The overarching goal of building world-class ski programs — both elite college skiing and U.S. national teams — is to promote the development and success of our hard-working and ambitious American athletes. Strengthening and supporting our college programs benefit the development of our national teams. Or so one would think.

The recent influx of media coverage highlighting the friction between the two programs has brought voice to many of the challenges I have faced, both as an elite college skier and a member of the U.S. Ski Team. The challenges are nuanced and go far beyond the most recent area of conflict – scheduling for NorAms and the NCAAs.

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The crux of the issue, simply put, is that the U.S. Ski Team does not effectively or fully support non-national team athletes, especially women athletes. To distill the matter even further: the U.S. Ski Team’s system and infrastructure is broken.

Having already gone down all clear routes for resolution myself — I’ve contacted Tiger Shaw and the U.S. Ski Team many times over many years and experienced their fruitless ends — I feel a moral imperative to bring voice to my experience, which I know parallels that of many of my fellow athletes. 

The only way to really understand and start to address the nonsensical lack of collaboration between those on — and not on — the national team is to ask the athletes themselves on both sides and promote their dialogue as a means of fostering needed change:

  • Ask Paula Moltzan, who the ski tram credits as an NCAA/national team success story, how much help she received from the team after she was kicked off and had to claw her way back on tooth and nail.
  • Ask Abi Jewett why she got kicked off the team mid-season for wanting to ski for Dartmouth.
  • Ask non-national team athletes, such as Lila Lipanja and Storm Klomhaus, how much help they received from the U.S. Ski Team when they went to World Cup events as independent athletes representing the United States.

It should also be noted that these are all female athletes. This problem exists for men, as well, but is more pronounced for women.

One major part of the problem, as Peter Dodge points out, is the U.S. Ski Team criteria makes it nearly impossible for college-age athletes who have the potential to break onto the World Cup to gain a spot on the team — or back on the team. The U.S. Ski Team ardently claims that their challenging criteria is critical because they have to be hyper-focused on athletes “moving through their pipeline on (the) performance curve that leads to top-10s in World Cups,” and only the athletes that meet these criteria are worthy of support. However, if you look at recent World Cup results, this performance curve clearly isn’t working.

The use of “discretion” in naming athletes to the team is equally dubious. Less than half of the female athletes named to the A and B teams met objective criteria. The other half were allotted discretionary spots. If commitment to the performance curve was indeed paramount, the team itself would be much smaller. Instead of being a foundation for progression, the criteria are used as a narrative to gloss over unwritten and capricious decision-making. So, again, we see a dichotomy in what is being said and what is actually happening.

It’s unproductive and inefficient to have so many conflicting agendas circulating. I experienced this personally when I tried to join the U.S. Ski Team for training this fall. Some national team coaches wanted to help me and offered training while other coaches and staff were doing everything in their power to prevent me from succeeding, including barring me from training, hampering access to equipment, and rescinding promised opportunities.

It was not only extremely demoralizing, but also utterly exhausting to navigate. This frustration was exacerbated by the fact that many of my male counterparts following parallel paths were given many more opportunities to work with the national team that I and other female athletes were denied.

The solution only becomes clear if we as a nation take a step back and realize we’re all working towards the same goal. We need to help each other instead of getting in each other’s way and actively preventing success. Increased transparency and candid communication would be a good starting point.

Additionally (and the impetus for this and so many other commentaries), the U.S. Ski Team needs to realize that any college athlete (or non-national team member) looking to break onto the World Cup is just as, if not more, committed to achieving top 10s and just as hardworking as any U.S. Ski Team member. I can assure you, having experienced both, it is much, much harder to do it as a collegiate athlete.

The U.S. Ski Team should recognize the advantage of nurturing both national and non-national team athletes in a more collaborative and synergistic manner. I believe this will lead to a much deeper and successful performance as a nation, and I look forward to that future.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Best of luck to former NYSSRA and Holimont racer Tricia Mangan. U.S. Ski Racing is lucky to have you. Ski fast and we’ll see you back on the World Cup!

  2. This is an important issue. At its core is this question: What IS the charter of the US ski team? What SHOULD it’s role be in enabling World Cup and Olympic athletes? We’ve seen over the years even Bode Miller wrestled with this issue — in a different way. Clearly it is more pronounced for women and NCAA skiers — a critical insight. Thank you for sharing this, Tricia. We need to keep this dialogue going.

  3. Eloquent, compelling, persuasive, and exceptionally well written. The facts, as stated, do speak for themselves, don’t they? Ski racing aside, if you truly love sport, how sad is it to read, once again, the narrative that the governing body of this particular sport is so seemingly clueless. And my heart goes put to those female athletes who with so much talent and drive cannot even get a reasonable toehold from Park City, in order to pursue their careers in the sport that they obviously are so passionate about.

  4. Very brave comments. I suspect money is the main obstacle. Top tier racers get promotional assistance so they can get planes etc. The balance of the funds are nowhere near enough. Skiing is irrelevant in North America except at Olympic time. Government funding would cure this problem but that is highly unlikely to happen in North America where most government assistance other than for the military, police, farming and the oil industry is seen as communism.

  5. Thanks for speaking up. The role of institutions is to provide a force for stability and continuity, and with a goal of “providing the right resources for athletes who are inspired to be the best in the world” all would seem well in the world of US Ski Racing. But as Tricia points out, US collegiate athletes are at a minimum invisible to the US Ski Team. This may not be entirely the fault of the US Ski Team Leadership, but they certainly don’t seem interested in leading any change here. As a matter of fact, their actions leaves one questioning what scares them so much that they quickly abandon their foundational goal of providing resources for those who are inspired to be the best in the world. Obvious dysfunction like this always boils down to leadership and culture. Could it be possible that some collegiate programs are actually positive influences in developing our athletes to be the best in the world? Could it be that the US Ski Team Leadership might have made a mistake in leaving a potential “best in the world” athlete off the US team? Of course both are true, but so what, perfection is a pursuit, not a reality. Enduring institutions are lead by special people who can create a culture tolerant of mistakes while never wavering from the mission. Is this lacking in the US Ski Team Leadership? Why is an Athlete speaking up about her first hand experiences with institutional dysfunction? Wouldn’t we all be more inspired to hear Tiger owning this and providing his thoughts on improving on his mission?

  6. The best individual / team sport in the World if your from the top WC European countries.

    Tragic, if you’re not in the Top 15 in the World for US WC Men and Women.

    Enjoy your collegiate career and then join an independent team with the financial backing that truly can make you best in the World. If not, realize that it’s not in the US Ski Teams model and never has been.

    All the best Tricia and thank you for your concise, well stated article.

  7. Well-written and insightful, Tricia! Your courage to speak up and have your voice heard – despite the risks – is inspiring!

    More generally, it seems like it’s time to have a broader athlete-center dialogue about how to treat female collegiate skiers differently, then follow up with some meaningful changes to age-based criteria, training schedules, and access. For example, I was really surprised to learn about the high percentage of “discretionary picks” – that seems like a symptom of a more political process & culture. I’m surprised that is accepted as “normal.” Also, hearing about the gap between “what was said” and “what is done” sounds like an organizational, training, and cultural issue that is complex but solvable – in my humble opioion.

    At any rate, thanks for speaking up … and good luck next season!

  8. Tricia Mangan`s experience as a developing ski racer has given her some valuable insights. These insights could be put to use to advance the success of US ski racers. The US Ski Team is essentially engaged in a Project to develop successful racers. So, the fundamentals of Project Management can be applied to get the best outcome. At least two of Mangan`s criticisms of the USST Project Management are classic project management mistakes, according to Project Management International teachings. First mistake, USST is not always consistently following their procedural requirements and acceptance criteria in the racer selection process. Second mistake, game playing by coaches is too prominent in the process. both these mistakes are characteristic of more dysfunctional project management process and less success outcomes. Plus statistically, combining USST and NCAA racers into a larger cohort should increase the probability of finding elite athletes in that cohort. Lets hope that someone takes action in order to improve the project management.

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