At this year’s annual U.S. Ski & Snowboard Congress in Park City, Utah, several changes were made at the U12 and under level, which will help equalize the playing field in terms of costs and will help keep the younger age groups focused on what’s important: good skiing. The new rules, proposed by alpine committee athlete representatives, were adopted unanimously at the Alpine Sport Committee meeting and were passed by the Board of Directors on May 18.
Starting in the 2019-2020 race season, for U12 and under age groups, competitors are only allowed to use one pair of skis per race (inspections & competition). Parents, coaches, or technicians are not allowed to furnish additional pairs of skis for use during race day inspections or competition. In addition, at U12 and under competitions application of any type of waxing solution can no longer be applied at competition venues, and the use of ski preparation benches at competition venues is not allowed. Competitors are also being asked not to use fluorinated wax. Finally, the rule makers are recommending that each division hold two races next season that do not allow speed suits showing.
Originally submitted as one proposal focusing on multiple pairs of skis and the use of fluorinated wax by alpine committee athlete representatives Warner Nickerson and Jessica Kelley, the proposal was split into three parts throughout the course of the week’s meetings and a recommendation about speed suit use at select races during the season was added.
“This really came from [former U.S. Ski Teamer Andrew] Weibrecht,” Nickerson explains. “He was talking to people in New Hampshire about how the sport had turned into an ‘arms race’ at these younger ages. From there, we talked about it a few different times and met up in Sun Valley and all talked about it.”
Nickerson says that Weibrecht saw far too many athletes and parents focusing too much on equipment and not enough on what really matters at the younger age groups — their skiing. Although U.S. Ski & Snowboard cannot restrict how many skis a parent purchases for their athlete, they can regulate what can and cannot be done at a race venue. After some helpful input by fellow U.S. Ski Team alums-turned-coaches Will Brandenburg and David Chodounsky, the group settled on a rough framework for a new set of rules for the U12 and under ages.
“It was cool,” added Nickerson. “Everyone was kind of seeing it and feeling it and thinking it but nobody had come forward and tried to change it until now. It’s not a new problem and I feel like the tide has changed because we brought it up and so many people were excited about the idea.”
According to the chairman of the Alpine Sport Committee, Darryl Landstrom, similar rules governing the use of multiple pairs of skis on race day for youth athletes were in place in select areas of the country upwards of 20 years ago but were gradually phased out for various reasons before this year’s proposals came up for debate.
“There has been a lot of discussion, particularly in the East, about bringing the costs down,” says Landstrom. “They have a very significant population of U12 and unders out there. It’s a little bit ‘back to the future’ in some respects but I think it’s going to be well received long term.”
“What’s changed in the last 20 years is that the equipment has become much more specialized,” added U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Development Director, Chip Knight. “High-end wax, race skis, and speed suits have just become a lot more available and it’s pushing the sport in the wrong direction by focusing on the material side and not on the love of the sport and the value of being outside and competing with your friends and becoming a better skier.”
From a development perspective, long-term athlete growth could see a positive shift if young racers and their families spend more time on their technical and tactical prowess than on having the fastest skis possible for race day. Especially in the pre-puberty age groups targeted by these new rules.
“We need to remember we’re talking about 10- and 11-year-olds,” says Nickerson. “I just think it’s so easy to get caught up in the arms race of all these things you ‘need’ when the most important thing, and everybody knows this, is focusing on the skiing.”
The United States is not the first country to implement similar restrictions for their youth racers as Norway banned fluorinated wax use for all U16 and under athletes at the beginning of the 2018-19 winter citing cost, health, environment, and development factors in the decision.
Another encouraging takeaway from these new rules is that the proposal came from the youngest members of the committee, a strong sign for the future as an increasing number of younger members of the community look to become more hands-on in the rule-making process at U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
“Athlete representation is awesome because it’s just a different perspective, a different voice,” says Knight. “In many ways, the older, more experienced members on the committees and working groups have too much experience to think about things with a little more of a fresh perspective. It was awesome that the athletes brought these proposals forward.”
When it comes to implementation and enforcement of these new rules, communication between coaches, officials, and parents will be crucial if these changes are to be long-term. In fact, the board has recommended that the changes be a discussion topic at team captain’s meetings of U12 and under races for any coaches or parents who have questions about the rules and how they might affect them or their athletes.
“I think it’s neat to have us be so involved right now,” Nickerson says. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. We really let it be in these committees and the wording changed and the ideas changed a little bit but the whole idea was to get something through that would lower the barriers of entry into the sport and make it more fun and more approachable.”
The three proposals accepted by the board read as follows:
- 5.4.3: At U12 and under competitions, we recommend each division hold two races next season (2019-2020) that do not allow speed suits showing. This is a one-year test and look forward to feedback next season. Races will be decided in each division.
- 5.4.4: U12 and under competitors are only allowed to use one (1) pair of skis per race (inspections & competition). Parents, coaches, or technicians are not allowed to furnish additional pairs of skis for use during race day inspections or competition. Non-compliance may result in NPS or depending on circumstance, DSQ (proven violation after start).
- 5.4.5: U12 and under competitors should refrain from using fluorinated wax. In any case, application of any type of waxing solution must not be applied at U12 and under competition venues. Use of ski preparation benches at the U12 and under competition venue is not allowed.