On Friday, February 14th, the state of New Jersey will host a NorAm parallel slalom, the first event of its kind in both Jersey, and in the United States. Parallel events on the NorAm circuit are most often hosted at Canadian venues. Now, thanks to the efforts of a local non-profit called Winter4Kids, the exciting format can be viewed by an even wider audience than the typical American ski race attracts.
Schone Malliet, President and CEO of the non-profit Winter4Kids, describes himself as “an asphalt kid”. Malliet grew up in the Bronx, a neighborhood in New York City not generally associated with raising ski racers. As a ski racer, a coach, and a TD, his goal is to bring the joy of snowsports to all types of fans, particularly kids that grow up in communities where skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country have little to no presence, much like he did.
“There are four and a half million kids within 70 miles of us in New York and New Jersey, it’s the media center of the world but has no visible access to events like Killington,” explains Malliet. “Winter4Kids at the National Winter Activity Center was always designed and developed to be a life changer and a game-changer, a way for kids of all backgrounds to enjoy the outdoors, embrace the outdoors as something that creates opportunities for them.”
Back in 2015, Malliet debuted a refurbished Hidden Valley to the public. The tiny ski resort in Vernon, New Jersey that was once home to Olympic freestyle skier, Donna Weibrecht, had closed its doors in 2012. Just 60 miles outside of New York City (an hour and seven-minute journey from Midtown), Malliet and his team saw an opportunity to grow winter sport and give kids an option to explore the wonders of the outdoors. Winter4Kids took on the project of recreating Hidden Valley into a world-class venue, one that would eventually become home to the National Winter Activity Center (the hub of the non-profit), as well as FIS quality competitions.
The organization already has programs in place that encourage kids to become lifetime enthusiasts of the winter sport of their choice, through an academy program and local competitions. Now, with the NorAm circuit coming to the tri-state area for the first time, kids and their families have an opportunity to bridge the gap from local to elite. Malliet hopes that having the chance to see a head-to-head dual-format racing take place right before their eyes, will help provide a connection to the highest levels of the sport.
“I think that’s what the sport needs. Ski racing is great, but does a terrible job of making it accessible to other people,” explains Malliet. “Most of our participants don’t know people on the U.S. Ski Team. They may know Lindsey [Vonn], they may know Mikaela [Shiffrin], but I think it’s a huge drop-off from there. In this case, if they can see the participants and connect with them, it will start to build an extended community.”
U.S. Ski Team athletes such as River Radamus, AJ Hurt, Brian McLaughlin, and Keely Cashman, will be competing in the NorAms alongside 50 plus competitors from all over the world. Winter 4 Kids has made sure to make strategic meet and greets a part of the program so that kids traveling to come and see the race have the opportunity to meet face to face with athletes that they may not know as well as the USA’s superstars.
“It is vital that we find ways to make the sport more accessible, and the mission of Winter4Kids and the National Winter Activity Center is just what our sport needs in order to grow and thrive,” says Olympic gold medalist and World Champion, Mikaela Shiffrin. “On top of that, fans love the head-to-head atmosphere and that dual-format will be showcased more and more in the coming years, so this should be a great event for both athletes and spectators.”
“U.S. Ski and Snowboard is very excited to team up with Winter4Kids at the National Winter Activity Center to bring this Cup event to the NY Tri-State area,” adds Tiger Shaw, President, and CEO at U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “It’s exciting to partner with a like-minded organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of our sport as we lead up to the 2022 Olympics in China.”
An added bonus to the event is the athletes will be competing for a $75,000 purse, the largest purse on the NorAm circuit. The stakes are high, which will make for an exciting parallel slalom. Not only is the NorAm race catered to growing the sport’s exposure, but it also aims to grow the sport’s value.
As the U.S. Ski Team looks to build in anticipation for the Beijing Olympics in 2022, organizations like Winter4Kids look to build anticipation and excitement as well. Not for the Olympics, but around the entirety of the sport, at all levels. By organizing their programs around the long-term — giving kids the opportunity to choose which sport they prefer, then teaching them the skills they need to tackle more terrain than just that of Hidden Valley — Winter4Kids hopes to build fans that relate to the sport and to athletes from high school level racing, NorAm level racing, and beyond. Then, when the kids go home to their friends, their families, and their schools, they have a like-minded community of supporters where they can find similar interests.
“It fills the gap, not just with the outdoor experience, but with their lives,” says Malliet. “When we’re thoughtful, we can create more market, more people that can be fans, and start to build a culture around the sport. Let’s grow fans, lifetime enthusiasts, and pipelines for athletes, and figure out what we can do to get past all of the barriers.”
All the action kicks off on Valentines Day, with race qualifiers starting at 11:30 am Eastern and running until 2:30 pm Eastern at the National Winter Activities Center. Finals begin at 5:30 pm Eastern and will be held under the lights until 7:30 pm.
For fans living within the Hidden Valley region, general admission tickets are free but must be reserved. For tickets, click here.
For directions to the venue, click here.
To volunteer, contact [email protected] or visit https://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080545acaa22abfb6-noramrace.
For more information on Winter 4 Kids and their partnership with the U.S. Ski Team, click here.