It has been an enlightening and productive few weeks as Ski Racing Media initiated and embraced a discussion about the relationship between college ski racing and U.S. Ski & Snowboard. We have been inspired by broad engagement from the community demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of visitors to SkiRacing.com. We also loved seeing the hundreds of comments, social media posts, and letters to the editor representing all sides of the conversation. I want to personally thank all of you who contributed to the discussion and the readers who logged on to read these stories. Keep it coming!
Going forward, Ski Racing Media will continue to use this model to explore essential ski racing topics that we hope will engage and interest our community. You, the reader, are a huge part of this formula. The more participation we receive from the community, the more robust the conversation will be.
Ski Racing is an independent publication. We will always aim to be fair and diligent in our reporting, and at the same time, we hope to bring forward issues relevant to our readers. Ski Racing intends to provide a productive space where many voices can be expressed from around the ski racing community. We cannot and should not be simply a newsletter for the U.S. Ski Team. Instead, Ski Racing will continue engaging important and sometimes-controversial issues in hopes that we as a community will coalesce around strategies and tactics. At the same time, we intend to celebrate the successes of teams and skiers at all levels.
Let’s get a couple things straight
It has been suggested that SRM favors its own internally generated content by timing our most impactful articles on top of letters to the editor. Most of our editorial scheduling is done weeks in advance, whereas letters are published not long after we receive them. We will generally feature our own internally generated content more prominently than letters to the editor, as do all media outlets that publish such letters. You don’t send in a letter to the editor of the New York Times and expect it to be featured on the front page.
That being said, we will always do our best to give airtime to a variety of perspectives, and we gave prominent placement to letters with a range of opinions on our home rotator, on social media, and in our email newsletter. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.
It has also been suggested that we removed comments made by people with dissenting viewpoints from social media and stories. That is untrue. Not a single comment has been removed during this process.
Having difficult discussions
Ski Racing Media’s independence will undoubtedly lead to uncomfortable moments from time to time. However, please make no mistake; we are passionate supporters of alpine ski racing. We absolutely want the sport to prosper. Our only bias is toward genuine progress. Anyone who shares that goal and can articulate his or her opinions in a thoughtful and respectful manner is offered a seat at our table anytime.
We believe North American ski racing needs a broad and deep community to prosper. The core and strength of that community is ski racing families. We intend to be a platform where that community can connect and address a range of topics.
As we advocate for an inclusive strategy, the last thing we intend is to disrespect those athletes at the top. We celebrate them and hope that by advocating for those on the fringe of the top 30, our motives are not misinterpreted.
Building a strategy
U.S. Ski & Snowboard says they are building a strategy around athletes ranked in the top 10, those who will compete for podiums. That is an awesome long-term goal. The only problem is, we have too few athletes who are currently on the statistical pathway to achieve that result. Therefore, by its very nature, we have to view our stated strategy as aspirational. Until we have more athletes on track to be in the top 10, why not be more inclusive? I can hear the argument against this already: “There isn’t enough funding.” My answer is, it doesn’t always have to be about funding. Just embracing athletes by giving them the opportunity. That is a huge step.
I have never suggested that a NorAm is equivalent to a World Cup. Of course, it is not. But, it is a stepping stone, one of many along a racer’s career. My argument has always been that NorAms should be a priority for the U.S. and Canada, and they should be scheduled well in advance, balancing the needs of all constituents as much as possible. Is this really controversial?
I believe my differences with U.S. Ski & Snowboard are nuanced. I have no argument with the Project 26 goals, but it’s all about how we get from here to there. Eating the whale in one bite seems imprudent. Is it in anyone’s interest to set standards so high that everyone just gives up or is named by discretion? This has been my position from the very beginning of Project 26. Here is a link to an email I sent to the Project 26 group in July of 2017. You will note my position has not changed.
Asking the question, which athletes can make the WC top 30 is very different from asking which athletes can make the top 10. Nuanced, but a critical difference. My argument is simply to take a multi-step approach, emphasizing a broad development pipeline. Once we have an abundance of athletes who are on that track, we can be more selective.
Even the WC top-30 75th percentile is challenging. The conclusion of the Leever Study was that the U.S. needed to do a far better job of developing more skilled athletes at a younger age. My associates and I also argued for supporting the highest performing athletes at the national level, at any age. We advocated for — and still believe — that we need to build a strategic bridge from our current reality to a future state we all agree on.
Back to college
Is college the most likely path to World Cup competition? No. The most likely path is the trajectory we published in the Leever Study. But until we have a stable cohort of world-class teenage athletes — which is a long way off — we need to support what we have in front of us. It’s true that college skiers are generally statistical outliers, but today that is true of U.S. ski racing more broadly.
I and many in the ski racing community advocate for an inclusive and egalitarian system of U.S. skiing. Egalitarian means equal opportunity, not equal treatment. We all know fair is not equal, and equal is not fair. Of course, a World Champion or someone ranked in the top 10 should get more resources than someone ranked in the top 20 or 50.
I understand it is an uphill battle for anyone to achieve World Cup success. It is also accurate to say collegiate skiing is an unlikely route, but it’s one of the possibilities. That has been proven and demonstrated many times over. Does that mean college skiing is perfect as currently configured? Of course not. There are weaknesses and problems in college skiing, many of which we can address.
It is time to abolish the age exemption and have eligibility the same as most other sports. This would favor U.S. athletes over Europeans who tend to enter college later. It would open more college scholarships to U.S. athletes, and it would disincentivize multiple PG years, thereby lowering cost. It would also give younger athletes time to physically mature in a critical, life-enhancing environment while gaining an education.
College venues and surface conditions should be much more consistent and appropriately challenging. If college programs really want to be in the development game, they will have to fund attendance at NorAms, and they should support off-season training sponsored by the national team.
We should more deeply explore how college racing could become a more effective development vehicle, but let’s first get the national team to accept the premise that college can be a viable pathway to the World Cup.
Saying the right thing and doing the right thing
To many of us, it didn’t come as a surprise when we heard the leader of our national governing body say he is “hyper-focused” on “frantic” athletes he can control. They would never suggest they had “control” over the great Bode Miller or Mikaela Shiffrin. The national system didn’t create these champions; it found them. Later, talented coaches crafted programs that empowered these athletes and allowed their greatness to inspire us and motivate the next generation of racers.
Tiger’s statements reaffirmed what we already know to be true, and thankfully, it provoked a healthy and productive conversation, one that we should have had a long time ago. I implore all of us to continue to collaborate and encourage innovation within USSS so the organization can be as responsive as possible to the majority of its constituents. Please continue to join together to inform USSS of these concerns. In return, all of us will end up contributing to the success of our U.S. Ski Team.
Over but not out
There are a myriad of issues that affect our success in ski racing. This has been one of them. Looking ahead, Ski Racing Media intends to cover a host of issues that impact our sport.
In August, we will dive into a development series. We will use the same approach as we did for the college series to highlight issues facing North American development. We will utilize data and expert opinions from inside ski racing, as well as other sports. As part of that series, Ski Racing will continue to engage the community in a comprehensive discussion. Hopefully, you will again enthusiastically join the conversation.
I truly hope we can raise the level of the discussion to be solutions-oriented and avoid the more personal elements of debate. I believe everyone has similar motives. Let’s make ski racing as successful and vibrant as we can.
While we are officially concluding our college series, we are not abandoning this issue. Readers can expect future reporting and follow-up stories in the weeks and months to come. I hope we’ve been able to shine a light on these issues, and I hope U.S. Ski & Snowboard will effect change in both tone and policy and fully embrace the potential of collegiate skiing.