At Ski Racing Media, like any publication, it is important to distinguish between news and commentary, and we rigorously identify all of our content as one or the other. What follows is not news. It is my personal opinion, and it is a subject that is near and dear to me.

I believe it is important to explain why I am taking such a strong position on the issue of college ski racing and why our publication intends to address this issue in upcoming content initiatives. My motive in this editorial is the same motive I had in acquiring Ski Racing Media. I invested in an ultra-niche digital media publication with little prospect of ever getting a financial return. My return will come as we make the sport better.

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I love ski racing and want it to be a thriving, prosperous sport. I love the athletes of this sport. I have many lifelong relationships with athletes whom I’ve met through this sport. But it makes my skin crawl when the CEO of our national governing body says he’s hyper-focused on placing athletes in the top 10 and on the pathways he has most control over and most influence on. World Cup-podium athletes are very rare — a small, tip-of-the-arrow group. To focus solely on developing this group excludes more than 99% of our community. In all fairness, Tiger Shaw would say he cares about all American athletes. It’s just that his actions and the actions of his staff do not support that sentiment. 

At the Alpine Collegiate Working Group, U.S. Ski & Snowboard (USSS) staff made it clear that collegiate skiing is not going to be prioritized as a pathway for our nation’s best athletes to reach the World Cup. I am here to contend that college ski racing can and should be developed as a viable option for American success on the World Cup — and in life. 

To give credit where it is due, USSS has made minor or fleeting efforts with college athletes. This year, the team named three athletes with NCAA experience, although none will continue to ski for their university teams this season. The federation also supported the short-lived National University Team (UNI), introduced in 2015-16 and subsequently dismantled after the 2016-17 season. And, over the last few years, there have been a handful of athletes who made criteria from college and were named.

Nevertheless, USSS and its alpine program have never embraced college skiing as a pathway to the World Cup in any systematic way. With such a brief commitment to the UNI team and no subsequent effort to implement another college program or project, cooperation between the NGB and college is at its darkest hour.

My question to the leadership of USSS is, how can you say college skiing is not a potential pathway to World Cup success? There is very little evidence to justify your position of not supporting a systemic college system. Your claim that there has never been a statistically significant number of collegiate athletes who have made it onto the World Cup contains a major flaw in its reasoning. First, if you have never genuinely tried — in a sustained, systematic way, to develop a college program — how can you say it won’t work? Second, the college system is unique to the United States, so, of course, using European models as the basis for your statistics will lead to that conclusion.

It can be done because it has been done

The National Hockey League (NHL) made the same argument years ago. They did not support college as a viable pathway to the pros and insisted on players staying in their development systems. However, today, after encouraging cooperation between colleges and the NHL, one-third of the league’s roster is now made up of former NCAA athletes. 

“Ultimately our job at USA Hockey is to produce more players,” Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, told Front Office Sports. “And that means, frankly, more Americans playing college hockey. We continue to grow the sport from the grassroots level so the college level, we believe, is the last point in our American development model before professional hockey. The collegiate level provides great experience and can prepare players to be successful professional hockey players so the whole sport benefits.” 

The team with the most college athletes? The Pittsburgh Penguins, who just so happened to have taken home the Stanley Cup in two of the past five seasons. Most recently, in the 2019 NHL Draft, college athletes made up nearly 40% of those selected. The average age of NHL rookies? 24.

Yet in ski racing, our leaders are looking the other way

In Ski Racing’s recent article, USST, NCAA butt heads over NorAm schedule, we reported on a dispute that transpired at the Collegiate Working Group in May. As part of that story, we spoke extensively to the group’s chair, head men’s coach at Dartmouth College, Peter Dodge. Sadly, this is not a new discussion. An editorial penned by Dodge for Ski Racing in 1999 states many of these same concerns. It’s pretty clear nothing has changed!

Project 26: Right intention, wrong implementation

In the spring of 2016, a working group named Project 26 was formed to explore the state and development of U.S. skiing, utilizing a statistical view with an eye on results at the 2026 Olympics. The working group asked the question: How can we change the system to have a better chance of success in the 2026 Olympics? They determined, if it is World Cup and Olympic podiums that matter to them — and it is — then statistically the likelihood of achieving those goals is highest when the athlete is ranked in the top 10 on the WC start list.

Also during the project, it became clear that it was difficult, or nearly impossible, to predetermine podium success at the World Cup or Olympic levels in young athletes. Therefore, directing resources solely to a select few athletes with promising results at a young age is statistically unwise. It was also recognized at that time that USSS did not have the available resources to cast a wide enough net to financially support broad full-time programs of its own. 

As difficult as athlete identification at any elite level is, predetermining athletes who will achieve World Cup top-10 rank is — short of occasional phenoms like Mikaela Shiffrin — impossible, especially from our starting point in the U.S. Narrowing the focus to this extent, I believe, presents a couple problems. It builds the system around outliers, while prematurely eliminating athletes that would otherwise make up a robust pipeline of contenders. An even worse outcome, criteria that is too difficult forces the use of discretion, which is a very slippery slope, best to be avoided to whatever extent possible.

I agree, from an aspirational standpoint, building a system to place multiple athletes in the top 10 world rank is worthwhile; however, you can’t create the whole team around that ideal, as there simply are not enough athletes in that pool. The issue is bridging the current reality with the future aspirational state. You simply can’t get there, from where we are now, in a single leap and thus we are at risk of shrinking, rather than growing our sport, by taking this approach. 

As a result of the inherent constraints in supporting a large group of athletes, it was determined by USSS management at the conclusion of Project 26 that the U.S. should evolve from a full-time development system to a project-based system, where athletes would remain connected to their club, academy or college and attend projects throughout the year. This had the ability to spread resources around to many more athletes than a dedicated team.  

Collaboration as the American way

But, alas, after giving the project approach a try for two years, we reverted back to small fixed full-time teams. This stop-start approach is not optimal. It takes time to give new initiatives the gestation period necessary before a supportable conclusion can be made. 

Trying to beat the Europeans at their game, playing it their way, is like the Oakland A’s taking on the New York Yankees, taking what has worked in the Bronx and trying to implement it in a small-market environment. Instead, as described in the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, the A’s created a unique, statistically based approach and built a winning system based on their own unique characteristics and strengths. It wasn’t about copying what the Yankees were doing. If we start acting like the A’s and take on the Yankees (the Europeans) utilizing our own unique advantages, we have a much better chance. 

College is one of our key unique characteristics. Europe doesn’t have a college ski racing system like we do. We need to consider how Americans are unique and build a system around that. We have far more FIS racers than most countries, and we have an individual funding model where individuals can pursue their careers. 

That’s exactly what Sam DuPratt did. After being on the U.S. Ski Team for four years, he competed for the University of Utah. After his college career ended he skied independently, ultimately winning a World Cup spot on his own through NorAms. He then competed on the World Cup as an independently funded athlete for two seasons before being renamed this year at 27. That would be extremely rare in Europe, where most athletes drop out if they are not on their national team.

To struggle in Europe or thrive in the US? 

Tiger Shaw has strongly stated his belief that the path to the World Cup goes through Europe. He even suggested that European races are more difficult from a venue standpoint. That may be true, on average, but it is a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don’t emphasize NorAms and make them as competitive as they can be. USSS should be “hyper focused” on facilitating high-level NorAms that prepare North American racers to be successful on the World Cup. The idea that U.S. athletes need extensive experience in ECs is highly debatable. 

In 2016, I traveled to Europe and met with 30 thought leaders in an effort to understand the nuances of their development system compared to ours. One of my questions was if they believed the EC was an important experience for North American racers. The universal answer was no. Many experts believe the idiosyncrasies of the EC — such as a very long season and the necessity to enter all events to stay in the seed, the extremely deep field, a full season on the road  — would likely contribute to the demoralization of a typical North American athlete. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with U.S. athletes competing in ECs. I agree with Tiger it is good to experience the depth of field and the aggressiveness needed to win in that environment. It just shouldn’t be the be-all/end-all, as now configured. 

Furthermore, there are many examples of athletes who jumped directly from the NorAms to the World Cup: Leif Haugen-Nestvold, Jonathan Nordbotten, Erik Read, Roni Remme, Laurence St. Germain, just to name a few. Many of those athletes followed the approach Tommy Ford and Ryan Cochran-Siegle took: entering a few select ECs and then going directly to the WC. Discounting college athletes because their schedule precludes EC experience does not hold up to the data.

Athletes first — on and off the hill

Respect for the athlete should be the hallmark of everything U.S. Ski & Snowboard does. Is it fair to ask our top athletes to make Hobson’s choice: chase your dream and give up your education or gain your education and give up your dream? This just seems antithetical in our nation. 

We have had a system mostly dependent on phenoms. You don’t need to “identify” a Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Kildow or Bode Miller, nor do you need much of a system to develop them. For the rest, however, embracing the full person for the long term is the most American way of doing things. College plays a critical role in that. USSS needs to get over their control fixation and embrace college once and for all.

If I thought it was possible to identify younger athletes and develop them to reach a top-10 world rank and compete for WC podiums, I might feel differently. However, history has proven that this is not possible. Not by us, not by anyone else. That is why European national teams support a much broader cohort than we do. Especially when we are in a constant funding shortfall, and we have no idea if any of our younger named athletes will ever become successful Olympians, why not use college skiing as an opportunity for them to mature, get stronger, and develop as young men and women, to emerge at 21 or 22 years old with a degree under their belt and some high-level NorAm finishes? Then, they can enter the national system and see what they are made of — when the accuracy of athlete identification is much better than it is at 18 years old.

College makes ski racing a true team sport

College skiing is the absolute pinnacle of positive culture. All you have to do is attend one National Championship of USCSA or NCAA to see the deep bond among teammates and competitors. Ask any current or former collegiate athlete about their experience and they’ll happily explain the team culture and the amazing things they learned from it. It is a shame that we actively discourage some of our top rising stars from experiencing this part of the sport.

I also recognize college isn’t for everyone. Some athletes may just not want to go to college. I am not suggesting one size fits all. Additionally, there can be a tradeoff for speed skiers, since college does not feature speed events. However it is universally accepted that World Class speed skiers are virtually always outstanding tech skiers before they transition to speed. In most cases the maturation and technical progression available while attending college can be developmentally useful.

The calendar is a challenge, one we can overcome

One of the controversies between college skiing and USST is always the NorAm schedule. Some of the conflict is natural and unavoidable. For example, it is important for some athletes to get a high-level (NorAm) start in the early season. That is especially true for those who have had a full fall prep period and are planning on racing in Europe in November and December. Eastern colleges, especially, have a very hard time being prepared for those early season races, as there is no snow on the ground in New England, and they have a hard time traveling to Colorado for training while missing school. I don’t see a solution for the entire college team. But for individual college racers, October training in Colorado can be a solution. This may just be the case of an unavoidable conflict.

Some of the controversy around NorAm scheduling can be avoided. I recognize it has been a challenge to get resorts to commit to NorAms. In addition, it is critical that the race venues are appropriate from a surface and pitch standpoint. It is not like we have inherently easy race venues. By all reports venues like Stowe and Mont Edouard are extremely challenging by any standard. I also recognize it is not just a USSS decision. NorAms are governed by a committee made up of Canadian and American representatives. There is a lot to balance. As a result, scheduling can be a last-minute process, and this creates conflicts with college races. But it can be resolved by sticking with resorts that will commit to dates in advance, assuming they are at the appropriate level for a NorAm, both from a terrain and a surface standpoint. 

I am not suggesting it is easy. I am suggesting we need to prioritize this issue within our national system and in our discussions between the U.S. and Canada.

As Tiger said in his remarks at the college working group, NorAms are a vital stepping stone. NorAms need college racers to provide the point profile and to fill out the field. Therefore, treating colleges as vital partners seems like a no-brainer.

Scheduling flows downhill. First, World Cups are scheduled at least a year in advance. Then, Continental Cups, such as ECs and NorAms, should be scheduled, then college, FIS races, etc. It is critical the NorAm schedule is established no later than early April, so others can establish their respective scheduling. One thing for sure, we can’t have college teams driving 10 hours back and forth from NorAms to college races, as Peter Dodge recently described in our latest article on the subject. 

The easy way out will not get us there

Shaw said, “We are hyper-focused on the pathways we have the most control over and the most influence on.” While that may make sense on the surface, when you dig in that is just taking the easy way out and following the same old path. Sure, it takes a lot more work, cooperation and creativity to manage a distributed system that you don’t control. But, it’s the American way. We don’t follow the herd. We forge our own path. We have many advantages. We have a model where athletes can continue following their dreams in a self-funded way. And yes, we have the U.S. college system. It is a unique differentiator and one we can and should embrace.

The solution is for colleges and U.S. Ski & Snowboard to work together more effectively. It is in the interest of all our athletes. It gives us a much broader cohort to work with. It utilizes millions of dollars in collegiate funding. This has been a problem forever. Thinking outside the box and embracing the American way, as opposed to simply following the European model, is how we can win.

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Dan Leever brings more than 30 years of experience growing and managing companies and has an extensive background in ski racing. He is currently a Board Member and a member of the Executive Committee of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, he was a prior Board Member of US Ski and Snowboard, and Trustee of the US Ski and Snowboard Foundation. He is active in ski industry investments serving as Chairman of SYNC Performance, the World Pro Ski Tour, along with Ski Racing Media. Additionally Mr. Leever is an Operating Partner of GreyLion Capital, a private equity fund. For 25 years Mr. Leever served as CEO of Platform Specialty Products Corporation (now Element Solutions) of West Palm Beach, FL, and its predecessor companies. PSP was a multinational specialty chemical manufacturer with revenues of $3.7 billion, over 8,500 employees, and operations in 100 countries.

26 COMMENTS

  1. I agree 100%. Colleges can be a true minor league (so to speak) for WC. To not take advantage of this is a terrible mistake by US Ski. College also makes for a more balanced perspective on life and team.

  2. Hi Dan,
    I like the way you think. I would have to agree, the current system is no different than it was 40 years ago. It’s a success if you think being mediocre is good. As a former athlete who participated on both college and WC levels, I would agree that both entities would and “do” develop better competitors because of the competition of College and USSA. The mature and physical athlete in their mid twenties has a huge advantage over a maturing athlete in there late teens or early 20’s. As both age groups compete together, they feed off one another developing a better competitor. It will also bring out the diamond in the rough, which helps pull others along.
    Be well.
    Sam Collins.

  3. The USST needs to follow its own coach’s education and drop the “closed mindset” that requires full control of a development system and change to an “open mindset” that takes advantage of the skills of all US athletes to produce the best competition and ultimately the best racers. To not welcome and take advantage of the NCAA programs, at no expense to USSS, to raise the level of competition at NorAm events is a disservice to all athletes.

    Just look at the number of under and over achievers two years after any NFL draft. Those teams spend untold sums of time trying to identify talent and they regularly fail. To maximize success, the USST should be doing everything possible to expand the pool of athletes it can draw from, not restrict people to its narrow path.

    Mark Sertl

  4. Totally agree with you. I grew up in Europe and the youth sports system is completely different there. Young Athletes are selected at very early age with intense sports programs. However, USA has an incredible college sports system that is lacking in Europe. We should definitely take advantage of this and give young skiers change to develop through it. I was shocked to see so many foreign skiers at the USA ski college teams instead of giving these opportunities to our local skiers.

  5. The move is absolutely idiotic. Very many of the best skiers coming out of the US, Canada and European countries have been coming out of NCAA programs in recent years. Moreover, the importance for development athletes to qualify and race in the open FISU (Collegiate) races is also extremely important for young skiers to see a real level of standard they must aspire to.

    Collegiate racers have the great benefit of their Athletic Programs, their trainers, their budgets, their camaraderie. Few of those are offered to any but A Team members (and Camaraderie is doubtful there from what I have heard). We have seen top World Cup racers emerge from NCAA Ranks, and shutting them off to NorAms and related will be a point loss that will be hard to overcome.

    Making it difficult or impossible to ski Norams and critical Collegiate races is basically a statement that chasing top level racing is a dead end, which ever way you choose to go.

    Dissappointed. Disconnected.

  6. There is a notable group ski racers from Scandinavia and Canada who have gained experience racing on the NCAA circuit and have gone on to success racing World Cup. If it works for them, why does it not work for our home grown racers as a stepping stone to the US Ski Team?

  7. Sounds like this is again ‘speaking to the choir’…and for USSS to not understand this is absolutely ludicrous. I have a hard time understanding the recent relationship with Nastar, albeit the bottleneck in alpine racing (or at least the drop-out zone) is in the high school and collegiate ages. In all honestly, there are some incredible high school circuits around…and we have all discussed the value of both the NCAA and USCSA programs. For our national governing body to decline building relationships here is again just asinine.

  8. Great article Dan! It appears a narrow focus has taken hold of Tiger Shaw and his Board. This questionable strategy leaves little room for error or broader success on the women’s and men’s teams. There are some smart minded business people on the Executive Committee and the Foundation Board of Trustees who have backgrounds that should have spawned a broader, multi-pronged program targeted for success. So what happened?

    Moving on, a quick review of Tiger Shaw’s FIS/WC statistics reflect an athlete who experienced his best results at age 24 and above. I’ll focus on the US men’s side, the data for US athletes with names like Mahre, Miller, Rahlves, Ligety and others points to higher frequencies of quantifiable success at age 24 and above. The data is obvious and easy to find on fis-ski.com. Somehow this group of execs and coaches appear to ignore obvious data that supports the possibility of a college athlete finding success after college. So this begs the question, why wouldn’t this organization be willing to support athletes and offload expenses onto colleges in the hopes that a talent might emerge at that magical 24 years old or beyond age range?

    So one if left to ask a few more questions. Is there a fear that an athlete might emerge from outside of their program, thereby hurting the brand? Why can’t there be programs or pathways tailored for the later maturing men, the typically early maturing women and possible success of college athletes across both genders?

    For the sake of current and future athletes, lets hope a broader thought process evolves so the US can develop deeper teams in the future. For now we can hope the next Shiffrin or Vonn emerges while the leadership builds this new program…

  9. Dan I agree but here’s how college skiing becomes a true feeder program vs the broken collegiate system that’s in place.
    American skiers skiing for colleges not Europeans taking all the spots and the scholarships. We must support American skiers, let Americans actually be on a college team.
    Limit Europeans spots to one male and one female on a team. Everyone plays by same rules therefore it’s a level recruiting and playing field.
    No scholarships to foreign skiers.
    Right now Foreign skiers get free college and a national Monthly subsidy(money from their foreign government) for going to a college in the US.
    Having mostly Europeans take all the spots for college teams leaves little incentive for the USSS to think of college as a potential farm team for American ski racing.
    That’s what the NCAA needs to do for this conversation to be realistic and valuable. Give American kids opportunities, make mom and dad happy and hence create a win/pressure to conform for the USSS.

    The USSS in turn comes to the table and thinks this is meaningful enough to American ski racers and the farming it creates to support college ski racing by:
    Creating a schedule that melds with what is a common interest for American college skiers and the USSS…most competitive racers at top tier races (nor ams and regional FIS), focus on domestic racers, longevity of racers.
    I already hear the arguments- less competition, worse points, etc. euros will come looking for the nor am spots so bring it on and if they don’t show up it’s a Canada vs America program.
    USSS also reinstates a college USSS program like the one set up in 2016 which was abandoned in short order.
    Prioritize American ski racers, work together and build a stronger and wider base of our best skiers. College skiing has become a war of euro recruiting which is completely assnine.
    This is an America first campaign for ski racing but it involves two entities that have both shunned American ski racers and it’s an insult to the sport. Placing the blame solely on the USSS is completely unfair because I knkw a lot of kids who can’t even ski for a college because of what I describe above.
    If You don’t make the USST or you are “fringe” but not as good as the euro recruits the euros get all the spots for college so fringe athletes are high and dry.
    Believe in yourself, take your chances, never take no for an answer and make the big show by grinding it out for what you believe and know is your destiny or go to college. College is not a path to the USST. It can be done and I would tell you from being around the sport for as long as I have it’s a career death sentence for “most” every athlete. We could run stats and get fancy but let’s be honest. It’s a death sentence…but it shouldn’t have to be!
    No one makes you go to college it’s just that people who don’t truly believe think it’s a better option. College isn’t going anywhere so I do believe it’s unfair once again to place the blame of the non believers on the USST.
    To be clear the US Ski Team does not owe anyone anything. They have criteria, you have an opportunity in every race you enter to make points and move up the system to meet that criteria. When you do not it’s not on them to feel sorry for anyone or change the system to benefit a specific group, ie college athletes.
    Can USST do a better job, absolutely. Have colleges failed non USST athletes more than anyone the way the system is now run…for sure, no doubt and we should be embarrassed.
    The college argument is a blame game and the USST one is “we don’t care.”
    College skiing must conform and the USST must be involved in the process with college ski teams with a program That both agree to adhere to what will be the “New” policy for at least a ten year period of time. USST MUST find the common ground that is in the best interests of the 19-22 yr olds of American ski racing that are in no mans land because we have failed to help them within USST and failed on the college side because we gave it all away to the euros.
    Mutual assurances that are reciprocal to get the most out of ski racing for American ski racers.
    I’m on a iPhone so apologize for misspellings, grammar, etc and this is 10,000 ft generalized view but you get the bullet points.
    There is something in this but whether Andy Leroy, Rocos, Johnson, Dodge and all the rest want to give up their Europeans and the USST will make sure the colleges get what they want and need for American collegiate skiers all this talk is hot air.
    Change needs to happen with a new approach and sitting down and looking after our sport and our skiers.
    Completely naive and short sighted on both sides in my opinion. Bob Beattie is still rolling in his grave about what has happened to college ski racing but I can assure you he would be as mad with what Tiger’s approach has been as well.
    Both sides are wrong in their approach and the narrative.
    Quit bitching and come to the table and solve problems for American ski racers.
    Right now everything written about A system being for American ski racers is hypocritical Until colleges cure the real
    Problem. Locking American ski racers out of American colleges and cutting short their career paths entirely if they don’t make the USST.
    Sorry but money time and energy is better spent on junior development. Broaden the base, enlarge the pipeline both college and USST stand to win longer term.
    Imagine if if we were recruiting Europeans to ski on our jr national development programs then sending them back to Europe to compete against us? That’s what college is doing right now!
    Whiteboard it, spit ball it, sit around a table and hell at each other but please look out for American skiers.

  10. Spot on Dan. When you have leadership that has their primary focus on winning medals and not developing depth, as current and past USSA leadership has, you begin to understand why we have shortcomings and why college racing and the USST was a fleeting thought. When you have a national and local program that is based on exclusion rather than inclusion for the path to success more concerns rise. Promising athletes drop at critical developmental times because they see there is no way of moving forward based on the current criteria, again exclusion not inclusion, another flag. Yep Tiger gave a fleeting glance at college as a development approach, but it was how USST wanted it to be, not a real collaborative effort. Then it was dumped. Currently at the age of 18 or so those limited few have to make the decision of trying to make the USST or going to college. They really can’t have it both ways. The only sport in the US that is that cut and dry. Oh, Tiger had consultant come in to look at ways for improvement and they spoke with current USST members. Really not much came out of that. So, if you look at success and where we are currently, most organizations would say, time for a new philosophy, build depth, utilize all resources, fresh mindset, etc, etc. Until we come to grips with the real problems and utilize a broad spectrum or resources and view that collegiate racing might offer some huge benefits we will continue to be in this downward spiral. Success is not having more and more individuals going on their own outside of the USST. Success is not having to dump the mens SL program on the WC level. Success is not having a few phenoms carrying the load for a not so successful national program.

  11. This is a great discussion and one that needs to continue. One theme Dan raises is doing it the American way vs. the European way. We have institutions that provide funding and incredible athletic resources for athletes, are unique to the US and are critical to keeping kids in our sport. Have you ever taken a look at an Eastern Regional FIS start list? There wouldn’t be much for the Academy kids to gain by racing if those college guys weren’t there. The College circuit is an asset that we alone have access to in the US. It is quite healthy but certainly could be healthier in the West in particular. But what is clear is without the college circuit it is difficult keeping kids and families committed to racing past U14/16. Since the US has never truly embraced the college circuit we really have no idea what it might be able to produce because we have no idea how many top quality athletes might stay in our sport and not deflect to another. How is it a bad idea to use college funds to bridge an athlete to being physically and mentally ready to compete on a larger stage? What is wrong with keeping more kids chasing the dream past junior racing? Why are these even questions that need to be asked? Perhaps it is a systemic issue as Joe Galanes indicates in his comment to Roo Harris’s letter to the SR editor, “US Ski Team Myopia” last weekend about the misplaced focus of US NGB’s? Who knows, but ther is something preventing seemingly intelligent and well meaning folks in Park City from adopting a remotely welcoming and encouraging tone toward the college path. Fun discussion….I hope it doesn’t just die out like it usually does.

  12. I love the college circuit and frequently encourage my athletes to race at the NCAA or USCSA level. However, one of the main problems with the current NCAA system as many of those athletes have to take one, two, and even three PG years (which is very expensive) in order to have the point profile to race at the Division I level, which is nuts and defeats the entire purpose of utilizing the college circuit as a development tool for the USST. College athletics is generally designed for athletes ages 18-22, but in NCAA skiing we often have freshmen that should be juniors, seniors, and even graduate students. As a result, when they come out of college the ship has most likely sailed for them to compete for the USST. Just look at other major individual NCAA sports like golf and tennis, those athletes are turning pro when they’re 21-22 years of age, and the USST probably can’t invest in a 24 or 25 year old athletes.

    • If the average age of the World Cup top 30 is near 30 for men and 26 or so for women, why has an athlete’s ship necessarily sailed by age 24? The point is well taken but its not entirely accurate particularly on the age issue or in how college can and is being used. Look at Ali Nullmeyer at Midd….she’s not 24 but she’s racing WC and College. Our current USSS CEO won the NCAA SL before heading back to the national team and there are many other stories. Remember Rob Cone at Midd? Heck, that guy was on and off the Team an in and out of Midd if I recall, and he is still winning Pro Races and scoring in Nor Ams as a weekend skier from his job in Boston. Tell any eastern academy kid …and they all look up to this guy… that he wasn’t worth “developing” beyond college and they’ll laugh at you…..And we can all go on and on with examples. College is not THE path or the preferred path to your point, but it can at least be embraced and supported as a path and as an important part of the development ecosystem. I’m not sure working a full time job in Beantown is a viable path but that example does point out that we should be more open minded and American inner approach to make sure our best athletes remain engaged.

  13. Dan, I agree with your thesis but Chad Fleischer’s point nails the statistical conundrum. NCAA skiing is already a top WC feeder program just not for our country. The Euro and Canadian development programs are so strong they take most of the dwindling number of NCAA scholarships. Winning teams focused on recruiting Americans occasionally appear but most top NCAA programs are like Euro or Canadian WC B teams.

    The question for USSS is since NCAA is obviously already a prime feeder for top WC talent, how can our National development programs produce a large enough pipeline of athletes who want their cake and eat it too (WC + Education) to take most of the scholarships? Tall order with the endless stream of foreign talent taking most of the NCAA spots then on to WC – Haugen, Rivas, Remme, St. Germaine, Read, Ketterer, they just keep coming.

  14. Again the NCAA is designed for those “student-athletes” in the 18-22 age group in all sports not just ski racing. In order for the NCAA to be a development system for the USST, then racers should be coming directly out of high school from either their club or academy program and not these endless and expensive PG programs. If you’re going the PG way then skip the NCAA circuit and focus on the Nor-Ams and full-time FIS racing. That’s why we have independent teams like Redneck Racing! So now you’re basically a semi-pro more like a minor league baseball player or golf mini-tour player trying to crack into the big time. However, you can’t go back and play in college. Once you sign onto the sponsorship and other income sources according to NCAA rules you can no longer compete in college. It’s crazy that a professional ski racer like AJ Ginnis raced for Dartmouth this past season. If a football or basketball player even collects $1 in income they are immediately disqualified from NCAA competition.

  15. Thanks for the fantastic and accurate article Dan. And also, thanks Chad and Chan, and those that will undoubtedly follow, for your well thought out, and accurate comments.

  16. A lot of those NCAA rules are changing and started at least a year ago. It will be curious to see where it goes.

  17. Another short set of comments:
    On one hand, I believe that there are more American skiers coming into NCAA teams. I also believe that the presence of international skiers raises the level that everyone needs to ski to and that this is generally a good thing all of the collegiate skiers and the US Development pathway.
    There are many sides to the discussion and I could certainly put some old “bad experiences” in that realm into the discussion. That said, I think it is good to have very good skiers skiing along skiers who are striving to become very good. Ultimately skiers are people much more than places, and to become “very good” they need to be an environment that brings them up to that level.
    NCAA skiing does have its own issues. First among many, having more teams would go a long way towards broadening the development platform. Why not Boise State? Why not other teams in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada? Minnesota, Wisconsin? There are strong Alpine and Nordic feeder systems in all of those regions.

    I noted elsewhere today, but I have not found any schedules posted for 2021 so I am not seeing anything indicating that Collegiate racers cannot participate in NorAm races as has been reported. I hope that they can.

  18. Simple answer is cost and lack of diversity. I know ski racing readers love spending crazy money on our sport, but the reality is when college Athletic Directors are looking to add a sport in order to meet Title IX criteria they want men and women, diversity among the student athletes, and a sport that reflects well among their student population and alumni support. Meaning they’re probably not interested in attracting only affluent Caucasian student-athletes from expensive ski academy programs. That’s why sports like college lacrosse are growing as the diversity among those athletes is also growing and it’s no longer a private school sport. We only have ourselves to blame.

  19. Dan- Fantastic editorial.

    It is unfortunate that this debate still exists.

    The USST is giving the current round of lip service to College skiing because Dartmouth and Denver (coached by Peter Dodge and Andy Leroy respectively) continue to demonstrate that it works. Curiously and most importantly, it has worked with greater success for other nations. It has worked so well for the Norwegians and Canadians, among others, that they are actively using these programs as feeder systems for their financially strapped development programs. I find it the rhetoric about the international kids exploiting our college system amusing- the Americans are rejecting their offers! Year after year, top talent is offered scholarships and admittance to these two Universities and American kids say, “No Thanks!”. The success that Peter and Andy have despite the top American talent rejecting them year after year is astounding. Imagine if that system was embraced!

    College skiing is now, and has been for some time, a far more competitive environment than the USST development system (“C” team or “D” team circuit). The “contenders” on the College circuit are higher-level national team caliber- Top 30-100 in the world-ready to start competing on the World Cup Circuit. Which means, when its time to start the college recruiting game, American Colleges are competing with the National team. Let me repeat that- Peter and Andy compete with the USST for athletes. American kids know all too well that once USST offers a spot and it is turned down, that door will not be opened again by the USST. The door might open, but the athlete has to effectively “kick it down” by meeting objective “B” team criteria, which is effectively unattainable if you are outside the USST pipeline and race schedule and over the age of 22.

    Most American skiers believe that college skiing is not the place for them if they want to have a ski career- The reason is simple: That is what the USST has told them. That is what they explicitly told me. And that continues to be the message. Maybe not in public. Maybe not in print. But that is the message. That is why no thought is given to college schedules when the Noram calendar is prepared. College skiing is regarded as a nuisance the USST must pay lip service to from time to time that occasionally produces surprise result.

    The financial implications are important to consider as well – A scholarship and ski team placement at a division one school can be worth up to 80-100k a year. Part time attendance while on the USST at any college requires a level of financial security that very few have.

    I can only say that I am grateful my father didn’t allow me to make the decision on my own….

  20. Great article Dan. It’s complicated. If anything, this will force all parties to continue the dialogue and work toward a common goal. Our development pipeline needs the collegiate segment if we are to be successful long term. Even the “Team” aspect alone would help our current athletes. No one path of development can produce a strong National Team – the Europeans have proven this by taking advantage of “our” collegiate system. It might produce a small number of World Cup athletes, but it’s producing them nonetheless. The complicated part is getting the NCAA, all D1 schools that have ski teams, and our National Team on the same page. As much as I love my Euro friends, I’m in agreement with Chad – this part of the development pipeline belongs to us and we’re not taking advantage of it. A majority of spots and scholarships should go to American’s. Our Ski Clubs and Academies are excellent, but they are not for everyone. Besides, they can’t match the athletic facilities and amenities at modern D1 schools today. Even as a D1 athlete at CU back in the day, I became a stronger and more mature athlete competing in both collegiate and FIS races. As I noticed in the World Cup and Europa Cup races five years ago with the ladies, the circuits are even tougher today. We need to look at every avenue we can to maximize the development of our young ski racers. If collegiate ski racing is only one small path, it should be utilized if at all possible.

  21. Honestly, these NCAA athletes should be thankful. My companies sponsored/supplied dozens of young ski racers. I had the great pleasure of seeing several go on to the US ski team and most all others to universities like Dartmouth, Harvard, Middlebury, Williams, DU, CU, New Mexico etc…. When they look back I am certain almost all would be happy they chose to or were “forced” to go to college and not race on the US ski team. Most all enjoyed their NCAA/College experience, got an education, gained the social benefits and many still raced and were positioned for a career and success. Unless you are a rare case like a Vonn, Miller, Shiffrin your US Team career often leaves you broken, physically, financially and emotionally with few prospects for a successful post race career without an education. Many even missed out on a proper education while a junior.

    Our USST system is broken, has been for as long as I can remember. The priorities are all in the wrong place. The organization is poorly run, managed and marketed. Editorials like Dan’s pop up every few years, harp on the same issues and nothing ever changes.

    As long as the ski racing world hangs onto the archaic World Cup and National Team concept these problems will remain, especially here in the US and all the commentary and bickering won’t change a thing.

    • That’s right! I’ll retract my previous comment and leave with a new mantra:

      Keep College Racing Great!…leave USSA(s) out of it!

  22. I dont understand. The CEO of NGB raced dartmouth, won NCAA in 1983 in SL, 3rd in GS, and then goes on the US Ski Team in competes world cups and olympics 1984 and 1988. So, why is he turning his back to proven (again) own´s pathway to success in WC career ? why is he turning his back to his own successful pathway, which most europeans are so jealous of and wish they had too ? it makes absolutely no sense. something else is at play.

    Scheduling wise, it´s called for what has been done in NHL, NFL, etc: ask any OR department to sort it out in any of those collegiate programs, they´ll come up with an optimal schedule for all… it is possible, but indeed with very hard work and dedication…. and ,yes, perhaps too the NCAA schedule could adapt to Norams and ECs and WCs…

    unbelievable.. The europeans come over to ski it out and be ready for the big game, while the US/CA athletes are killed off. it´s simply ludicrous.

  23. This comment … “[W]e are at risk of shrinking, rather than growing our sport, by taking this approach.” … says it all.

    Our goal should be to get more people into skiing and ski racing. Period.

    Grow the pie!

    The value of skiing and ski racing lies in the people engaging in it and enjoying it as sport and recreation. And if we win Podiums, great. But really it’s about getting more people out skiing and building their passions for skiing.

    What drives Shiffrin? Her passion for skiing … not USST investments … which is your point.

    Thank you, Dan.

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