Perhaps Vermont’s most successful ski family reminds us that despite their numerous awards, they make sure to keep skiing fun.
By Elsie Lynn
“The reason we’re skiing is to have fun,” Bobby Cochran, 61, said with a gleeful smile as he looked at his Irish-twin sister Barbara Ann sitting next to him nodding. “People forget it time and time again, but it was always supposed to be fun.”
It’s not quite the discipline that you’d expect from a family with more ski accolades than trails on their backyard hill.
By 1970 all four siblings Marilyn, Barbara Ann, Bobby and Lindy were racing for the U.S. Ski Team. In 1969 Marilyn won the World Cup in Giant Slalom, and a year later won a bronze medal in the combined at the World Championships; Barbara Ann won a silver medal in slalom the same year. Barbara Ann took the Olympic gold medal in slalom in Sapporo, Japan in 1972, and a year after that Bobby won the Hannenkahm Combined in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Lindy was top American in both slalom and GS at the Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria in 1976, and in 2004 the Cochran Family was inducted into the Vermont Ski Hall of Fame. The accomplishments continue into the third generation; six of Mickey and Ginny’s grandchildren have made the U.S. Ski Team in the last decade capturing the national giant slalom championship and awards at the junior world championships.
Marilyn, Barbara Ann, Bobby and Lindy got their start skiing a hand-cut trail behind their home in Richmond. Their father, Mickey Cochran, a trained mechanical engineer and graduate of the University of Vermont, built a rope tow behind the home in 1961 and Cochran’s Ski Area started tugging racers up the hill.
“For the first probably 10 years or more of the ski area, the warming shelter was Mom’s (Ginny Cochran’s) kitchen,” Bobby remembered. “There were people in her kitchen all the time.”
By 1984, Cochran’s Ski Area had expanded up the hill from the original house and rope tow, into the adjacent 140-acre parcel of land now complete with eight trails, four tows and a one-room warming lodge.
“It never felt small skiing here,” added Bobby, recalling how they used to set gates every evening after school and start up the rope tow under lights. “That was probably because we were trying to get better one turn at a time.
“Dad would always time us. He never worried about style points; it was always about the clock. We were always trying to push limits, and even on this little tiny hill we still had a lot of limits to push — that’s what racing is all about.”
Barbara Ann chimed in adding, “Everyone who raced here, not just us Cochran’s, started dropping their times after they’d do a course several times, and so Dad started wondering why is it that they were getting so much faster. That’s when it dawned on him that they knew the course, and he started encouraging us to use visualization and memorize the course… He knew all about the importance of repetition back in the 50s.”
With only 10-15 gates and a quick tow ride back up, all racers at Cochran’s are able to train with the repetition necessary for improvement.
“We teach and coach in the Cochran’s way,” said Colchester High School Alpine Ski Coach Kevin Ose — a student of Mickey’s in his elementary years, and racer in the National Championships in 1979. “To me that means we use certain techniques Mickey developed and have fun doing it. Mickey was a really good engineer; he used a lot of his background to figure out the physics and science behind going fast.
Ose has been teaching at Cochran’s since 1986, and continues to help out when he is not coaching the high school team. “I learned so much growing up through the Cochran’s program; this is my way of giving back.”
“One of the biggest draws is the non-intimidating supportive of families,” Ose added. “Kids can still attend high schools at home (not go off to academies) and still get really good ski training.”
Barbara and Bobby also cite the low-pressure, family friendly atmosphere as a key to successful race training.
“You never felt like you were being judged by dad, he was always trying to get you to go faster, but if you didn’t go fast it wasn’t because you were bad, or a bad person,” Bobby shared. “I really think that he was a genius, and as time goes on I am more and more convinced of that. We were incredible lucky to have that.”
“Dad had this amazing way of taking away the pressure and getting back to the basics of having fun,” Barbara Ann agreed. “He felt that it was a good lesson that if you wanted to do your best at something you really needed to train… but he always gave us the sense that we were doing well. I was always really encouraged.”
Barbara Ann now works as a freelance consultant for athletes coping with the pressure of competition. Although she doesn’t have a PhD in sports psychology, she certainly has personal experience under her belt.
“I feel like this is my calling,” she said after taking a client’s call mid-sentence in an interview last week. “It’s my passion.”
This year, she contracted with the Men’s U.S. Ski Team. Her program is called “How to gain the competitive edge.”
“The three main ideas I started with were: 1) mental imagery, so using visualization, 2) mental attitude, 3) being mentally tough. Then it evolved to be a bit more complex,” Barbara Ann noted adding that at a basic level the program assesses athletes’ emotions with their performance levels.
“This is really what I grew up with,” she added. “I just didn’t realize it.”
Now with tools of a sports psychologist, and the experience of an Olympic Gold Medalist, Barbara Ann confidently says, that the best performance comes when an athlete has high energy and pleasant emotions. In other words, having fun.
“When you’re skiing, remember where you are and what you’re doing,” Bobby concluded. “It’s so beautiful and so much fun!”