Independent Racing 101
While the Redneck Racing folks are technically labeled as “independents”, that monicker is so far from reality. The truth is that we are surrounded by an incredible support system. From our family to coaches to teams who provide training, friends with whom we crash, sponsors and donors that provide financial support, and just about every other person involved in the ski world – without them, it would be impossible to navigate this sport alone.
That being said, there are some important steps to take and habits to develop in order to help cultivate the best atmosphere for being an independent ski racer while creating your own personal network of supporters. Here are some lessons I have learned along the way.
1. Find a Home
While being independent might mean you are traveling to races solo and figuring out almost every aspect of your career on your own, you will most likely still need a home base out of which to train and operate.
For many of us this means joining an academy for training throughout most of the season. I personally utilize GMVS, where I have trained for over two decades. In between my time there I have also trained with KMS, Middlebury College, and just about any other team with gates in the ground and a willingness to let me join in.
Figure out what is important to you, whether that be pace with other athletes, venue perks such as pitch and vertical, or proximity to where you live. Find the right balance and fit for you and then approach that program and see what kind of deal you can work out for the season.
2. Couch Surfing
If you are on the road alone or have a small team looking to make the sport as cost effective as possible, then I suggest utilizing a friend’s couch instead of booking an expensive hotel room for the night. The ski community is so small and tight knit that if you offer to make dinner or at least serve as a gracious guest, you won’t have to spend money on a hotel room nine times out of 10.
I traveled to Aspen for the opening NorAms last season with Redneck Racing, and we drove into town that day with no accommodations reserved for the trip. The GS race for that day was just wrapping up so we walked up to the finish line, went our separate ways and started talking to people. Not even an hour later we met back up at the car with three separate offers for places to crash.
When to do it: In well-known ski towns there are sure to be retired racers, friends still racing, or a distant connection from your past. In small communities there could be family homes that might welcome a new guest.
When not to do it: If traveling to a remote ski area where everyone has to get a hotel room, offers might be slimmer. People will be happy to share what they have but not at the expense of their own comfort. Don’t put them in an unsavory position. Be sure to cough up some dough when the time warrants.
3. Sell Yourself
Whether you are talking with ski companies, potential donors, or just friends who might lend you that couch for the night, never downplay your commitment to the sport or your level of passion. Not everyone is going to support your dream, but virtually no one will want to be involved if you don’t show them your sincerity. Don’t be afraid to get people involved. Those who help you out are doing so because they are interested in your journey. Invite them along the way by sending emails or making phone calls during the competition season. Try not to make every interaction one in which you are asking for something. My personal blog helps with that and even so I wish I had more of a personal relationship with all of those who have been involved in my process. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am, or even who I am, today.
4. Be Nice
As you travel more and more on your own you are going to start relying a lot on others. The key point here is having a support system. If you approach someone for training and they give you the green light, don’t just run the course and leave at the end of the session. Offer your help again and again and after the day is over and the course is pulled still don’t leave. Approach the coaches and talk with them about skiing, the weather, their summer plans, anything! The goal here is to be friendly and develop a rapport, and not just because you may need another day of training. You might, but be nice because they have just given you the most important thing in a ski racing career – gates to run.
Management is the most important thing about being an independent skier. You may have coaches who help you out, friends who lend couches, and family that supports you but for the large part of your career you will make the executive decisions. You will determine which race trips to go on, how and when to get there as well as where to stay. Your ski equipment setup is entirely up to you. What you train, how much and where is your choice. Everything must be evaluated and executed in the way that will further your development on the path you decide.
I have missed race entry and payment deadlines. I showed up for a flight at the wrong airport. It is a long learning curve, so be attentive and intelligent about your choices. If you are racing independently, then it has become your career. Treat it as such by paying attention to the details and managing yourself appropriately.
The road of the independent can be arduous, but we embark on this journey because we believe in our abilities enough to attain the goals we have set for ourselves. Success is not a given even if you manage all of the variables correctly. But if you walk this path with purpose, you will not be left with regret. And I believe that in itself is a worthy goal.