I imagine now is as good a time as any to elaborate further on several of the recent responses to the ongoing USST/NCAA ski racing issue and the ongoing failures of the USST program and the World Cup in general. These responses have all been very interesting and offered many unique perspectives on this continuing problem.
If many of you don’t know me I have been very actively involved in skiing most of my whole adult life and involved in the ski industry end for the past 30+ years. Over these years through companies I founded and operated have supplied national ski teams from the USA, Norway, Finland and the UK. More recently other companies I founded (SRD/Ski Racing Development and SYNC Performance) have been very involved at both the grass-roots level of ski racing, recreational ski racing, collegiate and World Cup. In my small part, given my rather limited resources, have given as much as I can to help support an amazing group of ski racing athletes through the SRD Squadra Junior Race Team, the various SYNC Teams and our Berlack & Astle Memorial “Fast Skier” Awards. Either via direct athlete, team and event support or substantial discounts we have helped supply literally hundreds of these amazing young athletes, enabling them to pursue their dreams in ski racing. Over the years many have made it to the USA Ski Team and NCAA Division 1 racing success. Yet I cannot say whether I am more proud of one of our former juniors Mikaela Shiffrin winning multiple World Cups and Olympic and World Championship Gold Medals or another young athlete, Molly Leavens, who attended Harvard University and has traveled the World volunteering herself for a variety of humanity-based causes. Both have achieved equal success in my opinion and both I am sure learned many valuable life lessons from their ski racing and collegiate experiences. I am proud of them all.
When I was a student at the University of Denver I was going to give collegiate ski racing a shot only to learn that the funding for the program was being pulled (in favor of Lacrosse) killing off a once-legendary ski racing program for many years until a group led by a former DU ski racer Otto Tschudi brought it back to prominence. In that time we saw other NCAA programs like Wyoming also be eliminated and now see the New Mexico and Alaska programs in dire jeopardy. What we were told was this: “people pay to watch hockey, no one pays or cares about ski racing.” And that was that. That was 1979 and really, what has changed in the past 41 years?
When I would have parents come into our office, invariably the conversation would steer to the future ski racing careers of their children. The more enlightened “ski racing parent” would admit that perhaps their kid was not good enough for the USST or the World Cup but they were hoping for an NCAA Division 1 team and education scholarship. How many of those are available per year? Figure the ever rising cost of developing a ski racer with equipment, travel, dues and fees, camps, clubs, academies and these kid’s college education was essentially paid for before they even graduate high school. Add to this financial stress, the broken bodies, emotional drama and other factors it can be a real roller coaster experience. Throw in the “keeping up with the Joneses” with their private coaching and domestic and global points chasing and you have an increasingly untenable situation that disillusioned and/or destroyed many careers before they even started, not to mention putting their families in a dire economic position.
That all being said the personal growth opportunities from ski racing are amazing, the values, teamwork, physical fitness, travel and other skills and benefits one experiences as a ski racer all add up to developing a more worldly, independent and self-assured person. This is worth saving.
Yes despite all these obstacles many do eventually meet the nebulous “criteria” and make the USST and get the snazzy jacket, only to learn that the true cost to continue must, in many cases, still be borne by the athlete, with full funding only to the top tiers of the A team. The USST has long operated on various slogans like “Best in the World” yet the ongoing failure to create any true depth to the program or investment in a true quality development pipeline has never lead to the team reaching that lofty aspirations of that goal. If not for the few rare athletes that manage to overcome all this and rise to the top, the lack of depth behind them falls off precipitously and we are once again in the situation we now find ourselves in.
These are simply the ongoing and indisputable facts about ski racing in the USA. I have read innumerable editorials, letters to the editor and articles on the subject. All the same, year after year. The inability of the USST to properly manage a team or marketing program to help grow the sport, leverage the sponsors and industry partners, build a proper development program, pay the coaches a living wage…. Well you get the idea.
Can the NCAA be a viable pipeline to USST and World Cup success? I think not in the long term. Are the Nor-Am’s a viable pipeline to USST and World Cup success? I also think not as the Nor Am’s have fallen far below Europa Cup in quality of competition and with most international races and racers based in Europe we can never really hope to achieve any level of parity or depth and as a result will continue to lag behind.
The system is broken, It is archaic and hopeless. A half a century of conversation and where are we? The issue is (or should be) no longer how to incorporate the USST with NCAA, that top-heavy ship sailed and like the famous Swedish Vasa sunk on departure. Debating how to raise the ship will only result in raising a faulty ship that will never sail. Time to build a new ship.
So what kind of ship? Another leaking boat? Professional ski racing, still using the old-fashioned National Team format under the auspices of the FIS is a system that can never achieve its full marketing and financial potential for any of its participants on any level. It is time to make the sport truly professional and eliminate once and for all the vestiges of the old amateur system.
I will use professional cycling (UCI Pro Tour) as an example of a format that ski racing must evolve towards (without the doping!). It is time to create a true global tour with “pro-teams” sponsored and supported outside of the national governing bodies. Imagine a team “Red Bull” consisting of athletes from multiple countries all paid a contractual professional wage. Coached by pro coaches, all paid a contractual professional wage. Serviced by techs, all paid a contractual professional wage… Each team can solicit its own sponsors, partners and suppliers allowing these partners to properly and effectively leverage their marketing and promotional efforts. Instead of Audi “owning” the World Cup and limiting marketing opportunities in the auto industry to one brand, now Peugeot, VW, Volvo, Ford etc. can sponsor/supply a team and leverage their individual marketing potentials increasing overall exposure of ski racing globally. Each athlete will “earn” their contract based on ability and results. No more excuses, no more inconsistent criteria, no more “coach’s discretion – perform and you succeed, do not perform and you are subject to your contractual terms termination clause.
National governing bodies will now be able to focus solely on athlete development and perhaps fielding a national team for the Olympics and World Championships.
You can keep beating the current dead horse and looking for ways to put makeup on a pig but the end result will be another 41+ years of complaining, hoping and wishing. Is any system perfect? Of course not but as Albert Einstein claimed, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
This letter was submitted in response to the article Fall Line: USST never gave college skiers a chance. Have some thoughts on this? Send a letter to the editor. If it’s good, we’ll publish it.
Letters to the editor are wholly the opinion of the author. Ski Racing Media does not endorse, edit, or fact-check letters to the editor. We do have a couple rules, which can be found here.