PARK CITY, UT (March 29) – After eight years spread over two tours with the U.S. Snowboard Team coaching staff, Heath Van Aken has resigned as freestyle head coach, according to Head Coach Peter Foley.
A native of Whitefish, MT, Van Aken has lived in Bend, OR, for most of the past two decades. He first joined the U.S. coaching staff for the 1995 season as an alpine coach and took on additional duties as conditioning coach for both alpine and freestyle riders. After the 1999 season, he took a year off to compete work on an associate degree in computer information systems at Central Oregon Community College. He returned to the team with the 2001 season as assistant freestyle coach, moving up to head coach a year ago – after his second Olympics – with the retirement of Pete Del’Giudice.
“Curiosity is what made it interesting and fun for me and I’ve loved every bit of being a part of the team,” explains Van Aken.” I remember watching little guys like Ross Powers when he was 15 and now he’s a two-time Olympic medalist, or Tommy Czeschin when he was just getting started and now look at him. Those are the things that I’ll miss. The U.S. program is moving in the right direction and I’ll always be a huge supporter.”
“I’m just looking for something new,” Van Aken said. “I’ve had plenty of travel and I’d like to try something else for a while. Who knows? I might want to come back to coaching in a year or two, or more…but right now, I’m going to look into something else.”
“We’re sad to see him leave us,” said U.S. Snowboarding program manager Becky Woolley. “He’s been involved with all aspects of the team, from working with alpine to assisting with freestyle and heading up the freestyle team this past season. Heath’s character, hard work ethic and dedication to his athletes isn’t something you see every day. Aside from his technical expertise and enthusiasm, his wild sense of humor and crazy laugh will be missed at the pipe and throughout the season.”
“I’ve never worked with anyone more passionate about helping athletes improve. His integrity is an example I look to try and emulate. He’ll definitely be missed,” said Foley, who added he hoped to name a new freestyle head coach in the near future.
An innovator in new coaching techniques, Van Aken’s philosophy allowed him to take a step away from the sport in order to look at its direction. He would then design a program that worked along with the movement of snowboarding. As riders began to experiment with inverts, Van Aken decided that the trampoline should be an important part of training, so he bought one and towed it across the country to training camps in a trailer.
But it wasn’t the innovations in coaching techniques that made Van Aken such an important facet to the U.S. program. It was his absolute love for snowboarding and the riders that have made it great. A staple at the bottom of every halfpipe across the country, Van Aken was commonly seen offering advice to every rider and was the first one to give them a verbal lift along with a smile after a tough run.
“That’s what I’ll miss most,” said Van Aken. “I loved watching every rider make their dreams come true and being a part of that experience. Some of the best days I had as a coach with the U.S. team are when a rider took 14th and it was their highest finish ever. There is an emotion in those days that can’t be described – I just loved watching them progress.”