Upon hearing about the new FIS Homologation at Buck Hill earlier this Summer, I was very excited about the opportunities it would present. More opportunities for U19s to compete locally at a high level, a 6-run race day, keeping athletes in the sport, night FIS racing, FIS parallel events, and the list goes on. It’s already creating a buzz in the Twin Cities racing community. One of the most important benefits is the continuation of the Chuck Stone Memorial race, held annually for decades on December 23rd. It is named for Buck Hill’s founder. With the January 1st start date for U.S. Ski & Snowboard (USSSB) races this year, the FIS homologation of “Milk Run” will preserve the Chuck Stone race.
The race has long been a celebration. A homecoming for Buck Hill’s alumni from college, or current U.S. Ski Team members home for the holidays. The same goes for college athletes from other local programs. It has drawn attendance from athletes across the Central Division. It has been a way for local U16s to cut their teeth against older athletes, and establish a point profile in slalom with the benefit of competing against the older athletes returning home. That was, until USSSB deemed the venue, and therefore the race, as sub-standard.
The USSSB points system is complex. As a coach, other than explaining the ins and outs, and how to lower one’s points, I basically steer clear of going into a deep dive with athletes. What if I told you that racing in the Chuck Stone would negatively impact your point profile? As a sub-standard race, this is exactly what has happened. You see, a sub-standard race carries with it a minimum race penalty of 75.00 points. So when Buck Hill alum Isaiah Nelson returns home to compete in the Chuck Stone, it presents a conundrum for the race organizers. Of course everyone wants to watch Isaiah compete. An aspiring U16 athlete wants to see how he stacks up against a U.S. Ski Team member. How cool would that be? In 2019, this did happen. Isaiah did race. As expected he won, narrowly beating NCAA D1 athlete Tommy Anderson, another Buck Hill alum. Isaiah was the low point holder in the race, and with other high level and college athletes home for the holidays, his win would have earned him a 58 point result. Meaningless to Isaiah’s point profile, but having him and Tommy in the race competing for the Chuck Stone trophy helped to create the calculated 58 point penalty. The race went into USSSB’s points system, and the venue was recognized as sub-standard. This changes Isaiah’s 58 point result to a 75 point result, an increase of 17 points. This won’t affect Isaiah much, but now his presence at the race has actually negatively impacted the other 66 finishers. They start their season off with a point profile 17 points higher than where it should be. Throughout the season, those athletes compete in other events across Minnesota and the Central Division, spreading their penalized points in every start, therefore dramatically raising point profiles across the division. The 2019 Chuck Stone was 1 of 4 penalized sub standard races in MN last year. Coincidentally, those were the only 4 penalized sub standard slalom races in the entire country last season. The Chuck Stone used to be the race that kept Central slalom points on a competitive level across the country. What to ask of an Isaiah Nelson now? Race and contribute to falsely high point profiles of the other athletes? Don’t race and therefore not defend his name on the trophy?
Let’s look now to this year, the newly homologated 3 run FIS race. Like every FIS race held in the US, there is also a calculated and scored USSSB race as well. The USSSB point penalty usually comes out ~3 points lower than the FIS penalty due to a 3 point category adder for the FIS race. Buck Hill hopes to generate a 64 point FIS penalty at this year’s race, the minimum for a ENL category race. The USSSB penalty however…that still gets the sub standard slap in the face of 75. If you’re not confused yet, get ready. Because the race will be an ENL, it actually receives a 13 point category adder vs the standard 3 for a FIS race. This means that if the race organizers can generate a 64 point FIS penalty, the calculated USSSB penalty would come out to somewhere around 51. Great right?? The U19s can share those points with local U16s after the January 1st start date! Nope. A winning FIS Penalty of 64, generated by a calculated USSSB penalty of ~51, would award the race winner a 75 point USSSB result, negatively penalizing every athlete by almost 25 points due to the sub standard USSSB classification. Again, these points will then spread to other slalom races throughout the division, all season long. Why would USSSB classify a FIS venue as sub standard?
Last May, the Rocky/Central Alpine Committee unanimously passed a proposal to USSSB that would help races like the Chuck Stone be on a more level playing field with races across the country. The proposal was then sent to a sub-committee which has since tabled it, citing the need for more data. Meanwhile, point profiles in the Central Division will go through another year of sub standard penalizations. USSSB did make one change this year. In a feel good move, they changed the language from “sub standard” to “Under Minimum Vertical” or UMV for short. Another one of those 3 letter acronyms that seem to be everywhere in alpine ski racing. This change did nothing to solve the problem however, and in a year where racing will be much more localized, Central athletes will continue to be penalized for racing on smaller venues. This has other negative impacts as well. When Central FIS athletes submit intents for out-of-division FIS races, they are ranked by USSSB points against their peers across the country to gain access. Start orders at Regional U16 Championships have become almost laughable, when a competitive Central athlete finds herself or himself scrolling towards the middle to back pages for their name. Forget having a chance of making it past that event to U16 Nationals.
The problem will organically solve itself, in fact it already has. Due to the recent years of sub standard races, only 2 U19 and younger male athletes in Central have under 75 slalom points (73, 74). Zero U19 and younger Women have under 75 slalom points. With no athletes under 75 points, USSSB will no longer need to worry about sub standard races in Central. Even if a rule change ever comes, it will take longer to return to competitive point profiles than the couple of years it’s taken to erase them.
Central athletes are hearty. The racing culture is strong and vibrant. Programs like Buck Hill continue to produce athletes that can compete at the highest levels. The athletes in Central do not view themselves as sub standard. So, as they have every year, they get excited for the annual Chuck Stone Memorial.
— Joe Paul
Joe serves on the Rocky/Central Alpine Committee. He also serves as the vice-chair and represents Rocky/Central on the National U16 and Older Development Committee, and represents Rocky/Central on the national Alpine Sport Committee.
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