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.  

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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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11 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

    Not sure if you are saying this seriously … but the points system only looks at your best scoring races, so a poor showing can never “negatively impact” you per se. It might hurt you relative to if the race weren’t categorized as sub-standard. That aside, the only other way is if you participate in that race at the cost of skipping another where you would have scored lower…poor points cannot “spread”, only good points can.

    • Hey Alex. You’re correct about that. The problem is that this race, and the other 3 sub standard races from last year were the lowest penalty races in the region (all 75.00 obviously). There are no other opportunities unless an athlete travels to another region within the division. The only race in the Central division lower than 75 last year was a 1 day of SL at Marquette which had a 71 point penalty. That is about 8 hours away from Minneapolis.

  2. Focus on the process, not the results!

    I’m willing to go on a limb here and suggest that it’s the parents who have more concern about this ‘point system’ and NOT the athletes. Put some sticks in the ground and race…that’s what it’s about — Having fun and racing! All the rest is a distraction from the process. Everyone experiences the same point system…and complaining about this is akin to sandbagging your golf score — cheating only thyself.

    Perfect the turn…not your ‘point profile’!

    • I think you miss the point that in fact, not everyone is experiencing the same point system. The original poster is not a parent, he is a coach that always points to the process and works for a club that does not focus on the results. However, he has thoughtfully articulated an issue with the current amalgamation of the system and that is something that the powers that be should take up rather than sitting on. The system is altered often and the point is a recent alteration has had unintended consequences for an entire region of athletes. So, to those people on the committee fix it. That is just as easy as leaving it the same since if you have no better ideas you can revert to the version before this change. The current system hurts an entire region and the prior version I am sure was not perfect either but certainly did not harm as many people.

      • That’s ski racing…variable conditions. Not everyone gets the same snow surface, same start number or same field of contenders.
        If you focus on things you CAN control…then when the time is right, when the opportunity presents itself–the standardized point system will work as it should. It’s designed to measure an athlete’s performance against an entire field of racers even despite the fact they may never race against each other.
        What would be your suggestion for improvement?
        There certainly isn’t any value in artificially lowering your point profile by chasing the so called ‘point bonanza races.’ Sure, one may find national ranking and get admitted to certain events or teams — artificially. We have all seen this before…and then the development plateau happens.
        You are either a finely tuned racing machine…or not! Your point profile has ZERO to do with preparation…ITS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.
        More surprising is this is written by a coach…? That’s one way to emphasize results over process — I guess!

        • Jarod, I will just assume you glazed over when the math part of the article detailed that this issue is new and based on the treatment of an entire regions hills no matter who comes to ski them. The result of the change made two years ago has had unintended consequences. Since you asked but ignored that fact I stated it above my simple suggestion is to revert to the prior system, after all that was “ski racing’ just two years ago. Further, the full suggestion is that the committee that looks at the system does look at the math closer and decides how to deal with the unintended consequences sooner rather than later.

    • As a Central athlete, I definitely agree that having fun and getting out and racing is the most important part. However, I think that rules like the ones described in the article put Central athletes at an unfair — and artificial — disadvantage. It is important to not let things that are out of your control affect your skiing, but if given the chance to start further up a start list, I’d take it any day, and to have that stripped away by this sort of ridiculousness is pretty frustrating. Central athletes already have to deal with the difficulties that come with shortened seasons, lack of terrain, increased travel, etc. etc., so why UMV rules are in place work even further against the division is beyond me. Regardless of your viewpoint on them, points do matter, and unfortunately there is no real way as it stands to quantitatively compare the skills of an athlete, or where they are along the “process”.

  3. Just another reason why ski racing struggles in the United States. No other sport that I can think of focuses so much attention on an outdated and dumb FIS point seeding system. For example, look at Mikaela Shiffrin’s first FIS races ten years ago and she too started at the back of the pack, but qualified in the top 30 and scored. Has the media ever asked Mikaela if she had a good point race? No because points mean nothing and skiing fast is the only way to reach the World Cup. The reality is if you want to become the next Mikaela Shiffrin or Ted Ligety (two of the USST’s most consistent racers ever) you have to be able to ski fast regardless of your seed order. I hope this article does not discourage kids from racing in a three run FIS slalom race at Buck Hill. Whether you start in the first seed or last, the snow is usually cold and firm in Minnesota, so seed order should not really matter. Just ski fast and have fun!!!

  4. I love Joe. He has an exceptional relationship with his athletes. I write this as a former chair of Central’s Region 1 (Minnesota), former club president and previously long serving now retired chief of race and timing. We in Region 1 and many in Central have long suffered from excessive focus on points, with a bit of chip on our shoulder due to not living in the mountains and are a bit overly sensitive about additurs. Why? I don’t know. Worries about additurs in one form or another are misplaced. But skill development and fast skiing solves ALL issues, and shows up at the races that counts. A point profile dependent on results from races at substandard/UMV venues do not serve or prepare an athlete well for when they show up at, say, the Western Tech Series. And, as a result, do not serve the interests of the competitors at such a race. Races at substandard/UMV should be respected and celebrated for the best interests they bring to the sport – a chance to compete locally and see where your skiing is at. Worrying about points at a particular venue take the athlete’s (and the parents!) focus and energy away from crafting a fast carve, and distract local officials, administrators and coaches from their task at hand – creating high quality creative training opportunities and competitions to match. Regularly competing at the Chuck Stone (I knew Chuck, that’s how old I am!) did not hinder the careers of Paula Moltzan, Michael Ankeny, Sterling Grant, Tasha Nelson and now Tasha’s nephew, Isaiah – and it certainly added to the competition experience of everyone else in the field. No one should worry about how their Chuck Stone result impacts their point profile. When Region I’s and Central’s focus has been on fast skiing and not points, our athletes’ results speak for themselves – Cindy Nelson, Cary Adgate, Alan Kildow, NCAA Champion Mike Meleski, Cory Carlson, Kristina Koznick, Tasha Nelson, Sterling Grant, Michael Ankeny, Paula Moltzan, to name a few, as well as the legendary Lindsay (Kildow) Vonn who got her start skiing and racing on a “substandard/UMV” hill. Its the mind, discipline and determination, not the hill or points. In the words of our immortal former Central Competition Manager, Brewster McVicker, Ski ‘Ya! P.S. Joe – beer is on me next time.

    • Q – you forgot to mention Kaylin Richardson and Lauren Samuels.

      One think I have learned over the past 20 years of ski racing – low FIS points and $2.00 will get you a cup of coffee (maybe).

      Ski fast, have fun!

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