Ski racing clubs and programs have changed substantially in the last 40 years to meet the demands of its customers and provide high-level programming for youth-to-college-aged athletes.
Looking back, most programs ran with very seasonal staffs with very few people paid on year-round salaries. It was completely normal to work as a ski coach from November to April on a limited salary and then shift gears and go work construction, landscaping or whatever else was in your wheelhouse to make money. Dryland training was left primarily to the kids and families to do on their own. It was also very normal for a vast majority of kids to compete in multiple sports, which was a component of conditioning.
As sports are getting more specialized, fewer kids compete in multiple sports. In order to be competitive with top programs and specialization, ski clubs are being required to provide year-round programming with specialists for conditioning, sports psychology, nutrition, physio-therapy and, of course, many training days on snow during the non-competitive season. Equipment to train and race, such as videos, software, timers, hinged gates, safety netting and all of the admin to keep nonprofits rolling costs dearly.
This also requires more staff and longer contracts, which again lead to higher costs.
The restrictions around the pandemic most likely decreased the travel costs for athletes this winter because a majority of events were held in one day. In fact, for alpine, we had numerous race days with two races, and then families would head home and not need to pay for lodging.
Another area that has gotten very expensive is the lift tickets for athletes at competitions
One way we could reduce costs in alpine for families is by returning to the old “hike-to-inspect.” Kids and families would not need to purchase lift tickets at most slalom races unless they chose.
The questions we all wrestle with are: What is enough? What is too much with regard to what programs offer, what families expect, what you pay, and what you get in return?
I would love to think that families working paycheck-to-paycheck can still have the opportunity for their kids to be involved in ski programming. It’s still possible when kids are younger but becomes more challenging as program fees escalate, travel needs increase, with the need for multiple pairs of skis, expensive wax, and so on.
For the kids looking to travel out of their home to either a ski academy or a local mountain program, costs can be extravagant. Ski academies are $60,000 per year without even paying for travel. Moving to a mountain resort and establishing a place to rent is another huge expense and magnified now with the pandemic and more and more folks working remotely and choosing to leave cities.
Ways we could save money:
- Run our programs more seasonally. This would not make everyone happy and many of us would have to find different jobs in the off-season.
- Make a deal with major ski companies to produce a certain number of blank skis constructed exactly the same in a run of sizes for every athlete under 12 years old. Everyone would have to ski on the same ski construction, and you would have no idea if the ski was made by Atomic, Rossi or HEAD because they would all look the same and be constructed the same. I would assume we could reduce the cost significantly for kids’ skis. (Perhaps you could do the same with boots, but it would be more difficult.)
- Prioritize local race series for all younger kids and only allow them to race a handful of times outside of their home valley.
It is hard to hear people complain about cost when they want the world in return. If we truly are going to reduce cost in the sport of ski racing, we will have to make some changes from staffing, program offerings, scheduling, facilities and equipment.