In a recent interview with at the 2015 USSA Congress, Alpine Director Patrick Riml explained the decision to move ahead this season with a unique program aimed specifically at collegiate skiers.

Riml clarified the need to institute a support system for athletes who may have deviated from the established development pipeline, whether due to injury or otherwise, and decided that a university program was the best option for them. Launching the new National University Team was the answer to this problem.

“I think this is a great program and a great opportunity. We have quite a few athletes who probably need that badly – the different format of competition – to really grow, to mentally grow as a person, and to learn how to compete,” said Riml. They have great fundamentals and great talent … so this is going to be a great opportunity to get into that system and hopefully also learn how to compete at the top level.”

Where are the women?

In the inaugural 2015-16 season of the program, six male athletes were named to the roster, prompting many to ask, “Where are the women?”

Riml stressed that the team is a pilot project aimed at testing the validity of such a program. A trial period was deemed necessary in order to test the value of the program before allocating additional funding and hiring new staff for a women’s team or committing long term even to the men’s side. Riml also explained that the maturation level of female athletes compared to their male counterparts at various ages was taken into account. Historically, female World Cup skiers have peaked at earlier ages than men and tend to retire from the sport at younger ages as well, so the pilot program was launched as a men’s team to first measure the viability among that population.

“If there is a need on the women’s side, we will figure out a way to make a program that will work for the girls,” Riml said.

Additionally, new regional programming coming down the line for 2015-16 will target females to help balance out the resources available to both genders.

In this case, issues relating to Title IX – the landmark federal law passed in 1972 ensuring equal access to collegiate athletics for women – are moot due to the fact that the USSA is not an educational institution that receives funding from the federal government.

Selection criteria

There were several hurdles to leap in order to launch this new program so late in the calendar year, one of which was the lack of published criteria in advance of the 2014-15 qualification season.

“If you start something like this at this time of year, it’s always very difficult to publish a selection criteria,” said Riml. “But you have to start at some point.”

Riml explained that for the current team, a hybrid system of looking at how athletes fall on the alpine performance band (which is used to develop the rest of the U.S. Ski Team’s selection criteria) and examining head-to-head results in high level events like NorAms and U.S. Alpine Championships was utilized to select the six men who make up the roster. At the meeting of USSA’s Alpine Collegiate Working Group, Riml confirmed that set criteria would be published for future National University rosters should the program continue.

Cost to participate

Each athlete named to the team will have access to summer conditioning at the Center of Excellence in Park City, on-snow camps in the summer and fall in New Zealand and Colorado, as well as additional support during the competition season from former Team America coach Peter Lange as well as a yet-to-be-named assistant and ski technician. But there is no option to participate on a per project basis as has been the case with the National Training Group (NTG) for younger athletes.

“You have to commit to this program,” Riml said. “We don’t want to have somebody coming in for a week here and a week there.”

Riml stressed that once the racing season begins, athletes will still have primary responsibilities with their university teams and will have the ability to lodge with either Lange or their university at NorAms, depending on which option the athlete feels is best. Specific program costs to the athlete are not yet available, as USSA is still sorting out the finer details, but there will be a cost to participate on the team.

In an effort to improve the racing conditions of NCAA competitions, Riml highlighted how Lange’s role includes not only coaching but also acting as an adviser of sorts to race organizers in matters such as hill preparation and course setting in an effort to provide more continuity between the NorAm and collegiate circuits. Both Riml and Lange see this as a major plus, as it will provide more opportunity for athletes to make the jump to the next level and make talent identification at races around the continent easier for USSA staff.

In addition, Lange and Riml are also working with NorAm, collegiate, and various other organizers to minimize the amount of scheduling conflicts during the season, something that has presented a major problem for NCAA racers in past years.

Riml affirmed that if an athlete who is not on the National University roster ends up posting strong results, they will not be passed over by USSA as far as World Cup and Europa Cup opportunities are concerned.

“The door is always open,” Riml said. “We want the fastest skiers. If someone is doing well, it would not make sense at all to not give that kid an opportunity.”

Only time will tell whether the experiment that is the National University Team is something that warrants long-term USSA investment. This coming season is sure to provide ample opportunity not only for the athletes, but also for USSA staff to fully evaluate the program and determine its future place within the U.S. Ski Team.

Article Tags: Alpine , Top Rotator , Top Story
Sean Higgins
Associate Editor
A Lake Tahoe native and University of Vermont graduate, Higgins was a member of the Catamounts' 2012 NCAA title winning squad and earned first team All-American status in 2013. Prior to coming to, he coached U14s for the Squaw Valley Ski Team.

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