Where they'll shred next

This week, the Buffs head to World University Games in Trentino, Italy. Follow them there at wugusa.com/winter-games/. Back in the US, they'll compete at the Pat Miller Invitational in Park City, Utah, Jan. 4-8, 2014. Follow their conference competition schedule at rmisaskiing.com/schedule.php.

Though he's one of the University of Colorado-Boulder's most accomplished coaches in the school's storied ski history, Richard Rokos stresses that the value of humility.

Rokos, who coaches both the alpine and Nordic ski teams at CU, was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in mid-October by the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum. He has led the CU ski team to six NCAA championships, 11 NCAA west regional championships, 32 individual championships and 175 All-American Honors.

But when the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Association reached out to give him the honor of Coach of the Year (several times), Rokos declined and inferred that the honor belonged to his students.

"I'm just doing my job," Rokos said.

As always, the ski team is preparing to defend their title at the NCAA Championship, which will be held in Park City, Utah, this upcoming spring. This week, the team will travel to Trentino, Italy, to compete for the US in the World University Games.

According to Andreas Haug, a senior CU and captain of the men's alpine team, the team is expecting to perform well this year thanks to Rokos' coaching style.

"We think he is an incredible coach because of his ability to create a team culture where everybody works for a common goal and feels like family," Haug said.

Winning since '91

Rokos said that his most surprising and unexpected accomplishment as a ski coach was winning the NCAA championship in 1991. He was just promoted as head coach that year, and with that came many learning experiences.

University of Colorado ski team head coach Richard Rokos, right, talks strategy with then-assistant coach Arman Serebrakian at Winter Park in 2011. Rokos
University of Colorado ski team head coach Richard Rokos, right, talks strategy with then-assistant coach Arman Serebrakian at Winter Park in 2011. Rokos has been leading the ski team to wins for more than 20 years. (Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

"In general, those things are hard — learning things piece by piece," he said. "I didn't have a good idea about the strength of the team at that time."

His winning streak during the past two decades of his coaching career is indicative that Rokos has a Midas touch. When it comes to coaching, his methods are rooted in having a good rapport with his students.

"I try to be close with my skiers, through friendship," Rokos said. "You know, you have to worry about mental and physical health of your students ... They have to be good students or they can't compete."

"The kids adore him," said Jodi Mossoni, administrative assistant of the CU Ski Team, who has worked for Rokos for about 10 years. "You can tell because they stick around and keep in touch."

Rokos was born in the former Czechoslovakia, while it was under the Communist regime. He competed in his home country and coached the Czechoslovakian Junior National Team. He used that opportunity to travel and compete internationally, which he said led him to opportunities to escape with his wife and his daughter, who was only 18 months old at the time.

From his life experiences, Rokos said that he tries to get his students to reach their greatest potential since they have opportunities.

"I want them to make the best of what they have," he said.

Fit for the job

Team captain Haug's first impression of Rokos came early in the ski season, when the team was cross training on bikes. In cycling, his students had a hard time keeping up with their coach.

"He expects a lot from us and we expect a lot from him," Haug said.

Eric McCarty, an orthopedic surgeon and chief of Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery at CU, has known Rokos for 10 years. He said his own fitness is part of his coaching style.

"He asks nothing of his athletes that he can't do himself," McCarty said. "He is in good as shape as any of the 20-year-olds on the team."

Andy LeRoy, head coach of the alpine team at the University of Denver (frequent rivals of the Buffs) has known Rokos for 20 years; Rokos coached LeRoy when he was a student at CU.

"I watched his athletes come to Steamboat Springs, where I'm from, and compete," LeRoy said. "I looked up to him for a very long time."

LeRoy said that he has developed his own coaching style from Rokos' mentorship, which led LeRoy to three consecutive NCAA championships for DU. Winning the championship while competing with his former coach was humbling, he said. But he knew his former coach appreciated the spirit of competition.

"Right after I had taken the job at DU, Rokos congratulated me and said he looked forward to the competition."

Contact Mirav Levy at mirav.levy@colorado.edu.