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The $500,000 per child problem of US alpine ski racing


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The problem with American alpine skiing at the Beijing Olympics isn’t that Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t win an individual medal. The problem is that she was the only American skier to win one.

Going into Saturday’s mixed team parallel event – a new discipline that some big alpine nations aren’t taking seriously – the US medal tally stands at one: Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s surprise silver in the super G. This is the lowest total for the US Alpine Ski Team. since 1998, when he also won a medal.

The future could be darker than that. In recent years, the alpine racing pipeline in the United States has been threatened by an intimidating force: a booming price tag.

According to a 2019 survey by US Ski & Snowboard of ski clubs, academies and colleges, the total cost of a junior ski racing career can exceed $500,000. This total includes everything from ski camps and academy tuition to more specialized equipment and race fees.

Ex-ski racers and parents are ringing the alarm bells as they watch the sport shift towards the extremely wealthy.

“We’re going to be in trouble as a country,” said Andrew Weibrecht, a 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic super-G medalist who has recently become active in ski governance over concerns about rising costs. “The pool will become so shallow that it will become difficult to find the most talented athletes.”

In response to emailed questions, Sophie Goldschmidt, President and CEO of US Ski & Snowboard, acknowledged, “Cost is an issue in attracting and retaining athletic talent, and we need to continue to find ways to reduce costs in this country.Without government funding in these sports, our athletes depend on the support of donors, sponsors, clubs, resort partners, volunteers and our wider sporting community to enable them to pursue their dreams. . »

According to a 2019 survey by US Ski and Snowboard of ski clubs, academies and colleges, the total cost of a junior ski racing career can exceed $500,000.
(Gabriele Facciotti/Associated Press)

Ski racing has never been cheap. But it has long been accessible to people of more modest means and those who live in or near mountain towns, said Steve Porino, a former American runner working as an NBC Olympics commentator. Now the race in the United States is for one percent, he said.

“Ski racing is getting more and more expensive around the world,” Porino said. “But we are leading the charge.”

Those with enough money can send their children to off-season training in New Zealand to prepare them for the competitions which start as early as October. In a 2020 essay on Skiracing.com, Porino called the benefits that top-spending parents get “financial doping.”

Steve Crowley said the high costs helped the eldest of his two daughters retire from highly competitive ski racing. She now races for her high school team. Costs are also weighing on his family for his 14-year-old daughter, Audrey Crowley, a competitive Paralympic skier, he said.

Steve Crowley works in sales for a company that sells high-end home electronics. He and his wife have second jobs in the ski industry – the family lives in Eagle, Colorado, near Vail – which guarantees them discounts on skiing expenses.

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Crowley estimates that her family is spending $30,000 this year on Audrey’s ski races, and that “when she turns 17, that will increase by at least $10,000 to $15,000.” At this point, fundraising would be the only way the family could afford to keep her in the running, he said.

Goldschmidt of US Ski & Snowboard said ski club programming fees account for the largest portion of young athletes’ racing costs and are driven by broader economic forces. The survey indicates that these fees and a season pass can cost up to $18,000 at a club and $50,000 at a ski academy for a rider under 14.

The 0,000 per child problem of US alpine ski racing

Andrew Weibrecht was a US Olympic Super-G medalist in 2010 and 2014.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

One of the cost-inducing trends is the move toward hunting points. Those who start skiing early in the year can rack up race points, move up the ranks, and give themselves better starting positions, making it difficult to catch up with others for the rest of the season.

Goldschmidt said statistically junior skiers don’t run more than in the past, but acknowledged that the drive to run more to improve the standings is driving up travel costs for some.

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The push toward points hunting and the move away from a young skier’s actual skill and technique is a change from a decade or two ago when Weibrecht was growing up in Lake Placid, NY, skiing mostly in his local ski area and ran mostly locally.

Weibrecht is like many top American skiers of the past: he grew up playing multiple sports, focusing on ski racing from his teenage years and getting his best ski education through a strong homegrown program.

Now, he says, “You see parents who don’t let their kids play football because they’re focused on getting fit for ski racing.”

Increasingly specialized equipment — and the means some young skiers have to tinker with it — can be another obstacle for skiers without wealth. Weibrecht remembers racing on used skis and trying to wax them by melting candles from his parents’ restaurant. When racing at the under-14 level, race officials limited children to one pair of skis, even noting the serial number.

“It really leveled the playing field,” Weibrecht recalled. “Now I see kids at a young age with multiple pairs of skis. I think it’s a cultural change that’s happened, a change in mentality.”

Efforts to address the cost issue have not gained traction. Weibrecht, who sits on the committees of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the U.S. Ski & Snowboard, said a move to limit young riders to one pair of skis has met with resistance from some industry players. ski. So, have measures to limit the number of races children participate in.

“There are definitely incentives not to try to cut the cost of the sport,” Weibrecht said.

The 0,000 per child problem of US alpine ski racing

Team Bulgaria’s Eva Vukadinova skis her race as a course worker still repairs a broken gate during the Women’s Slalom Race 1 on day five of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Alpine Skiing Center on 9 February 2022, in Yanqing, China.
(Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

For its part, US Ski & Snowboard encouraged the use of national venues to reduce costs, worked with partner resorts on affordable lift access, and encouraged the use of lower-cost equipment among younger children. .

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One of the most tangible changes came by accident: a reduction in race schedules during the pandemic. Athletes now run closer to home more often and spend less on accommodation and meals. Goldschmidt said US Ski & Snowboard strengthened the approach “due to encouraging and profitable results.”

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal

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