Five Years Later: Buck was not wrong

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Five years ago today, my father Buck made his journey to his eternal powder day. On this day I can’t help thinking how happy he would be that all his grandchildren love skiing. And he would be happy that his two ski racing grandchildren—then in their first years as U-16s and U-19s, and who he religiously followed on livetiming—are still dedicated to the pursuit of the sport.

That last part is no small victory, and especially this year when skiing, then training, then racing have all presented high hurdles to overcome.  In many ways this year of playing whack-a-mole with perpetually changing rules has highlighted the resolve of the athletes who are staying in the sport, finding joy in the challenge of it despite the extraordinary hassles it presents.

It has also revealed that Buck was right about a few things. Buck was not above being smug. In fact, he reveled in smugness when he’d earned it.  “You might not be wrong,” was as close as he came to admitting that someone else was right. One thing he’d be darned smug about right now is seeing all the college racers populating the World Cup results.

To anyone who would listen, and to those of us who had to, Buck proselytized tirelessly on the value of a college education, and on how every professional athlete should be required to pursue a college degree concurrent to their athletic careers. Whenever I got hurt, which was often, and usually before the blood had dried, he’d interrogate me on where I would enroll for classes during rehab.

My style of college, picking up bits where I could, was the bare minimum of what was acceptable to Buck, and the only option for aspiring World Cup ski racers at the time. He’d also seen the sad reality for so many ski racers of that era, for whom college racing spelled retirement, regardless of their remaining growth potential. Many were from our own community, and others were ski racing strays my brother and I brought home, and whose struggles Nina and Buck adopted.

As NCAA racers started busting through to their national teams, however, Buck doubled down on his convictions, redirecting them to his grandkids. Ski racing was well and good, but a college education was a must, and doing both—well that was the ultimate score.

Perhaps this prepped my kids to take a longer view of their ski racing, and to imagine they had a realistic future in it past age 18. Having so many role models living Buck’s dream has most certainly helped keep them motivated to approach their athletic careers with the level of commitment and intensity needed to progress. These skiers blazing new trails has given the kids what Buck was trying to convey to them—a sense of hope.

Many years down the road from here….the grandkids keep getting after it.

Ultimately that is what college racing offers so many kids, even if they never make an NCAA roster. Sure, it is easy to see the rewards of college racing by looking at World Cup results and World Championship teams, but the benefits are even more profound at the grass roots level, on home turf. This year especially, where the ability to race has been so restricted by travel rules, there would be no elite level FIS racing without the college racers. For an “It’s a Wonderful Life” perspective of what ski racing in the US would be like without college racing, take a look at FIS races in regions without NCAA racing. It’s not pretty.

To keep this vital part of the ecosystem healthy, the entire ski racing community needs to be invested in keeping college racing alive and thriving. Sure, our kids need the FIS points, but more importantly, they need the reassurance that if they keep getting bigger, stronger and better, they’ll still have something to shoot for other than Beer League glory.

Every time a Paula Moltzan scraps her way back from the carnival circuit to be a World Cup contender in two events, and an Alex Leever, four years post college graduation, scores his first World Cup points, sliding on his face in the most spectacular of finishes…every time these skiers prove their mettle on the big stage, it is a ray of hope. It says that however difficult or unlikely the journey, it can be done.

Ultimately, that hope is what Buck wanted to instill in us as kids, in his grandkids, and in everyone who would listen to his sermons.

It also helped that Buck loved rooting for the underdogs. This likely came from watching his daughter, not exactly the odds-on-favorite, at major events. It also came from the aforementioned strays, and their chutzpah. He’d love watching the upcoming World Championships and rooting for every one of these racers, American or not, who took unlikely paths to get there. He’d root for the Jr World medalists Paula Moltzan and AJ Ginnis whose paths to these Worlds took so many detours. And he’d root just as hard for Jr World medalist Ben Ritchie (who he also diligently followed on livetiming from age 12) whose ascent to the Majors has been more direct, though by no means easy.

He’d root for Breezy Johnson who, after years of frustration on the sidelines, secured her spot immediately this season with multiple podiums, and for Alex Leever who made the team at the last possible second. He’d root for Jett Seymour and Katie Hensien who, when posed with the choice between college and the national team said, “Yes please,” to both.  

You get the picture. He’d root for all of the athletes—college racers or not— whose unique paths serve up hope to the kids slogging away. He’d root for anyone and anything that keeps kids positive about and motivated by skiing and ski racing for as long as possible, because Buck was sure that ski racing is the coolest sport in the world.

And he was not wrong about that.

Buck, high five-ing early success with his young convert, who has stayed in for the long haul.

18 thoughts on “Five Years Later: Buck was not wrong”

  1. Thank you for sharing! I love this one. You always have such inspiring and insightful posts.
    I grew up with my own Buck and he has instilled a love of skiing and racing in my oldest.

    • Thanks for reading Gretchen! You understand then. What a legacy they leave, those enthusiastic, obsessed-in-the-best-way Dads.

  2. Great story, Edie. It’s awesome to see the NCAA racers on the world stage. Kudos to them for taking that path!!!

  3. Edie,

    Fabulous article pointing out that athletes can follow the path of college and international competition if they have the support of the overseeing organization, aka the US Ski Team.

    In fact, when I was racing on the World Cup, the ski team actually paid for college when we had time to take courses.

    My second novel “No Sanctuary” covers this aspect of the sport.

    Loved the article.

    Lee Hall Delfausse

    • Thanks for reading Lee. The USST does indeed offer a ton of academic support to its athletes, and also is being more open to skiers who opt for the college path or hybrid college/USST path. We’ve come a long way!

  4. Edie as I sit heading reading this about your Father this morning we are in the mist of a good old fashioned Sierra storm. My sons both came in last night from Reno and yes they helped shovel us out before they left to stand in KT’s line with the rest of the hoard. Buck was there good friend too, we used your Dads hot box many a time and talked wax and technique, also he always showed me the latest ski shots of your kids racing. A proud Grandfather for sure. Thanks again for reminding me of your Dad and all he meant to so many people here in Squaw and around the skiing World. Again “All Snow is Good Snow “and we have a lot here in Squaw now.⛷⛷⛷

    • Thanks for the memories Sal! And for getting good use of that hotbox. I wish I was there seeing this Sierra dump. Enjoy it!

  5. My son Patrick currently goes to a Stratton Mountain School after being cut short last spring he doesn’t care if It’s a vara race FIS race or just being on the hill training it’s all good , look out World Cup if our college skiers think it’s possible to continue ski racing.

    • Here Here Mo! And go Patrick. Any ski race they get off the ground in VT this year is precious. Hope to see you out there at one of them!

  6. Thanks Edie
    I am currently sitting in the Squaw parking lot right behind the locker room. It hits hard to think about Buck from this location and not smile. Thank you for allowing me to join in on the memories and the journey. He was am amazing man and the valley and world was better because of men like Buck! God Bless
    Woody.

    • Awww. Thank you Woody! I hope you are going to make some sweet turns in all that powder you’re getting. All snow is good now…but some snow is better than other snow. Enjoy it!

  7. Awww, Edie – I love how you still celebrate your dad and his influence on all of us at every opportunity. He is sorely missed at our Masters races, but you see his legacy live through Sal’s (I loved skiing with Nico at DP 2 years ago!) and Woody’s comments – and so many others. While my wife and I (UC Davis alum) tried to keep up with you at USCSA races while you were at SNC with Wendy, Josee, TK and others, the fact that you helped blaze the trail for the legitimacy of college racing is testament to your dad’s influence. And your dad and Gaet walked the walk – still striving for excellence long after their Olympic spots probably expired.

    • Thank you Ryan, for remembering Buck in that way. I know nothing would make him happier than to know that his legacy of ski racing obsession lives on. And he’d for sure be trying to beat Gate in the 90 age class now if he was around. Thank you so much for your thoughts and words and I hope you are enjoying all that powder out there!

  8. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Edie, So true about Buck! I miss seeing him and having him ask so many questions. I have fond memories of him when we were young and also when he and your mom would come here to Sun Valley for the Masters races. It was always great to see them! Love that last photo of him too!

    Adele

    • Remember how quickly we would duck downstairs to avoid those questions? And yet, there was no escaping. I know he and Nina loved seeing you in Sun Valley when he got the chance to be the ski racer in the family. Hope your winter is going well and you are getting the snow now!

  9. What passion Buck had for skiing and life! I would occasionally visit with him and Nina and he would proudly show old and new photos and racing results from his children, grand children, and the many ski racers who passed through Squaw Valley over the years.

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