This in no way represents the US Ski Team’s position, this is my opinion and my personal experience from years of competing in this sport, one of six US male athletes to be in the top-10 this past year. To be clear, I was not asked to write anything—I love this sport and would like to share my limited experience and advice. This will be my ninth year with the ski team; I chose not to go to college. As a kid, my mind was set on racing World Cup and nothing was to get in the way of that…I had no idea what that path would look like, but I was 100% committed. For me, that meant temporarily sacrificing the pursuit of education. Ski racing has a small window of opportunity to achieve World Cup success, and college wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so my best option at the time was to ski race, and ski race only. Below, I will try and organize my thoughts in a constructive manner. If you know me personally you know I will be honest and real, and the truth hurts sometimes.
Ski racing is arguably one of the greatest sports to get involved with. The life skills that racers acquire can be achieved on any level and will last for the rest of their lives no matter how long they stay involved. As a ski racer, you develop a passion and gain a skill set to enjoy the sport of skiing for the rest of your life. If you’re reading this, you were or are personally involved with ski racing, so take a second to remember all the great memories that this sport has brought to you. Skiing with your parents, family, friends—I bet those memories are some of the greatest memories that you have. All of the long car rides to ski camps or races, the friends you made, the training sessions, the joys of pushing your limits, the improvement, the learning, the failures, the powder days, the races won or lost. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this sport from a grassroots perspective. For me personally, growing up and being a part of the Squaw Valley Ski Team was the greatest gift my parents gave me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a weekend warrior, a high school ski racer, a master, a hard corer, ski racing has impacted your life for the better, I promise you that.
I’d like to preface this by saying I do not believe that ski racing in college is a bad option, it will probably be the best time of your life. I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard. I’m not saying that you can’t race World Cup after college, I want to lay out the realities of this sport that make going to college and then becoming successful on the World Cup difficult. If you go to college, you will be making it harder on yourself. Is it possible to overcome? Yes.
Now, let’s get real. If you decide to pursue skiing to the highest level i.e.: World Cup, we need to change the conversation a little bit. From a good ol’ time of just going ski racing, to probably one of the most difficult sports to pursue.
This brings me to section 1- “Fast skiing is not fast skiing”.
Fast skiing at a soft UNI race in Big Sky Montana is not fast skiing at the World Cup at Adelboden. Those are two completely different sports, they’re not even comparable course sets, snow surface, and level of competition. I cannot state this enough, If you think that winning a NorAm will translate to winning World Cups you’re delusional. Is it a step in the right direction? 100%, but they don’t translate directly. What US clubs, coaches, parents, athletes, and fans don’t seem to grasp is how difficult World Cup races actually are. The surfaces are constantly the hardest things you will be subjected to ski on, it beats your body down. The difficulty of these hills are nothing you have experienced, mix that with this insane level of competition that every year becomes more and more tight. It’s not like five guys at a NorAm pushing for the win, there’s 60 of those guys at a World Cup pushing, and those 60 World Cup guys would dominate NorAms. We seem to forget in the US that there’s people out there in other countries pouring everything into this sport, even pouring everything into a single discipline. The time acquired on those tracks and hills is invaluable.It takes years to gain that experience to become successful. Now imagine racing every weekend in high stress situations where one mistake is the difference between top-10, 40th, or your health. The mental breakdown you experience racing World Cup throughout a season is something that takes time to get used to. Managing emotions, energy, stress, and physical volume through a year to be successful on the weekend is so underrated and misunderstood. World Cup ski racing is flat-out full-throttle every time you push out of the start. And what about your equipment? How on earth do you expect to beat men and women that have factory service and the best equipment possible every weekend when you’re over in the corner tuning your skis with a dull file. I bet you don’t even know what your boot board measures out to, what your canting is, how about your ramp angles, what kind of plastic are you running? Do you even know what model of skis you’re getting, or how you like your skis tuned? Where do you set your plates? Where do you set the binding on that plate? Most US Ski Racers are amateurs. It isn’t entirely your fault. It is your fault because you should have recognized this setback and done something to improve, learn, and adapt to be successful. But it’s not your fault because no one talks about or understands these tiny details that have a significant impact on your results in this country. I don’t know where to point the finger on that one, but it’s a shame we’ve lost a lot of great athletes because they couldn’t acquire an adequate setup to be successful. Do you think Hirscher just showed up to the Atomic factory and they gave him a pair of boots and some skis a high five and said go get it? No chance, Hirscher was out there every day testing to find hundredths of seconds, blowing through 60 pairs of boots a year, developing the skis you probably race on now. I’m not saying it’s impossible. There’s a lot of details in this sport that get neglected in this country. If you ever get the chance to go watch a World Cup, go stand on the side of the hill and tell me it’s comparable to NCAA Championships…
This brings us to section 2, “Attitude”.
In case you didn’t notice the base of financial support for this sport is small, but what we receive is incredible, and to sell the people that contribute to the USST short is just plain ignorant. I’ve attended many fundraising events and the people that consistently pull out their wallets and spend enormous amounts of money to support ski racers are some of the most generous and incredible people on earth. Without them, nobody in the US would have any kind of opportunity to ski race. So this bashing on the USST needs to stop. I’m the biggest critic of the Team, but I have to give it to the USST, there’s been a substantial amount of change in the organization for the better in the past three years. Are things perfect? No chance, but at least there’s movement in a positive direction. This is why attitude is so important. The Team doesn’t owe you anything, ski racing isn’t the only sport that the USST supports. Moguls, aerials, freeski ski and snowboard, cross-country, snowboard-crossare all under the same roof. They attain a certain amount of funding and have the hard choice of how to allocate those resources. If you’re under the assumption that every elite ski racer deserves support, then define “elite”. It’s called criteria. I’m not saying that going to college and then going to race World Cups isn’t possible. I’m just saying that if you chose the college path, your position becomes more difficult, and YOU made that decision. You’ve made your bed, now lay in it. Own that opportunity, be the best student and ski racer possible—no one’s talking down on that choice. Maybe you weren’t at the level needed to make the Team and school was your only option. You matured physically and mentally and your ski racing improved, but if it improved so much why aren’t you dominating NorAms, US Nationals, or sneaking into the top 30 at World Cups? Because it’s difficult, and you have to do better, plain and simple. How do you do that? I don’t know, figure it out. If you weren’t able to overcome those obstacles, either accept it, or do something about it. Complaining about it isn’t helping you or the sport, I can guarantee you that. If you’re so good then prove it, no one is stopping you from skiing fast except yourself, and somehow, that is a hard pill to swallow in US skiing. This hand-holding and ego-stroking culture we’ve developed in ski racing is ludicrous. The idea that everyone deserves a chance is just not true, 30 people get World Cup points, not 100. Just because you believe you’re the chosen one for World Cup success doesn’t mean you’ll make it. You have to prove it. The clock does not lie. Never has, never will. Your decisions will be what determines your future in this sport. If you really want to race World Cup no one is standing in your way! The clubs and coaches across this country that are developing this “everyone gets a trophy” attitude is disappointing. We should be developing self confidence and accountability in all athletes. Letting athletes make decisions for themselves and helping to “gradually guide” and not “steer” athletes in a certain direction. You gain confidence from making your own decisions and seeing them through, successful or not. We’re so scared of failure as a skiing culture, but it’s the most important tool in life. Win or lose, learn something, and move forward. The belief that when you make the Team, the coaches and staff will give you this beautiful clear path to success is a fallacy. Ski coaches are not wizards—they’re ski coaches. They’re human beings, they have their own biases, beliefs, and experiences in the sport. If you believe that doing everything the coach tells you to do will translate to a crystal globe, then you’ve already lost the race. You have to have humility and self reflection to dig deep into your character to find what truly is holding you back, then become resourceful and make change. It takes patience and commitment to see your decisions through, it’s not an overnight process and I guarantee you it doesn’t get easier. This sport is hard if you haven’t realized. It’s not fair, but if you gain control of what you can control the results will start to come.
So your goal is to race World Cup and be competitive on a global scale. You didn’t make the USST and went to a college team to hone your skiing and get some more tools for your tool box. Let’s say you get to be the fastest NCAA athlete, you’re dominating NorAms and you win the title. The following season you have your own World Cup spot, nobody’s taking that away from you. You then get one season to prove yourself on the World Cup. So then if “fast skiing is fast skiing” you’d be scoring points every weekend and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But it’s not, so now we have to have this conversation. Now, you have a choice: complain about how the Ski Team is holding you back or take that opportunity and make the best of it. You either perform or you don’t, plain and simple. I agree it takes time to become successful on the World Cup, and bridging the gap from NorAm to the World Cup in one season is difficult. So what are the options? Do you develop your own program to bridge that gap, or are you trying to get the USST to do that for you? The Team is clearly focused on top results for better or worse, it is how it is given the current financial climate. They’re not trying to stop you…they have limited resources and they’re trying to do their best with what they have. To put blame on the Ski Team is not fair, they tried to bridge that gap for NCAA athletes. Uni team? How did that go? Not well. What about NCAA athletes that have been given the discretion spots, granted full access to the National Team, training, service, pace, and all the other opportunities, how many World Cup points came from that investment? I’m not saying that depth on a team doesn’t matter, I’m just saying we don’t have that depth right now, and it’s not the Ski Team’s fault. If there was even one athlete on the fringe sneaking into the top 30, I would make the argument to keep them involved with the USST. There’s not many. So quit beating around the bush, as an NCAA athlete what you’re asking for is a US Ski Team-funded program that bridges that Nor-am to World Cup gap. Where’s the money going to come from? How do you decide who makes it? Is it current or former NCAA athletes? How many can you fund? How do you structure it? Men and women? Who’s coaching it? Do you take funding away from athletes that are succeeding at the World Cup? How is this program going to become the magical path to top-10’s in the World Cup? It isn’t, because there is no magical path. So if you’re one of these people that believe the magical path exists and there’s so many people missing out on being the best in the world, then do something about it…make your own team and prove everyone wrong, please.
This all may seem insensitive, but these are the realities of the sport. Ski racing is objective. You’re racing against a clock. Writing articles upon articles bashing on the USST and Tiger Shaw aren’t productive for our sport. I have extremely high expectations for the future of US ski racing. If you are ranked top-15 in any discipline in the US, men or women, you are a role model for future generations whether you know it or not. So please take that responsibility seriously. I know you all have a bunch of passion for this sport and you care a lot, I’ve seen it myself. I’m honestly not trying to sell you short as NCAA athletes…I want you to succeed more than anything, more than myself. I just don’t know if you realize the true realities of World Cup racing and how difficult it is to breakthrough from your current position. It’s not impossible, people have done it. If you feel so passionately about it, stop complaining, be a leader, and forge your own path.
— Bryce Bennett
U.S. Ski Team
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