Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be…Ski Racers
That’s the song, with the modified lyrics, that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks. Why’s that, you ask? Let me explain.
Unlike many of my ski racing peers whose children are now racing for Vail, attending ski academies, skiing in college, or even pursuing careers beyond our sport, I got married and had children pretty late in the game. My wife grew up skiing and is a competent skier (kind of a prerequisite for my marrying her), our daughters are now 6 and 4, and we’ve had them on skis for several years now and they love it. And there is nothing that brings me more joy than skiing with them.
It was pretty much assumed by both my wife and me that we would be a “skiing family,” meaning that skiing would be a big part of our lives (as opposed to being a “family who skis,” meaning a few trips up the to mountains each winter). But ski racing? Of course, I’ve thought about it from day one because our sport has been such a big part of my life, first as an athlete and now in my career. I’ve often asked myself how I would feel about having my daughters become ski racers, but I never came up with a definitive answer. Recent events, however, have required me to ask this question anew.
For the past few years, we’ve been skiing at a little area in Truckee called Tahoe-Donner; very family friendly, lots of beginner terrain for our daughters and, best of all, it’s cheap (has anyone else noticed that skiing is REALLY expensive?!?). ! I just couldn’t justify spending $85 for a ticket to ski a few runs on the bunny slope at Squaw with my kids. Of course, my wife and I weren’t too thrilled with the terrain when we went out to ski by ourselves, but we figured a few years there would be best for our daughters. But the last day of last season, we skied Sugar Bowl, a great area that is also very family friendly (it’s owned by the Hellmans of Stratton Mountain fame) and, as our girls were becoming competent little skiers, we realized that we just couldn’t go back to Tahoe-Donner.
So, fine, we would move up to a more challenging mountain and continue to enjoy skiing as a family. But here’s where things started to get a bit dicey. We decided to sign our girls up for the Sugar Bowl Ski Team Mini/Mighty Mites program (thanks Bill Hudson!). Having done some work with the SBST, I knew the coaches pretty well and was confident that it would be a fun experience for our girls. What really got me going was when they tried on the little team jackets and wore their team hoodies around our house. I have to say that I got pretty misty eyed. My girls know that I was a ski racer back in the day and I’m sure they feel my passion and excitement for skiing now. And, to my surprise, my wife was really excited about the whole thing (little does she know what might lie ahead).
I realize that signing up for Mini/Mighty Mites doesn’t commit our girls or our family to a life of ski racing, but it is a slippery slope (pun realized). The girls will have great fun, they already get a kick out of running courses that we’ve come across at Sugar Bowl, and I’m sure they’ll want to continue with the program in the future. In addition, my wife and I will enjoy building a community of parent skiers, plus we’ll get to ski alone together for the first time in years while our girls are out with the team.
That vision of becoming a “ski racing family” has a real appeal to me given the wonderful experiences I had as a racer, first at Mad River Glen (“Ski it if you can”), then at Burke, Middlebury, and CU. Being outdoors, having fun, learning how to set and achieve goals and overcome challenges, opportunities for travel, and, of course, developing a love of a lifetime sport are all experiences that I want my daughters to have. As for greater aspirations, given my own racing experience, the limits of our DNA, and my professional work, I realize that the chances of either becoming the next Lindsey or Julia are pretty slim.
At the same time, I also know the commitment that is required of both young people and their parents. It can mean giving up a relatively normal life where you live. It can involve a lot of time driving to and from the mountains (and the drive to Tahoe just plain stinks!). It may mean, at some point, deciding whether to move to the mountains or send our girls to a ski academy (at my Burke graduation, my mother told Warren Witherell that “I may have lost a son, but gained a person.” I’m not sure that was a compliment or an indictment). There’s also the worry that I will ignore everything I’ve ever written about how to be a good ski racing parent and become one of those crazy parents you see at races. And, of course, ski racing is ungodly expensive!
I realize that I’m writing to a fairly biased audience, so I’m not going to get entirely objective feedback on where our future should lie. If you’re visiting skiracing.com, the chances are that your children are involved in the sport at some level. But my guess is that those of you who are already “in the game” as ski racing parents asked these same questions and experienced the same conflicted feelings as I do now. And I’m sure there are many parents at the same juncture as we are.
I guess we will do what most parents do. We’ll look to our daughters to see where their dreams lie and let them tell us what direction they want to go. And then, again like most parents, we’ll do everything we can to support them. And, as I noted in a previous article, if our girls are going to get serious about a sport, ski racing has a whole lot more attraction than, say, soccer, where you have to visit awful places and sit around a lot, or gymnastics, where injuries are a certainty. At least my wife and I can have fun skiing between our girls’ race runs.
I’ll keep you posted.
About Dr. Jim Taylor
Dr. Jim Taylor knows
the psychology of ski racing! He competed internationally for Burke
Mtn. Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. For
the past 25 years, Jim has worked with many of America's leading junior
race programs as well as World Cup competitors from many countries. He
is a clinical associate professor in the Sport&Performance
Psychology graduate program at the University of Denver. Jim is the
author of Prime Ski Racing: Triumph of the Racer's Mind and his latest
parenting book is Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need
to Hear From You.
Click here to go to Dr. Jim's archive.