As with most sports, the experience of ski racing is entirely what one makes it. The time dedicated and level of competition varies immensely, as there truly is something for anyone. Below we outline the various options available for someone looking to get involved in ski racing.
NASTAR: The NAtional STAndard Race organization is a fun, family-friendly recreational ski racing platform available to all ages and abilities. NASTAR is where most U.S. Ski Team members got their start in the sport. You could too!
REGISTRATION ITSELF IS FREE! However, the entry fee varies by resort. Some resorts offer NASTAR for free, others sell a seasons pass, and resorts with a seasons-long race league will charge an additional fee. Most resorts charge $10 for two runs and $15 for a day of unlimited racing. NASTAR athletes report spending $0-1000 on equipment, and $0-2000 on travel in a given year.
NASTAR is organized as a dual race, with two identical courses set side by side, generally 20-30 seconds in length. NASTAR offers opportunities as broad as a one time head to head race, or a season long competition culminating with a national championship race in the spring.
NASTAR operates under a “handicap” system, meaning that there is an established National Standard on every course, and every racer on said course is compared to that standard. Every time a participant races on a NASTAR certified course, they establish a handicap, and then earn medals (Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze) based on how far off the Par Time they are. For example, if a competitor earns a time of 25.00 seconds and the Par Time is 22.00 seconds, they would earn a handicap of 12, as they are 12% slower than the Par Time. This handicap enables competitors to gauge their progress throughout the season and additionally compare themselves to other racers nationwide.
To get involved in NASTAR, visit the links below to find a participating resort near you and sign up!
Part-Time Club Racing: Introductory, part-time youth racing programs are often coupled with NASTAR or are the next step towards a more competitive and time-demanding realm of ski racing than NASTAR. These programs tend to cater more to younger athletes in the early phase of skiing development or older kids who want to avoid the time commitments of a full-time program. This route allows kids to enjoy a team environment without the constraints or demands of full-time ski racing.
Families involved in part-time club racing report spending anywhere from $500-3000 on a tuition fee, $250-2000 on equipment, and $0-1000 on travel expenses per year. To reduce the burden of cost, many families can look to club scholarships.
Because youth racing programs can either be coupled with NASTAR or U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the best way to find a club is to research ski programs within yours area. The standard “pipeline” within your area will become more obvious through such research.
For more information on NASTAR or U.S. Ski & Snowboard pipelines, visit each of their designated areas on this page.
High School Racing: Many high schools across the country offer team-scored racing. It is often organized into regional qualifying races which culminate in a state championship at the end of a season. Some states offer high school racing, others do not. These programs are a fun way for high schoolers to engage in a less serious but relatively competitive form of ski racing.
The program fees vary usually from $0-500. Most people report spending $250-2000 on equipment, and $250-1000 on travel expenses. Athletes can receive aid in funding through high school scholarships.
Because high school racing varies widely from state to state, the best way to learn more or get involved is by researching your region for schools that offer a high school skiing opportunity.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard: The United States Ski & Snowboard Association is the next step of competitive ski racing within the United States. You need a membership to compete.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard youth race programs are typically open to ages 12 and under. Junior race programs mark the advent of scored and sanctioned U.S. Ski & Snowboard events. These begin at the U14 age group and typically end at age 20, or until an athlete moves on to FIS-sanctioned racing. Once becoming a registered member within the organization, athletes can compete in U.S. Ski & Snowboard sanctioned races in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, and slalom. Based on the point system, athletes are ranked against all other U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes in the country.
Ski clubs around the country who are affiliated with U.S. Ski and Snowboard are the best development platforms for youth racers. They provide training, coaches, and amenities to best prepare athletes for U.S. Ski & Snowboard sanctioned races. At a younger age, athletes tend to compete in local sanctioned events and progress to divisional competition as they get older.
Once progressing to U.S. Ski & Snowboard, all athletes are considered to be involved in a full-time program. These programs tend to focus on development with minimal local and regional competitions. Typically, youth race programs will be in a more casual setting where athletes live at home and have practice or competition 3-4 days a week. Most families report paying $1000-4000 on a tuition fee, $250-2000 on equipment, and $250-1500 on travel per season. Ski clubs often offer scholarships to families in need.
In moving from a youth program to the junior level, the options start to vary immensely from a ski club to an academy setting. As another full-time setting, juniors can expect continued development camps in the early season, training sessions throughout the week, and more regular regional travel for competition. Ski clubs offer the same training and racing opportunities as an academy with 4-5 days of racing and training typical throughout a week, however athletes attend their local schools and live at home. At an academy, athletes attend the academy’s school, typically live on a campus, and are often expected to attend a greater quantity of training camps throughout a season. Families in junior programs report spending $1500-6000 on tuition, $250-2000 on equipment, and $250-7500 on travel in a given season.
For more information on U.S. Ski & Snowboard, how to join a local ski club, or an explanation of the development pipeline within the United States, visit the links below:
FIS: Once athletes graduate from U.S. Ski & Snowboard racing at the U16 age group, they are eligible to race within the FIS circuit, an international federation for competitive ski racing. To race within this league, an athlete must have both a FIS license and U.S. Ski & Snowboard membership.
Once progressing to FIS, the level of competition is raised and everything becomes a little more serious. FIS is the most elite level of competition for highly competitive junior racers from the ages of 16-20. It is a full-time setting for training and early season camps, with regional, domestic, and international travel options for competition.
There are stricter standards for equipment and racing. For example, athletes must own a FIS-certified helmet from an approved manufacturer with an official sticker on the back. Along the same lines, skis must meet requirements on radius and length depending on gender and event. Similar to U.S. Ski & Snowboard, it is necessary (other than in very special circumstances) to be a part of a ski club to compete in FIS. For the most part, athletes can continue working with the same ski club they did as a U16 racer.
As mentioned above in the U.S. Ski & Snowboard section, there is a wide range of program options, most distinctly the decision in choosing a club vs. an academy. The most noticeable difference is in cost, where the tuition fees for a family at the FIS level can range from $5000-58,000. The highest fees reflect the costs of an academy setting such as Burke Mountain Academy, where the lowest would reflect the least-regimented club program such as Buck Hill. On top of tuition, FIS families can expect to spend $2000-7500 on equipment, and $5000-25,000 on travel in a given season. To reduce costs at the FIS level, athletes and families can continue to look to scholarships within their clubs and academies, as well as personal fundraising through platforms such as RallyMe, T2, or the World Cup Dreams Foundation.
FIS races range in difficulty from “open” races all the way to World Cups, World Championships, and the Olympics. Open races are available to anyone with a FIS license, however are can be limited to a certain number of people based on point rankings. NCAA Collegiate racing, NorAms, Europa Cups, and World Cups are all under FIS regulation, however are only open to those who meet the qualification requirements for the race at hand. For example, National Junior Races (NJRs), are only open to athletes U21 and younger and NorAms are only open to those below a certain FIS point threshold. For more information on the point system in ski racing, click here.
At this point, youth racers are graduating high school. Lucky for them there are many options for continuing ski racing.
NCAA: NCAA Division I skiing is FIS-sanctioned ski racing and is the most elite level of college racing in the United States. Racers compete as individuals as per usual, however are eventually scored for a team component in University Races and NCAA Regional and National Championships. The season ends with the NCAA National Championships where each school can qualify and send up to 3 men and women to compete against all other NCAA skiing programs in the country.
NCAA skiing is split into two regions: the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) and Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA). In the East, college races are known as “Carnivals” to reflect the Winter Carnival tradition at many Eastern colleges and universities and Western races are typically called “University Races” or “Invitationals.” For races in the East, each school is only allowed to bring six men and women. In the West, teams can bring more than six, however must choose beforehand which six will count towards scoring.
Athletes must become NCAA eligible by going through a compliance process. Registration cost is $80 for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
Generally, athletes are recruited by each school for NCAA skiing, however admission to college comes first and foremost. Some schools offer scholarships, some don’t. Therefore, cost truly varies by school as the school’s tuition and the level of support the school is able to give through scholarship or annual budget varies immensely. This is definitely something to consider and discuss with coaches in the college choice process. Athletes should expect to cover some equipment costs, often similar to what they were covering prior to school, and $0-500 on travel fees depending on what a school’s budget can cover.
To start the process of NCAA skiing, do research!! Visit schools, communicate with coaches, and determine what type of school you are interested in.
USCSA: For an athlete who wants to compete in a less serious college ski racing realm than NCAA Division I, United States Collegiate Skiing Association (USCSA) racing is their best option. Similar to NCAA Skiing, Division I, II or III schools can also have USCSA sanctioned racing. USCSA college races can be U.S. Ski & Snowboard races.
Similar to NCAA skiing, it is important to do research and find the best fit for one’s preferences. Be sure to email coaches and visit campuses.
Again, similar to NCAA skiing, the cost varies immensely by school, as tuition varies from school to school. It is uncommon for USCSA schools to offer athletic scholarships, however their athletic budgets typically allow them to cover some cost. Athletes should expect to cover similar equipment costs as they did prior to collegiate racing, and $0-2500 on travel depending on how much cost a school can cover.
Athletes must register with the USCSA to be eligible for racing. Registration fees vary from $15-35.
Masters: Masters racing is a casual, family-friendly ski racing league meant to cultivate relationships and fun while in a competitive environment. Anyone from age 18-90 is eligible to compete within Masters competition. Racers need to hold a valid U.S. Ski & Snowboard membership to compete.
Spending on equipment varies immensely depending on the amount of gear an athlete wants. Based on data from a survey on the 2017-18 season, most Masters tend to spend around $4000-6500 on lift tickets and lodging.
There are eight regions across the United States for Masters skiing. Beyond divisional competition, regional, national, and international competition is possible if desired. In the 2017-18 season, there were over 200 races offered among the divisions. Training opportunities can be arranged with local clubs and coaches, as well as through the link on the main U.S. Ski & Snowboard Masters page.
FIS-sanctioned Masters racing is also a possibility. Visit the links below for information on registration, competition, etc.
Adult Team Racing: Also known as “Beer League Racing,” get some friends together and make a team of four for the only real way to round out a work day.
Beer Leagues are often organized by local ski clubs. They are casual, team-oriented events for friends. Brackets are often organized by gender and age and organized in a duel-slalom format.
Similar to Masters racing, the age range is vast. Everyone 18 and older is eligible.
Most Adult Team Racing is scored by a handicap point-scoring system similar to that of NASTAR where each racer is scored based on the percentage slower they are than the “par time.” For example, if the par time is 22.00 seconds, and a racer comes in at 25.00 seconds, they would be awarded a 12 as they are 12% slower than the fastest possible time. Additionally, in some ski leagues women are granted a handicap to better equalize mixed-gender teams.
Cost is minimal. Other than the variable spending on equipment, which depends on individual preferences and need, most participants pay a small entry fee. Contact your local ski club or adult league for pricing.
For information on how to join, inquire with local ski clubs, get a local’s take, or read this Boston Globe article.
The U.S. Ski Team: athletes named to the U.S. Ski Team have progressed and excelled through the United States’ skiing pipeline and have been named to the most prestigious team in the country. The U.S. Ski Team is currently constructed into four levels: The A, B, C and D teams.
The Alpine D (or Development) Team caters to junior athletes rising in the NorAm and National Performance Series (NPS) circuits. The cost of tuition varies from $0-55,000, where those paying a team fee are a part of a club or academy, reflecting the U.S. Ski Team’s new commitment to development in local clubs for the 2026 Olympics, known as Project 26.
D Team athletes tend to spend $1000-3000 on equipment, and $13,000-21,000 on travel. D Team athletes receive benefits such as tuition reimbursement (up to $6000 per athlete per year) and health insurance through the American Specialty Accident Insurance. Athletes can also get help funding their seasons through sponsorships, prize money, grants, scholarships and fundraisers. Examples of these grants, scholarships and fundraisers are the Bob Beattie Travel Fund, T2, regional grants, the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, as well as personal fundraising and can amount anywhere from $3,000-50,000.
The Alpine C Team is said to be for athletes who are ready to compete for NorAm Titles. They pay no money for tuition and equipment fees. They receive the same benefits as D Team members, however have a greater breadth of funding resources. They tend to receive anywhere from $0-20,000 in sponsorships and prize money, and $5,000-45,000 from grants and fundraisers. To help cover any transportation costs, athletes can utilize the same resources listed above.
Athletes eligible for the Alpine B Team tend to range in skill from athletes winning NorAm titles to those in the top 25-60 on the World Cup circuit. Similar to the C Team, they pay $0 for tuition or equipment. Their benefits include the possible tuition reimbursement of a maximum of $6000 per athlete per year, USOC Elite Athlete Health Insurance ($5,520 per year at a taxable benefit), and another form of health insurance through the American Specialty Accident Insurance. Athletes can cover any additional costs through sponsorships and prize money, usually somewhere between $10,000-120,000 a season, as well as grants and fundraisers.
Last, but obviously not least, is the Alpine A Team. This is the most elite level of the U.S. Ski Team, rostered with our nation’s best such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety. Precisely, the athletes on the A Team all rank within the Top 15 of a discipline on the World Cup Circuit. These athletes pay nothing in terms of tuition, equipment, or travel. They also receive the same benefits as B Team athletes.
For any further information on the U.S. Ski Team or its pipeline, visit the link to U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s main site below.