The changing of the guard was officially unveiled to the U.S. Slopestyle Team athletes last week at a training camp in Mount Hood, Ore. Former pro and freeskiing legend, Skogen Sprang, will take the helm as coach, a position previously held by Evan Raps, who was hired late last year.
Raps has chosen to return to medical school in the fall. "They were both once in a lifetime opportunities, so I had to make a decision," Raps told ESPN.com. "I chose to be a doctor. Also, after spending a year with the team, I have total confidence in our athletes, as well as in Skogen fulfilling the role as coach."
The decision of who would replace Raps was made primarily by Raps himself, as well as U.S. Snowboarding Halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski and Director of U.S. Snowboarding and Freeskiing Jeremy Forster. Forster explained that after Raps suggested Sprang for the coaching position, Sprang joined the team at their training camp in Mammoth this past May. After combining positive athlete feedback with Sprang's background in the sport as an athlete, coach and judge, it was decided he was the best candidate for the position.
"[Skogen] has passion for the sport and that is my most important criterion," Raps said. "Beyond that, when I talked to him, he was really interested in the team and furthering what we're doing. It was just a really natural fit."
Both Raps and Sprang are among the early founders of newschool skiing. In 2000, with his ski career in full swing and a Winter X Games silver medal in tow, Sprang severely injured his leg in a dirt bike accident, marking the end of his contest career. He returned to judge contests and coach at summer camps like Windells. When the opportunity to coach the U.S. Team came up, Sprang jumped on it.
"I think Evan was doing a really good job and we share a lot of the same philosophies on the team," Sprang said. "Being around since the beginning of the sport, I know it's not much of a coached sport. It's an individual sport. I want to make sure the kids have their freedom and individuality, but I also want to be an asset and support system where I'm needed. I believe in working hard and skiing hard, but also being creative and keeping the sport at its roots."
He added, "I am here to offer my services and help to each individual. I leave it up to them to decide where and how I can help."
Raps and Sprang both acknowledge that the team's talent field is deep, regardless of who's coaching. "We have such a concentration of talent in the United States," said Raps. "I feel really good about our program, our coaching and thus, our prospects going into the Olympics."