Now We’re Talking!

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I woke up to just another gray day of spring, and then saw this fiery post by Dan Leever:

Leever’s message, which details his deep frustrations with US Ski and Snowboard, effectively corrals the countless back-room and sideline conversations among this sport’s most passionate followers, and turns the spotlight on them. One look at the shares and comments reveals the deep vein of dissatisfaction his letter taps.

The timing could not be better. As the American ski world convenes in Sun Valley to contest the National Championships, this is the perfect time to dive into the issues laid bare by Leever.

SHOW THEM THE MONEY

These are not new conversations. The biggest and longest running topic is lack of funding. Leever suggests: “We should have virtually no administrative and support staff until we fully fund all the athletes on any team.” Every four years, former teammates—who, like me, were fully funded for our entire national team careers—tune in and are incredulous about the costs to the athletes. I don’t know how to explain how this became the new normal, but the sheer size of the organization and of the Olympic entourage makes athlete funding seem totally solvable.

A big part of the funding issue is utilizing the resources right in front of us, including our uniquely American collegiate race circuit. Leever suggests, “We must fully embrace NCAA skiing. There is millions of dollars of funding available in the NCAA system.” Boom! As posed in all grown up and no place to go, “What if every dime spent by college teams to further develop ski racers—both men and women—was maximized by actively and deliberately embracing those athletes as part of the national development process?” With collaboration college racing could not only be a viable path for tech skiers: it could be the preferred path.

In the past year, while researching pieces for this blog, for Ski Racing and for work with a grassroots effort to Keep Kids in Skiing, I interviewed many current college coaches and athletes. The athletes talk about how much more they enjoy the sport when competing as a team in a fun, invigorating, secure environment. The coaches hail the advantages of having a four year horizon for each athlete’s development. In all these conversations the coaches look beyond their own teams, their own athletes or a championship win, because the underlying reality is that if we don’t address the larger problem of keeping this sport viable, there may be no championship to win. The collective goal is to embrace, celebrate and expand collegiate skiing.

SHOW THEM THE PATH

Perceived opportunity influences participation at much younger ages than we may realize. As Leever notes, “Without a robust college circuit, there is no long game for 99% of our junior racers. Without a long game, how do we expect the grass roots of our sport not to wither and die?” I see this upstream attrition firsthand, particularly at girls ski races, and touched on it in Stay Classy, American Women. When young, talented, motivated athletes see there is no future for women to develop in the sport past age 17, they take their talents elsewhere. We need to show those girls that this sport wants them and needs them and can be that future. We need to show them the scores of women in college who are continuing to develop athletically, while developing as people.

Rather than decry Foreign athletes for taking US scholarships, let’s strongly encourage US Ski and Snowboard to give college racing the respect it deserves. Let’s not sit back and just watch as the Norwegians, Canadians and other countries figure out how to take full advantage of our uniquely American collegiate racing circuit. Let’s make all efforts to grow that pie and then take a bigger piece of it!

Photo courtesy of Tania Coffey

BUILD A REAL TEAM

Another hot topic of conversation is around team, or lack thereof. As Leever points out: “we do not have the depth of athletes like other, predominantly European, nations that allows us to only rely on phenoms. We don’t have that luxury, so we need to think differently, and commit resources to a wider base of skiers.” The theme of this past Olympics—be it related to the entire country of Norway or the US Women’s Nordic Team—was the power of team. Peggy Shinn’s well-timed book “World Class. The Making of the U. S. Women’s Cross Country Team” chronicles how US Nordic coach Matt Whitcomb led his team to success by cultivating a team-centric culture. We can and should learn from Whitcomb, as well as Chip White, Michel Rudigoz, and other ministers of culture who built winning ski teams, by first creating a positive supportive environment.

I do not have the answer, but I know the solution lies in conversations that are open and honest, and that emanate from a spirit of cooperation and humility. Sun Valley is paradise. It’s the perfect place for many things, including these conversations. They don’t need to wait for a meeting or a committee. They can happen on chairlifts, at the side of the course, in apres ski gatherings, around the finish corral…anywhere ski racers and their fans gather, in Sun Valley and points beyond. Let’s make use of this opening to move the ball forward. To everyone who loves this sport: We’re all in this together. Let’s be part of the solution.

 

14 thoughts on “Now We’re Talking!

  1. How about a serious review of USSA salaries and positions not needed, 600K for a CEO of a non profit is too steep

  2. My daughter quit alpine ski racing this year as a second year U16 to focus on soccer. Her goal is to compete as a collegiate athlete and we all know her chances of accomplishing that goal in skiing are nearly non-existent compared to soccer. It’s sad but true.

  3. As a director for a not-for -profit, I can tell you that we always try to deliver over 90 cents of every dollar to programs. USSA should set goals and do better. We definitely need to build a larger base of talent. That comes from training and inspiring our athletes in more than just athletic skills with a progression that includes the opportunity of college racing. Maybe we should stop talking and start doing.

  4. The great talent pool in the U.S. resides in the middle and lower socio-economic classes. Since 2006, we have asked athletes to pay $25,000 to be on the National Team. How many families can afford that? The Cochrans? The Mahres? The Bode Millers? The Armstrongs? The Bill Johnsons? The Roffes?, etc., etc., etc. . . “Pay to Play” is an travesty for athletes and families who have sacrificed.

    The same thing has happened in soccer. It costs $3-$5k plus travel, etc. to be on an elite soccer club. Read what Hope Solo, probably our greatest goalie in history has to say about what is happening in soccer.

    Take a good look at the administrative overhead at the USST and USOC and you will begin to see the problem. For example, the USOC has annual revenues of $200 million with the CEO earning a salary of $1 million dollars after a 10% raise. Only 6% of USOC revenue goes to support athletes in 47 NGBs. Both the USOC and USST are 501 (c) (3) charities and they have athletes in their systems living below the poverty line. How can anyone morally work in an organization with this kind of culture and structure?

  5. The biggest problem we are going to face is, like all governments, no one is going to decide their job is the one that should be eliminated or they should get a pay cut. Nor does anyone want to be the one to tell a co-worker / friend to hit the bricks. Making a living in skiing is all of our dreams come true so the more jobs, be they admin or not, that have been created have a long line of folks wanting to jump at the chance and no one working towards that goal wants to see those jobs go away. This is the same problem in every industry. Until we can figure a way to better monetize what we want for the athletes this is not going to happen… it’s sadly human nature. My kids are young and thinking that in a few years I need to come up with 50k a year for a SMS or Burke makes me feel hopeless regardless of the level of desire or talent my kids may have at that time.

    • Yeah! C’mon alums and ski racing homies. Speak up and be heard. Let’s come up with some solutions. Your voice in this is important!

  6. Hmmm

    “Rather than decry Foreign athletes for taking US scholarships, let’s strongly encourage US Ski and Snowboard to give college racing the respect it deserves.

    If you are advocating for the NCAA to be the savior of US Alpine skiing development you have to first address this direct contradiction: You statement is illogical on its face because NCAA alpine Ski racing in its current form is self defeating, rendering it’s use as a a spring board to rebuilding the US Alpine Team impossible.

    Given the huge number of skiing scholarships being handed out to foreign races, who then return to their countries to compete against the US, you are going to find little support inside the racing community and virtually none from the general public to perpetuate this stupidity. As a taxpayer, I am outraged that I am expected to support granting direct and indirect tax subsidies to US Universities and Colleges that turn around and use that money to develop foreign athletes. Clearly this problem effects athletics across the entire spectrum. Make no mistake, in the final analysis, it will be the US taxpayer, either directly or indirectly who will subsidize the rebirth of US Alpine Ski racing. Create a new system that puts American athletes first, last and always number one and you find a ground swell of support……

    • Yeah I certainly get your frustration and you’re not alone. First the USST has to at least recognize that college racing can be a path. Then NCAA coaches would have a bigger pool of US skiers to choose from. But also, your point about the NCAA is right. If they aren’t committed to US athletes maybe ultimately they aren’t the best way. Maybe USCSA is the path and will have less restrictions and more participation. That’s a long way off though. Right now NCAA is the most competitive circuit going in the US,a nd the foreign skiers have helped make it that way. What I hear most consistently is that there has to be a balance between enough foreign skiers to keep up, but not so many it take away all the opportunity for Americans. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, but we’ve got to keep talking.

  7. Money is not what I need. I coach U16s in a club program in a small ski area in central Massachusetts called Wachusett Mountain. I believe USSA actually did us a favor by pulling back money they were spending developing programs for the club programs. It forced us to develop our own programs within the region. With the help of Dave Edry and Stratton Mountain, we started an speed camp for U14s to U19s. Stratton provides the venue and our region, Tri-State, supplies the athletes and coaches. With the help of talented outside coaches like Edie, Tom Sells from KMS and others to help, educate and supplement our coaches, we provide our athletes a tremendous, safe learning environment. We have also developed a U14 fundamental camp within our region and with an invitation from NY we have a U12 development camp. We haven’t put anyone in a World Cup spot yet, but we have developed some young athletes with a passion to race and with a few more tools and experiences under their feet. I believe these opportunities that we created within our region have given our athletes a huge step up in their development as ski racers. I believe our challenge is to keep developing opportunities through collaboration within our region. If we keep it within our region, we can include more athletes and we can develop programs that best help our athletes develop to their potential.

  8. Edie,
    I really enjoy reading Racer eX. I have a daughter who skis D1. My perspective is really just from women’s skiing. Skiing college and skiing on the US team are two very different things. It’s pretty rare that the US team picks any female who is older than 19. And then that pick comes with a cost. The old NTG model was priced anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000. Now the B team and below starts at 20,000 and works up from there. There are no poor or even middle class skiers on the team. The team almost becomes self selecting, those who can afford to further their ski career. The first thing the team has to change is make it more affordable. Paying to be on the B and C team has got to go.

    The US team has to embrace college skiing. Some of the best female US skiers go to college, Many of them have just run out of money. So instead of paying tens of thousands, you get the college to pay for your coaching. Scholarships are rare for US racers. Once in college, as a women, your US team chances are over. The women on the US team barely have high school degrees, never mind college degrees. When the best US women graduate from college, they are done ski racing. The foreigners that come here to school, still have a chance at their national teams. The college coaches and the US team have to work together. The criteria and age levels for the US team need to be thrown out. A 22 to 24 year old recent college grad should at least be given a try out for the team. Figure out a way to get more D1 ski teams. Many schools use to have them and a few current ones are in danger of being cut. The US team should help lobby the colleges to embrace D1 skiing. Colleges are training grounds for Olympians in all sports. More skiing schools means a deeper pool of racers to chose from

    There are many foreigners on D1 teams across all sports. The Olympic track meets are college reunions for the runners. Hockey, basketball and swimming are full of foreigners. Skiing isn’t any different. The reason the NCAA finals is so good is because of the foreigners. The solution for the US kids is to get better, not limit the competition. There were 9 US women out of 34 racers at Steamboat this year. Those top US racers should at least be on the radar of the USST.

    The USST can not continue to do the same old thing. Change the way racers pay to be on the team. Embrace and expand college racing. More is better!

    • Thanks for your thoughts and perspective, David. I wholeheartedly agree, and think more girls would keep ski racing if they saw there was a future in US ski racing for post college (or even mid-college) women. I might think differently if we had droves of young skiers beating down the doors of the USST, but we do not. There is ample room for top women college skiers in US development, and they would provide a level of maturity to help the younger skiers. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

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