The U.S. Ski Team’s favorite mantra in recent years is to achieve “Best in the World” status, which is a noble pursuit, and in many ways we are approaching that goal. Growing up, I followed international skiing on network broadcasts such as “Wide World of Sports” commentated by legendary U.S. Ski Team coach Bob Beattie.
I always admired Bob Beattie for his passion for ski racing and for his many efforts to make the sport more accessible. Beattie’s founding of the World Pro Ski Tour in the late 1960s brought the sport to ski resorts and living rooms around the U.S. My own interest in ski racing took off after watching a professional ski race in upstate New York. I was absolutely hooked by the high speeds and racers in colorful padded sweaters going head-to-head over the pro jumps.
Feed the pipeline with hunger.
We all know our numbers need to grow within the USSA alpine development pipeline. The U.S. women’s soccer team has found success on the World Cup through the foundation of tens of thousands of youth players involved in leagues around the country. But soccer doesn’t cost families up to $50,000 per year. In reality, only a very small percentage of skiing families can afford to own a home in a resort town or send their children to a ski academy program.
The good news is that ski racers around the globe are rising to the international stage without breaking the bank. Phil and Steve Mahre grew up training on a dimly lighted trail at White Pass Ski Area in Washington, and have written about getting race suits only when they made the U.S. Ski Team.
As a longtime junior coach, I see success coming not from dollars, but from drive.
Be hungry. When the snow starts falling, strive to be the first racer on the mountain to freeski dozens of runs, master drills, and run gates. If you love it, you’re more likely to ski to your potential.
Points are just numbers.
Again, as a coach, I’ve never been able to understand our obsession with points. I’m constantly hearing from racers, coaches, and parents the importance of USSA or FIS points: “Gee, coach, I really need to attend a ski academy to get my points down;” or, from parents, “Yeah we need to send our kids to more races so they can improve their point profile.”
What other sport places so much emphasis on a point system? “Sorry Tom, despite winning the state football championship, we can’t offer you a scholarship to State U.” Under such a system, late-round draft pick and NFL star Tom Brady may have washed out of football years ago.
Sound familiar to those who want to race in college? While USSA and FIS points are obviously important for seeding and moving up the development ladder, I don’t believe they should be the sole focus. My philosophy has always been to develop sound fundamentals along with fast skiing, and the points will eventually take care of themselves. If you’re good, the USSA development system will eventually find you.
It’s not the big that beat the small, but the fast that beat the slow.
Whether you’re a FIS, USSA, or a high school racer, focus your efforts on becoming the fastest ski racer you can. We have some great coaches at grassroots club programs around the country. Many of our smaller ski areas offer night training after school and, despite global warming, modern snowmaking has extended the ski season nearly as long as the big resorts. This past season one of our local ski areas remained open for 139 days.
Can’t afford to attend an exotic summer race camp in Chile or New Zealand? Look for a regional ski area that opens early and operating late, such as Killington, Lutsen, A-Basin and Mammoth. Most of them offer discounted lift tickets during the early and late season.
Get started with one pair.
I advocate bringing back the “one pair of skis rule,” at least for the U10/U12 athletes. Examine a typical junior’s GS and slalom skis, and there’s really not that much difference in sidecut and length. A “one pair of skis rule” for our younger age groups would remove some of the financial anxiety for parents. This also fits in well with our Kombi and dual slalom events. As a coach, I don’t need racers on multiple pairs of skis to teach a good pole plant, stance, weighting, or line in the racecourse.
Accessibility is win-win.
I believe that affordable club ski racing should still be a significant development tool for athletes of all ages. I have a policy of never kicking someone off my training course. If a young skier or even an adult wants to run gates and learn to race, let’s give them every opportunity.
Mark Wolcott is a coach for the Hunt Hollow Race Team in Naples, N.Y. He grew up racing in upstate New York and New Hampshire and continues to race in masters events.