Todd Brickson stands tall as a mountain in the world of ski racing.
For the past 20 years, he has served as the program director of Rowmark Ski Academy, Rowland Hall’s world-class ski racing program, founded in 1982. An international level 500 coach in the US Ski & Snowboard Association, Todd has worked with hundreds of top-level Olympic, World Cup, and collegiate athletes. But, even with all that experience, those who know Todd don’t immediately bring up his coaching prowess, or his experience on the slopes. Instead, they talk about who he is as a person—and for good reason.
Priority one, before coaching, is to be a very good role model. You need to be the kind of person who young people aspire to be one day. Todd is solid in that way.—Olle Larsson, Rowmark Ski Academy co-founder
“Priority one, before coaching, is to be a very good role model in front of people. If you fail that, it doesn’t matter what kind of coach you are,” said Olle Larsson, former Rowmark program director and the co-founder of the program, who was instrumental in hiring Todd. “You need to be the kind of person who young people aspire to be one day. Todd is solid in that way.”
Building athletes of good character is central to Todd. He makes that clear on the first page of the handbook given to all team members. There, he writes that the main goal of the program is “for each Rowmarker to learn and develop responsible independence.” He emphasizes that there is more to being on the team than just making it down the hill, adding, “This is above all a process, a time of trial and error, a time to learn from mistakes, a time to learn how to win—and learn how to lose.”
The values of responsibility and independence that Todd promotes create a strong bedrock on which he builds exceptional competitors and people. But here is where Todd steps back a bit, to let the athletes find that fire within that’s needed to push themselves farther and achieve more. He’s the iconic definition of a coach in these moments, trusting that his athletes are capable of practicing what to do, and he allows them to do it. That mutual respect is what launches Rowmark athletes into greatness.
“Todd provided me with tools and then didn't put any pressure or expectation on race day. He knew that pushing wouldn’t help, and that I needed to figure it out,” said former Rowmarker and Olympic athlete Breezy Johnson ‘13. “He provided me with the means to reach my incredibly high goals, and then was there with a hug and a word of advice, win or lose, at the end of the day.”
Todd does teach competitive spirit, but not in ways you may expect. He meets his students in competition in other arenas to show them that he respects them enough to go nose to nose. It may be on the golf course, in a go-kart, or by the side of a lake with a fishing pole in hand. Todd understands that coaching is a disposition and not contained to a certain time or place.
“There have been times when Todd has played hockey with us on a pond after skiing, or field hockey on dry land,” said Elisabeth Bocock, a senior who currently competes for both Rowmark and the US Ski Team. “He is never afraid to go shoulder on shoulder with us if that’s what it takes. He is super intense and does what he needs to do to win the game.”
And in his 20 years with the program, Todd’s intensity has helped raise the bar for Rowmark as an elite ski academy. Since 1988, there has been a representative from Rowmark at each Winter Olympics, and in 2014, the program became one of the first in the nation to achieve the Gold Certification level from the US Ski & Snowboard Association, and they’ve held onto that certification in the eight years since.
Rowmark’s skiers achieve off the slopes as well. The team currently has a 100 percent college placement rate, and its students are sought after by the best colleges and universities in the nation. “Todd is very involved in our academic success,” said Ian Hanrahan, co-captain of the Rowmark Academy Program. “He and the other coaches do a lot of work to make sure our teachers understand our busy schedules to help us stay on top of school and make sure we are successful skiers while still growing our academic careers.”
And Todd’s concern about the success of Rowmark skiers starts before they are even on the team. From the outset, he makes sure new recruits can thrive in the program. “Todd gives so much time to prospective families,” said Kathy Gunderson, former director of admission for Rowland Hall. “He cares so much about the candidates not only being a good fit for Rowmark but also finding academic success at the school as well. He’s brought recruiting to the next level.”
Todd’s recruiting prowess also extends to the coaches he selects to help guide the team. Every coach on Todd’s team knows they were selected for their excellence and are expected to reach extraordinarily high standards. But they also know that Todd views them as peers and wants them to feel welcome and able to grow as professionals through trial and error.
“Todd works to develop his staff,” said Rowmark Junior Program Director Troy Price. “Recently, three former staff members have gone on to coach for the US Ski Team. You must have excellent training to get job offers at that level.”
Staff development goes beyond coaching skills under Todd’s mentorship. After all, there is much more to the job than improving skiing skills. There are also all the logistical concerns, financial planning, health tracking, and emotional support needs that must be handled. Then there are the moments that are totally unexpected.
“My first season with the team we had a group of Rowmarkers involved in a head-on car accident while racing in Oregon,” said Troy. “Todd was coaching at another race in Whistler, Canada, yet he made arrangements to get to Portland. He stayed with our injured members during this extremely difficult time and was the glue that held everyone together. His empathy for others and his ability to stay calm in difficult situations is unmatched.”
Todd was a very important person in my development as an athlete. He taught me the tools I needed both technically with the fundamentals, and the greater work ethic required to make it to the highest level.—Breezy Johnson ‘13, Olympian
Todd’s two decades with Rowmark have left an indelible mark on all aspects of the program, and that impact will only continue to grow in the coming years. In 2019, an alpine training addition to the Utah Olympic Park became the team’s primary training facility, giving athletes access to the very slopes where their idols have competed. “This is the most important development for Rowmark since 1982,” said Olle. “The training arena that they now have does not exist anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Time will tell what athletes will come off those slopes and into the national and international spotlights, but it’s clear that all of them will have benefitted from having Todd Brickson as a coach, mentor, and friend, just as those who came before them have.
“Todd was a very important person in my development as an athlete,” said Breezy. “He taught me the tools I needed both technically with the fundamentals, and the greater work ethic required to make it to the highest level.”
Todd's anniversary isn't the only celebration for Rowmark Ski Academy this year. Rowmark is also excited to celebrate its 40th anniversary with a celebration weekend, March 10–12.