbeat self. Tie in some stories about the World Cup and some of the stars you know well. Motivate them, praise them, talk to them. Lastly, and this is the hardest part for someone new: Be yourself, but on 11. You gotta be a little louder and over the top than is probably comfortable. Imagine, or maybe actually do it, having loud music in your ears and talking over it. When I call races I crank up the sound in my headset so I have to compete with that level and don’t start listening and therefore thinking about what I say cause I don’t want to hear that crap!”
Steve once again gave some brilliant points and I even used the Hirsher line once – that line was epic!! My favorite part of announcing was that the speakers were loud enough that the races could hear us on the hill if they stopped. I would chant “hike, hike hike, hike, hike!!” right into the mic and literally you could see the athletes go from completely giving up to hammering up the mountain with tons of intensity. It was awesome. There was a huge hole at the bottom in an entry gate into a flush. It was that fall away left footer with a huge hole that forced Michael Ankeny to hike for his third time in his second run after leading first run. Ankeny was getting a standing ovation from the crowd after his first hike and when he did it a third time – really close to the finish – the whole place erupted. We even got the last male racer to hike in that same section. Sometimes when you’re starting last organizers, course crew, and helpers kind of forget you deserve just as much encouragement and commitment as the first to push out of the gate. I’ve seen course crew start unscrewing gates before the last racer starts thinking that it’s over and it’s really important to make them realize this is their race just as much as the people winning. So when you’re bummed after a crappy first run, starting last you deserve someone to cheer you on. Watching him hike was so exhilarating.
I have to thank Nick, Doug, and Steve for their help. I had no idea announcing would be so fun, challenging, exciting, and tiring. When we were in the thick of race, it kinda left like we were competing just as much as the races. Ramping everyone up doing some entertaining play-by-play and color commentary was most of our playbook. After this experience, it’s completely clear that the announcer decides the level of intensity for the entire race: his or her role is paramount. I just tried to bring a level of intensity similar to what the skiers were bringing to the race course. Based on responses from people I respect and others I didn’t know, I think we did a bang-up job and it really was a great time.
I was in the booth with a bunch of great people that were super helpful with athletes name pronunciation, color commentary, and filling the gaps when I was running low on steam or went outside to do an interview for the local news station. Will Brandenburg was my favorite in the booth – he just makes really good points similar to his super clean arcing slalom style. Nolan Kasper was giving us a hilarious visual split for the ladies, which was epic. Brewster McVicker was great to have in the announcing booth as he knew all the athletes well, which made it a lot easier to keep everyone involved. Amy and Susan were also super helpful and fun to have around.
Here are some nasty shots from the two days of racing thanks to Susan Theis!!
Nolan Kasper ripping!! Nolan started fifth from last around 95th second run, second day and was second on the run. He had a big mistake on the pitch and showed just how nasty he is as a skier the rest of the way down. It was really impressive. I was kinda nervous he was going to break his ankle on the entry gate to the flush, but it didn’t phase him.
Michael Ankeny draggin knucks hardcore!! He won the first day and was leading the second – it was great to see him ripping! This picture really doesn’t do any justice, but seriously.
Charles Christianson getting aerodynamic!! Charles was putting together some really good turns.
Robby Kelley looking nasty! Robby was skiing super fast using his whole ski, but at the end of the turn it was getting a little to far away from him which often made for some really exciting viewing. You’re soooo close.
Keiffer Christianson almost beat his older brother Charles for the first time in his career. You too are soo close haha.
Hangin with the ladies.
The winner: Taylor Rapley, Massie Ide, and Anna Kikut. All showed some really good skiing. Massie and Sara both put down some really sick skiing by dropping their knees in super hard. It was fun to watch.
Winners: Keiffer Christianson, Matt Strand, Michael Ankeny – all got after it. Matt’s second run second day was really impressive. He and Ankeny were both really fast on the flats both days, but Strand crushed the pitch that day and won the race and the Nagy Cup. Charles was second in the overall, but had to get out of dodge for an early flight home.
I’m kind of a big deal… a whooping two fans! Yeah.
Chris Frank, myself, and Will Brandenburg (respectively) after a glorious weekend.
And yes, there was a party bus on Saturday night which turned out to be super fun. No Norweign Russ bus, but really fun. Only the college grads actually rocked the bus!! Good work to Frank the Tank and Keiffer’s brother :-). A great weekend in Wisconsin.