It's a long climb to recovery. For starters, try about four stories . . . 50 steps, sprinting up, then walking down every aisle in Rice Stadium on the Utah campus - twice daily. One lagger is good for a few extra laps, or a dozen or so pushups - for everyone.

Before that, it was weight training. Pushin' iron. Arms, legs, back, abdomen - 90 minutes worth.Then onto the gridiron for two and a half hours more . . . a defensive back's back-peddling routines, a running back's cutting exercise, a linebacker's side-to-side drill, a high-stepping sprint through the tires, and finishing with push-ups on the knuckles.

No, this is not training for 250-pound linemen with pad-filled jerseys, blackened eyes and taped-up hands. It's the new sendoff training program for the U.S. Ski Team, or in this case 120-pound women with pencil-thin arms and size six ski boots.

It is, said John Atkins, returning director of conditioning for the U.S. squad, what made the team successful in 1984 (three golds and two silvers) and what was lacking this year in Calgary (not even close to a medal). One skier, Edith Thys, was the ONLY top 10 finisher. She had a 9th in the Super G.

"It's simply going back to good old hard work," Atkins admitted from his training site at the U. on Thursday.

Actually, there's more to it, much more. Atkins and his partner, Dr. Richard Steadman, have spent the past four years helping to develop training programs for world class skiers - the Germans, Austrians and Swiss - and NFL players from their offices in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Atkins' background in physical training actually goes back to the University of Utah. After graduating from the U. in 1978 with a master's degree in physical education, he lived in Salt Lake City and worked with the U.S. Ski Team until after the Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, Olympics. He left the team in 1984 and moved to Tahoe to develop S.P.O.R.T. (Sports Performance Orthopedic Research and Training) with Steadman.

After a disheartening season aggravated by injuries and poor showings, and after management changes within the ski team hierarchy, Atkins was one of the old order asked back. He came, bringing with him S.P.O.R.T. and all its findings.

The "new way" now is actually nothing more than following the old axiom that hard work breeds success.

And, acknowledged Atkins, "They've never worked harder. Some of the veterans, like Tiger Shaw, who's been around for 10 years, told me this is the hardest he's ever had to work.

"But I can see the results. The skiers feel it. You can see the team spirit coming out, even with the women. It's amazing to see how hard they're working. They'll do the football drills, two laps around the stairs at the stadium, a lot of grass drills, and even get down on their knuckles and do pushups.

"Actually, our workouts are very similar to what a college or NFL team do. But then the two sports are very similar . . . same power moves, same lateral moves, quickness, agility. The only difference is in football they look for contact, where in skiing they try to avoid it.

"It's difficult training, very difficult, but we're getting no complaints from the skiers. They say they'll go for the harder work for more success, and I think you'll see it - this year."

Atkins said about half the programs are old ones - "Ones we found very successful back in '84" - and the rest are those he and Steadman picked up from their NFL experiences, from strength coaches, and from working closely with successful programs from other countries . . . "and now we have a true state-of-the-art training program for the U.S. team."

"What happened was that with the changes after 1984, coaches started getting off the track a little, away from physical training and too much into technical skiing. It hurt. Look at the injuries (five of the top six women were injured last year, three seriously). That's always a good indication something's wrong."

The women's team finished up its Utah training Friday and hopes to head for Argentina for some on-snow work. They will open the World Cup season on Thanksgiving Day in France.

And when they do, Atkins said that from what he's seen, he's confident Americans will see a "return to greatness" of our U.S. team.