“What’s the good of all this?” That’s one question we have all asked ourselves throughout the past 10 weeks plus of lockdown. In every crisis and challenge there lies opportunity, so what is it here? Here are some options in this multiple choice answer.
THE GOOD OF DOING GOOD
For starters there is, of course, the flat out good of people helping others in a time of need. We’ve seen plenty of that in the skiing community: in efforts like goggles for docs, that has so far collected 44,000 goggles for front line healthcare workers; entrepreneurs like GMVS grad Tommy Eckfeldt who re-tooled his bib making business Alpine Promotions to make facemasks for his employees (get your American DHer one here!); so many former ski racers in Emergency Rooms and hospitals across the country (more on that in a future edition); and schools like Burke Mountain Academy that converted their dormant kitchens into production facilities to provide 2,500 meals a week to seniors.
Burke took it another step by mixing philanthropy with fitness. Their annual Green Mountain Run morphed from a 24-hour running relay up the state of Vermont, into a virtual fundraising event fueled by the energy of 54 individual epic challenges involving marathon level hiking, biking, running, cross-fitting, burpeeing, b-net rolling and more. At the end of the day, the Virtual GMR raised nearly $30,000 for the Vermont Food Bank.
THE ERA OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES
The results in one day of the GMR—in both dollars and sheer physical output—were impressive, but the effort reflected something else that has been a hallmark of athletes amidst this pandemic. It put challenge in the hands of each individual.
This touches on another possible long term bonus from the pandemic. For those who, from the start, chose to embrace this as time to build fitness, the potential physical benefits are clear. When else has a ski racer had this much time off snow, while NOT being injured? In fact, it’s like getting all the bennies of having an injury without the actual injury. These benefits include time to work on your mental game, give your body and mind a break from skiing, let the bone spurs shrink (a biggie in our household) and give the vertebrae a chance to perk back up.
It’s also a chance to explore the much-preached long term development advantages of becoming a well-rounded athlete. Dabbling in multiple activities off the snow and out of the gym—dance, gymnastics, ultimate, hiking, biking, etc— builds general athleticism and fitness while also allowing overuse injuries to heal. Add in good nutrition, rest, and copious video review, all of which are readily available in quarantine, and the benefits will continue to snowball.
The potential for the sport of ski racing to reap all these benefits is huge and long lasting, if we have the patience to see them through. A big component of that will be acknowledging that, beyond the aforementioned variables (which are totally within each athlete’s control), there will be massive imbalances in access and opportunities, based on geography and bank account. While a lucky few will get back on snow soon, the vast majority of ski racers will not.
As I was thinking about these things, and how they will pan out, I got a call from CU Coach Richard Rokos, who, like other coaches, is navigating how to train his team without being able to train as a team for the foreseeable future. Rokos sees the new world of ski training as going back to some old world techniques, namely by getting creative in Mother Nature’s gym.
He also sees a resurgence of self-motivation, as athletes are forced to train alone, on an honor system, with only themselves to judge intensity. To that end, Rokos is working on a “Pocket Physical Test” for Alpine racers, that can be self- administered by any athlete without the need for masks, social distancing, plexiglass barriers, sanitizers and temperature-taking that, for now, are required in a more formal group testing environment.
Rokos does not see the low-tech platform as a substitute for things like Skills Quest, or the Norwegian Iron Man. There would be no medals or selections or even high fives. But, in a time when we can’t easily use gyms or gather for testing, it would give athletes of all ages an equal opportunity to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses against standards in essential fitness areas for ski racing. And it would do it for low or no cost.
TIME IS MONEY
Cost matters, and in our sport—where the sky is the limit on what one could spend to chase training and racing opportunities—controlling it matters now more than ever. We can’t help that the Norwegians have been training since mid April, that the Europeans have access to glaciers and that New Zealanders have their winter playgrounds to themselves and the Aussies. Similarly in our own country, we can’t ignore the reality that some people will circle the globe to find training, and other’s will not be able to get meaningful on snow time until the snow starts falling from local skies.
What we can do as a sport, starting at the top, is to acknowledge that these imbalances will exist, and understand that if they decrease participation it’s very bad news for our sport. As an entire sports community, we need the restraint to look beyond the next shiny penny, and create the space for the accessibility restrictions created by the pandemic to balance out. Pandemic-proof benefits of solid technique, fitness and drive will ultimately surpass the temporary bump of massively unequal training, but only if we are patient.
Keeping the sport strong means thinking beyond, “how can my kid/team/school get a jump on everyone else?” to thinking, “how we can keep as many kids engaged, involved, engaged and improving as long as possible?” If ever there was a time to resist selecting and winnowing, and to embrace creating more opportunities for more athletes to grow and thrive, it is now. At every stage of development, we need to encourage, not deflect, to allow for the kind of commitment that money can’t buy to shine through. .
I think back to an interview I did with Andreas Wenzel a few years back. When talking about his work tackling these same problems of cost and accessibility of ski racing in Europe, he explained, “You know, the raw diamonds come not so much from the Gstaad’s and St Moritz’s. They come from tiny villages.”
We love our shiny and polished, but we’re only going to be great as a sport if we also recognize, value and create space for these rough diamonds. We can be sure of one thing: after dryland training all spring, summer and possibly fall, they are going to be tough!