BETHEL – For Bump Heldman, Olympic and World Cup skiing dreams are all downhill from here.
Heldman, 17, an Auburn resident wrapping up his junior year at Gould Academy, learned this week that he is one of three high school students and six athletes in all named to next year’s U.S. Ski Team.
“It was a pretty big surprise,” Heldman said. “I didn’t really expect it to happen this year, so it was kind of exciting to get the call.”
There are four steps on the U.S. Ski Team ladder. Heldman will ski for the development squad, giving him all the benefits of competing internationally without being baptized by fire.
He will train with some of the leading coaches in the business and travel to events throughout the United States and Canada.
“The D’ team is where they develop athletes who they think have the potential to someday make the C, B’ or A’ team,” said Heldman. “The ‘D’ team goes to events like the Junior World Championships, which is for skiers 19 and under.”
This winter’s Junior Worlds were one of three major events where Heldman presumably caught the eye of U.S. Ski Team personnel. He served as a forerunner at the Quebec showcase in March.
“I got to train and stay with a lot of the D’ team skiers there,” Heldman said.
Later that month, Heldman skied splendidly at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf/USA in Carrabassett Valley, particularly in the technical events.
Competing against the likes of Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety and U.S. team veterans Bode Miller and Steve Nyman, Heldman finished 18th in the slalom and eighth in combined (aggregate time in slalom and downhill). His efforts snagged a silver medal in combined and a bronze in slalom in the Junior division of both disciplines, putting him ahead of numerous 18- and 19-year-old competitors.
“It definitely helped me,” Heldman said of the nationals. “Some of my results there really opened some eyes.”
Heldman also finished 30th overall in both super-G and giant slalom.
Last December, Heldman’s season started auspiciously when he was selected as a forerunner for a World Cup race in Colorado.
Among U.S. skiers in his age bracket, Heldman currently ranks third in downhill. He is seventh in slalom, giant slalom and super-G and believes that the first phase of U.S. Ski Team training will help him increase speed while perfecting his natural technique.
“The coaches are really high-end coaches,” said Heldman. “They know exactly what it takes to get to the highest level. They’re always working on your physical and mental preparation.”
Todd Thibodeau of Freedom, N.H., joins Heldman as a newcomer to the U.S. team with New England roots. Also advancing into the program are Washington’s Will Brandenburg, Mitt Coats of Utah, Travis Ganong of California and Max Hammer of Wyoming.
Heldman received his distinctive nickname as a toddler and got his start in skiing shortly thereafter, tagging along with his parents, Sandy and Kris, to Lost Valley Ski Area. He credits the internationally respected Gould program and alpine coach Mike Syrovatka for exponentially increasing his progress over the last three years.
He’ll remain enrolled at Gould, a college preparatory school of 230 students, although it will mean hitting the books while most of his friends are enjoying the summer sunshine or relaxing in front of the television on a cold winter night.
After receiving the call, Heldman spent several days weighing the academic pros and cons with his mother, his father and Gould faculty before officially accepting the invitation.
“I’m going to have to take some summer courses,” Heldman said. “I’ll still be at Gould once in a while and I’ll be training at Sunday River when I’m home, but I know I’ll be traveling all over.
“The whole school is really happy for me. (Gould) has been an awesome experience. They’ve been totally supportive of all the chances I’ve had to travel and compete.”