In 2011, when my daughters were five and three, we joined the Sugar Bowl Ski Team. At that time, I wrote an article titled, “Momma, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be…Ski Racers.” In the article, as our family was just entering the ski racing world, I expressed considerable ambivalence about whether I wanted our girls to become ski racers.
Then, in 2015, I wrote a follow-up article title, “Sliding Down That Slippery Slope Toward Ski Racing,” when our daughters were nine and seven. We were now veterans of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team and were showing some pretty significant signs of becoming a ski racing family. We had a winter ski lease near Sugar Bowl, I had bought vises and tools to tune our girls’ skis, and we were choosing skiing over other winter activities so we could get to the mountains as much as possible. They also began racing in Tahoe League races, the local Far West Division race series. Yet, we were still only skiing every other weekend and getting in around 35 days a winter on snow. At that time, when our daughters said they wanted to be ski racers and I thought about the time, money, and opportunity costs involved in our sport, I didn’t question whether they were up to the challenge; instead, I asked myself whether I was.
Such uncertainty may seem pretty odd from a guy whose life has revolved around ski racing since I was six years old. My ski racing journey from Mad River Glen to Burke Mountain Academy to Middlebury College to University of Colorado (and two years on the old Pro Tour) has shaped both my personal and professional lives. The powerful life lessons, learned life skills, ups and downs, travel, and camaraderie all had an immense influence on who I became as an adult. Plus, I had seen many of my fellow racers from back in the day have children who also found meaning and joy in our sport. Why wouldn’t I want our daughters to have similar experiences if they found a passion for ski racing?
Well, here we are another four years later and it’s happened. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that we are officially a ski racing family. How do I know? Here’s how:
- Both of our daughters are attending winter term at Sugar Bowl Academy.
- We bought a house on Donner Summit near Sugar Bowl.
- I’m living up here full time this winter (my happy place!) while my wife, Sarah, commutes after working in San Francisco three days a week.
- We are beginning to plan our summer vacations around the girls’ summer skiing opportunities.
- Most importantly, both of our daughters love ski racing!
As we have gone down the aforementioned slippery slope, I have asked myself why our girls have developed such a passion for our sport. Certainly the fact that I have an immense love of our sport contributed. And my professional life is focused on the psychology of ski racing. They know I work with a number of World Cup racers and even more highly ranked junior racers. Basically, they’ve seen that I live and breathe ski racing.
Which brings me to a worry that both my wife and I have had. Do our daughters love ski racing because I love ski racing? Do they ski race because they think it will make me happy? In other words, are they ski racing for me rather than themselves? As a family, we had a number of conversations in recent years about those very questions and they both are insistent that they are ski racing because they love it and their decision has nothing to do with me. Of course, time will tell. I’ve found that when kids are forced to ski race (or do any other sport) subtly or obviously, they push back in subtle (e.g., low motivation and effort) or obvious (e.g., anger, resistance) ways.
After eight years, do I still have reservations about our girls being ski racers? A few (e.g., injuries), but not enough to derail the train. Am I 100% thrilled that they have chosen this road? Maybe not 100%, but in the mid-90s. But it’s not about them in this slight ambivalence; it’s about my becoming a ski racing dad. One thing I’ve learned as I am in the middle of my second winter on Donner Summit is that being a ski racing parent is really hard, far harder than living the suburban life. I don’t know if it’s the elevation (less oxygen), more balls to juggle, no downtime (ski academy life is a 7-day-a-week, no-sleeping-in family commitment), having to shovel snow and keep the wood-burning stove going, needing to make breakfast and dinner four days a week when Sarah is at home, or what. All of those extras added to having to maintain a regular work schedule (no, I’m not skiing every day! In fact, I haven’t taken a weekday off to ski yet). I just know that I’m busier than I am in Mill Valley and I’m exhausted every night.
Another point worth mentioning is that this journey isn’t just about our girls and me. As with most other families, my wife has had to contend with this change and it hasn’t been easy for her (I say that with the utmost empathy and respect). Sarah didn’t grow up in the ski racing world, so she’s still learning the value that being a ski racer brings to our daughters. Also, being a ski racing family wasn’t in her plans when she married me and we had children. Sarah was expecting a stable and predictable life that included more downtime, variety, and balance. She has shown real openness and flexibility and sacrifice (e.g., being separated from me and her children three days a week this winter) and I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated her willingness to “live in” the ski racing world and her receptivity to listening to and getting behind our girls’ passion and dedication to our sport.
A simple reality of parenting is that every parent wants to support their children if they have a healthy passion for something, whether ski racing, another sport, chess, ballet, a music instrument, what have you. I feel very fortunate that we have the ability to support our girls in this passion, both financially (though it is a stretch) and logistically (I can work anywhere).
Sure the life of a ski racing family has its challenges (strictly of the first-world variety, I fully recognize). At the same time, I am “all in” in my role as a ski racing father because of everything our girls are getting as ski racers and what they are not missing at our “normal” life at home (I realize that our family has a “new normal”).
What are our daughters getting that they wouldn’t get in Mill Valley? A few thoughts.The single biggest reason I support our girls’ desire to be ski racers is that life is just too easy in Mill Valley. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t grow up living off the fat of the land. In reality, I grew up in a suburb of Hartford and it’s not like my life was that difficult (I didn’t have to walk 10 miles to and from school uphill in both directions in the middle of a snowstorm). But maybe that’s why my parents supported my own ski racing journey. But I digress. One thing about the life of a ski racing is that every day they are faced with challenges, struggles, setbacks, failures, and disappointments. At Sugar Bowl Academy (like every other academy and race program), the kids are up early, on snow for three hours in the morning, recovery, lunch, and then 4 ½ hours of school concluding at 5:15 (two hours later than the end of the school day at home!), short drive home, homework, dinner, more homework, some downtime and reading, to bed, and repeat again tomorrow. And did I mention no sleeping in on weekends (sleeping in means till 7:30 am on Mondays when the SBA kids have school all day)?!?! Having just written out their day, it seems absolutely crazy, yet our girls (and so many other young racers) do it every day all winter and love it! And these challenges provide them with the attitudes, beliefs, and tools that will serve them so well later in life.
At the same time, paradoxically, another reason why I support our daughters being ski racers is that life in Mill Valley is also too difficult, but in a very different way. It can be tough being a kid (however “privileged”) these days. They feel so much pressure from so many different directions to be a certain way. Our out-of-control achievement culture tells kids they have to win, get straight As, scorch the SATs or ACTs, and get into the “best” colleges or they will be failures. They see only happiness and fun on social media causing them to feel that they need to always be happy and having fun themselves. Expressions of affluence and materialism are rampant. Addiction to technology is a serious individual, family, and societal problem. Kids these days feel immense pressure to look, act, and talk a certain way that will enable them to be “cool,” accepted, and popular (despite the fact that research shows that those types of kids are unhappy, less successful, engage in more high-risk behavior, and have higher rates of mental illness). And don’t even get me started on the pressure that parents feel to “keep up with the Joneses” and be perfect parents. Oh, and did I mention the traffic?
Admittedly, some of the above exists in the ski racing world as well. But, given the fact that ski racers are outdoors a lot, are surrounded by other kids, families, and coaches with similar values and interests and a passion for ski racing (by the way, a passion for anything healthy acts as armor against a lot of the toxicity in our culture today) and just don’t have much time to get too caught up in everything I mentioned above, I believe that the ski racing world is far healthier than so-called normal life at home.
Because our girls are young and minds and interests change, we are taking this journey one year at a time. As long as they are all in, Sarah and I will do our best to support them. If they decide at some point that ski racing isn’t their thing, that’s fine with me because I know that the journey so far has shaped them in so many ways beyond our sport and that they will find something else in which to direct their passions and energy. So, yes, we’re a ski racing family for now and I will embrace it with my mind, body, and spirit until we aren’t.
Finally, I’ll plan on reporting back in four years to update you on where we are in our lives. I would love to hear in the Comments section the journey that your family has taken in our amazing sport.