Just two weeks ago, after assuring ski racers of all ages that ski racing is a “Long Road,” we find ourselves indeed on a long road, but one that looks much different than it did even five days ago. I was on the hill last Thursday, when the USSS cancellation announcement came through, and then, one by one, the weekend races began to fall.
So goes the 2019-20 ski racing season. As someone put it so well yesterday, after what we later learned was the last day of skiing at most major resorts across the country: ”It feels like going from 5th gear into reverse.” This sudden and complete stop comes just when we were fully cranked up to power through ski racing’s own March Madness, of finals, championships and end of season celebrations. A few patrons enjoying their last après ski beer lamented the loss of the annual pond skim, the definitive closure to ski season.
But on Thursday, the kids were out there trying to get better, despite the crushing news. Some were doing final prep and looking forward to the pinnacle of their seasons, while others were coming to terms with unfulfilled expectations from the previous weekend. They were all disappointed with the news, and some were no doubt taking out their aggressions on the SL gates, but they were nonetheless getting back to work with energy and purpose.
On this particular afternoon, the lift was not spinning, so in addition to having no more races left, the kids also had to earn every turn. Despite the extra effort involved, they were still hiking while we pulled the course at the and of the session. Even more remarkable, nearly every one of the 15 kids out there was ripping, skiing better than they had all year. Was it the absence of pressure? The culmination of all the training leading up to this part of the season? The joy of being outside in lengthening daylight? The comfort of something familiar in an uncertain time? All of the above?
This time of year it’s always a battle to get kids to keep skiing and not shift gears entirely to spring sports. And yet, now that the option has been take away, our hearts are feeling Joni Mitchell’s painful reminder that, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Of all the things we will undoubtedly learn after navigating this unknown territory, one thing skiers will understand is that every day and every run is sacred. For ski racers, you never know when your last race or training day might be, so enjoy every one of them as if it was your last.
I have a vivid memory from my last World Cup race one season long ago, of standing in the finish, wishing for a do over. I remember vowing to never feel that way again. I held on to that memory all summer, channeled it into every day of training, and finally into the joy of bursting out of the starting gate for the first race the next season. Sometimes you get to end a race, a season or a career with confetti and congratulations. More often you don’t. Every run, however, offers its own reward, of getting to do this sport we love.
Hopefully this strange and scary time will pass soon, and we’ll be stronger and wiser for it. In the meantime, if you are lucky enough to have a place to ski, with or without lifts, treat it like the privilege it is, and enjoy every turn of every run.
Stay healthy out there friends and Carpe Skiem!