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Tollefson's a cool coach for skiing

Paul Tollefson is the busiest snow skiing coach around - and he likes it that way.

In fact, Tollefson is so busy, it is hard to find him on regular level ground. He is usually coaching his skiers on Mount Hood or flying with them to competitions in Montana, Idaho, Washington or Colorado, as well as Oregon.

Sometimes, though, you can catch him at Chuck's Place in Lake Oswego, drinking coffee and working on his computer. But he is happy to talk about how he re-discovered his love for skiing in Lake Oswego. It was a passion he thought he had put behind him when he moved here with his family seven years ago.

'I thought back on my experience as an athlete and what I had gained,' Tollefson said. 'I really found after 25 years that the things that were most important to my professional life were what I learned in skiing - tenacity, hard work, goal setting.

'I decided I was not doing the thing I wanted to do, which is passing along what I had learned.'

Starting out with eight skiers in 2008, Tollefson now coaches 118 skiers, aged 5 to 75, and the number just keeps growing. He coaches the high school ski teams for Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, Tualatin, and Westside Christian, plus many kids throughout this area who want to train with his club, Cascade Winter Sports Club.

In just a few years Tollefson has developed some super young skiers, like 13-year-old Cole Sher-Jan of Lake Oswego, 14-year-old Trevor Maxwell of West Linn, and sensational newcomer Vella Foos of Lake Oswego, who won almost every race she entered this past winter. She's also best friends with Tollefson's daughter Ella. That's right, Ella and Vella, the dynamic duo of skiing.

Parents of skiers love the way that Tollefson molds the talent of their children.

Gaylyn Sher-Jan, Cole's mother, knew Tollefson was the right coach for her son at their very first meeting.

'We went to have coffee at Peet's,' Sher-Jan said. 'As soon as Paul saw Cole, he said, 'That's my racer!' He can spot talent a mile away.'

'There is so much talent right here in our own backyard,' Tollefson said. 'When I first moved to Lake Oswego I had no idea how much talent there was here.'

However, the main qualification to ski for Paul Tollefson is not great talent. It's a love of skiing.

'Our club's purpose is to give Olympic level coaching to all kids, whatever the level of their skill,' he said. 'What we're really about is teaching great life skills while skiing.

'One of the shortcomings of ski coaching is that the top athletes get all of the attention. The rest are left out. Not with our club. We have one of the unique programs in the nation.'

Tollefson could hardly avoid a life in skiing. His dad, Terry, tried it once and it didn't take.

Back in 1949 Terry Tollefson was well on his way to becoming the top American downhill racer when he suffered an accident in competition. That made him shift his sights to coaching, which he did with great success in Squaw Valley, CA. He and his wife (a national caliber ice skater) had three sons who turned out be great skiers.

However, Terry Tollefson decided to get away from the high-pressure life as a ski coach by moving to Roseburg in 1962.

'Ten minutes after dad got here they found he was a skiing coach,' Paul said. 'They asked him to coach their ski club and he said yes.'

Paul, the youngest of the Tollefson clan, and his brothers were also coached by their dad; with one edict - no downhill skiing. Too dangerous.

Paul soon forgot this admonition when he started his competitive career. He quickly became an excellent downhill skier, and he proudly brought home his first trophy for winning a race. However, he soon was in hot water.

'The trophy said 'Downhill' on it. My parents thought I was racing in the giant slalom,' Tollefson said. 'I told them they had made a mistake on the trophy.'

Fortunately, his parents believed him. However, the next week he won again, and again the trophy said, 'Downhill.' Even parents are not always gullible, but Terry Tollefson did not get angry with his truth-challenged son.

'Dad started going with me to the races after that,' Paul said.

Young Paul Tollefson became a very good skier indeed, competing at an elite level for many years, mostly on the North American Cup circuit. Only a broken ankle suffered at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs stopped him from reaching the very top.

For a long time Tollefson was a member of the Rocky Mountain Development Team of the Steamboat Springs (Colorado) Winter Sports Club, which has produced the highest percentage of Olympians of any winter sports club in the United States.

'I've modeled our own team on it,' Tollefson said.

With CWSC, Tollefson might soon be producing some Olympians himself. But his main purpose is producing people who succeed in life.

'With the right motivation, our skiers can achieve and do anything,' he said. 'Our coaches want them to be the best person they can be, whether it's being a skier, going to Harvard or doing something they love.

'I want to help kids learn what is possible. Everything is possible.'

For more about Paul Tollefson and his winter sports club, go to cwscraceteam.com .



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