At some point, you, as a ski mom or dad, may be asking this question: should we put our child or children in a recreational racing program. A friend and I were talking it over today and we spent an astounding 38 minutes massaging this question up one side and down the other.
It seems like a pretty simple question – as a society we foster competition in most other endeavors, so why not in skiing? Since not every hill can support ski jumping, or a competition size half-pipe, Alpine racing (slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill) is the most obvious, available and old-school form of competition available to kids on skis. And there are many benefits to getting your kids into an Alpine program.
Advantage Number One: ADULT TIME! Yes, this is the most self-serving motivation, but let’s face it: Parents need a break. Ski parents have endured a year or two cajoling, pulling and cheering their darling down the bunny hill, while spending what seems like another year or two in line for hot chocolate on the MOST EPIC powder day ever, only to head back out to the bunny hill. Putting darling in a recreational racing program equals FREEDOM, and that’s the way many of these programs are promoted.
Advantage Number Two: Non-Parental Coaching. Parents get freedom, darling gets coaching, darling improves and everyone moves happily toward the goal of “skiing together as a family.” It seems like a clear-cut win-win situation to me. And, based on our experience, it is.
Advantage Number Three: Hanging out with Friends. Introductory ski racing is all about camaraderie, friendship and socializing (for parents and darling). Within this social arena, kids can also improve their skills and enjoy fun competition. At Powderhorn Ski Resort where our boys started racing, the introductory/recreation program is the Buddy Werner League, named after the late Buddy Werner, a native of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and an American skiing phenomenon killed prematurely during a Swiss avalanche in 1964. Our league has coaching and racing on eight consecutive Sundays, with the season’s top finishers qualifying for a state championship race in March of each year. The Buddy Werner League supports racing through age 14 (also known as the J3 level). Both of my children and I are alumni of the Buddy Werner League, and as a young teenager I adored it. I loved skiing with my friends and coach and it was a formative experience for me, which successfully introduced me to the social and competitive aspects of the sport.
Advantage Number Four: Self-Confidence. In my opinion, nothing builds self-confidence like ski racing. A racer stands alone in the starting gate, at the top of the course. A racer has to overcome fear and focus on the task at hand – getting to the bottom as fast as possible and in one piece. Very few people in the world have much experience doing this, so kids who ski race are unique and can justly feel proud of their accomplishments. In addition, there is only one winner at the end of each race. Sure, three kids get on the podium and 10 usually place, but there is only one winner. That means that for the majority of racers, they are racing against themselves to improve. They are racing, not to meet someone else’s goal of victory, but to meet their own personal goals.
One of my proudest moments as a race parent was at the 2008 Prater Cup, a Junior Olympic qualifying race for J4 racers (ages 11-12) at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The Prater organizers mix up the racers, who generally come from Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, putting them onto teams named after the countries that compete in the Winter Olympics. Our son, who is notoriously shy, was put onto the Czech Republic team. He was then given a “passport” and had to collect stickers from racers from other “countries” at an afternoon social event. He came back to our hotel beaming. He told us “I didn’t think I could do it, but I talked to lots of kids and they were all nice!” This was a ski racing moment we will never forget and wouldn’t trade for any amount of podium finishes.
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