Brennan Rubie competes in 2015. (Photo: Getty Images)
As a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, Brennan Rubie knows plenty about technique, training and what goes into making a successful able-bodied ski racer.
While many of those same things apply to para alpine racing, there are some obvious differences, including the fact that a number of U.S. Para Alpine team members compete using a sitski.
Rubie, a first-year assistant coach with the U.S. Para Alpine team in 2020-21, wanted to know what that was like.
“When we had downtime between camps, I went and visited the National Ability Center in Park City and they were awesome enough to let me jump in one of their sit skis,” said Rubie, 30. “I’m a tactile learner, and I feel like I can translate a feeling and describe it in a mechanical way, so I wanted to get in a mono ski. One of our athletes who was in Park City (Ravi Drugan) came with me and taught me how to mono ski, which was amazing and really frustrating. Half the stuff I’d yelled at him to do all year, he was telling me to do. It was a really humbling experience.”
After getting through the past season as well as possible given all the uncertainties, last-minute changes and restrictions because of COVID-19, Rubie is excited to launch into the coming world championship and Paralympic season.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Rubie’s father was a ski instructor at Snowbird and had his young son on skis by the age of two. Rubie excelled with the local ski team and eventually caught the attention of national team coaches, joining the U.S. Development program in 2010. His ski racing career was on an upward trajectory when he broke his ankle during the 2012-13 season. It turned out to be a more complicated injury than he or his coaches realized at the time, he said.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be his last injury.
“The brunt of my career after (the ankle injury) I was trying to figure out how to get back to feeling healthy and like I was capable of putting my best performance on the hill,” he said. “That kind of defined my last couple years. It was an intense individual journey.”
Rubie spent seven years on the U.S. team and competed in the world championships once, in 2015, finishing 26th in giant slalom.
After racing he initially wanted to pursue athletic training, and while studying for that he started coaching at his local program. He was applying for a job as an athletic trainer for the U.S. ski team when he realized that what he’d enjoyed most working at a recent camp was helping an athlete watch video and trying to come up with solutions to help him get to the next level.
Around that same time he got a call from the U.S. Para Alpine team about a coaching opening.
One of the things Rubie enjoys about coaching in the para alpine world is that it allows for more creativity and problem solving.
“In the able-bodied world, there are set parameters for good technique and bad technique,” he said. “It’s formal; do it or don’t. Maybe there are some more formal techniques that seem to work with mono skiing, but for all the different disabilities, everybody’s different and has different tools so I’m trying to adapt my thinking to what is the next step for this individual athlete, how do we adapt and give them the tools to improve their skill set.
“I think that’s a really freeing journey compared to maybe the able-bodied side,” Rubie said. “The improvement an athlete can make is only limited by the creativity you’re willing to bring to the process.”
Rubie is about to find himself in the thick of a season that can’t get any bigger.
Any Paralympic year is huge, but 2022 has the unique distinction of also being a world championship year after that event was postponed from February 2021. The world championships in Lillehammer, Rubie said, will be a dry run of sorts leading up to the main event in Beijing.
While specific details of his duties this year are still being discussed as the staff continues preparation, Rubie said he’ll be an on-snow resource to help the athletes not only improve in practice but also get everything they need to make race day a success.
As an athlete, he said, he always appreciated coaches who were willing to ditch their egos and just be genuine people. He hopes to bring the same qualities to his coaching.
“They were the people I felt I could come talk to when I was feeling nervous or couldn’t figure something out or was frustrated, and they were a resource for me when I was struggling,” he said. “I think I’m trying to structure my interactions with the athletes in the same way, represent myself honestly and let them know what I can help with when they need it.”