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.
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.