Alpine Canada releases statement on downhill skier who was injured during Birds of Prey training run in Beaver Creek

Alpine Canada released a statement last Friday regarding national ski team member Broderick Thompson, who sustained head injuries during a training run crash at the Birds of Prey World Cup in Beaver Creek on Nov. 29.

“Broderick was airlifted to Denver Health Centre where he is receiving the best possible care. He is alert and his condition is stable, and he is showing steady improvement,” the statement read.

Fellow Canadian skier Britt Richardson said she’d spoken with the two-time Olympian since the injury.

“Obviously we’re all really sad that he got injured there, but I hear he’s stable and he’s doing better and he’s been improving the past couple of days,” she told CBC Canada.

“We hope to see that trend continue and yeah, we’re just sending him all positive vibes and love to him.”

Thompson’s accident occurred near the Golden Eagle Jump according to “Doctors were suspecting a blood clot on the brain and were expecting the worst for a few hours,” Julia Schneemann reported. “Thankfully, on Thursday, November 30, in the afternoon, the all-clear came from the hospital in Denver: Broderick is conscious again and is responsive.” 

World Champion Aksel Lund Svindal also landed badly after the Golden Eagle Jump in a training run in November 2007. After somersaulting into a safety fence, he suffered broken bones in his face and a six-inch laceration to his left buttock muscle.

Medical personnel treat Norway’s ski racer Aksel Lund Svindal after he was injured in a training run for the men’s World Cup Downhill ski race on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007, in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Nathan Bilow/AP photo

Thompson wasn’t the only athlete injured during training on Nov. 29. American athlete Erik Arvidsson tore his ACL and LCL in a crash that day as well.

“Heartbroken to have torn my ACL and LCL on the last training day before the start of the World Cup season,” Arvidsson stated on Instagram last week.

“Thanks so much to all the @usskiteam doctors, physios, coaches, athletes, and support staff who have helped me start to get things organized for the long road back. As @akilde told me yesterday I am not the first and I won’t be the last. I’ll be back soon.”

For the first time in the event’s history, all three Birds of Prey races were canceled because of weather. Thompson, a national team athlete since 2015, placed third at the super-G in Beaver Creek in 2021 — his only World Cup podium. He is the younger brother of Olympic ski cross champion Marielle Thompson.

“The speed boys are just so hardcore and it happens so much, it’s hard for us to watch,” said Sarah Bennett, a Canadian teammate who was competing in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, over the Birds of Prey weekend.

“Especially for their parents, I feel for them to have to hear news like that. To know that he’s in recovery and he’s doing way better is really good to hear.”

Birds of Prey World Cup training runs get underway in Beaver Creek

Bluebird skies welcomed the world’s fastest skiers Tuesday in Beaver Creek as the Birds of Prey World Cup races got underway with an opening downhill training run.

All the heavy hitters were present, along with a fresh class of podium-caliber pros. Among them were a number of Colorado skiers just happy to be spending a week back home.

“It feels amazing,” said River Radamus of Edwards after completing his first training run of the week. “It’s a special feeling, you know, you really feel like you’re on home turf here.

“The hill prep is phenomenal,” he added. “The snow is really good, it’s a little bit hard to get used to. I mean it’s grabby, it’s aggressive but it’s really smooth. I mean I ran 81 today, still phenomenal conditions, so yeah it’s going to make for some really good, really fair racing this week.”

Ryan Cochran-Siegle of the United States skis during Tuesday’s men’s World Cup downhill training run at Beaver Creek. Cochran-Siegle posted the fastest time among the American men.
John Locher/AP

The Ski and Snowboard Club Vail alum finished with a strong statement at the 2022 event, rocketing to a 16th-place finish in the closing super-G. He was the only American to gain points in the race. The local favorite has taken the lessons learned from his last performance and has been applying them to his progress since.

“It’s been a really good prep period. Our whole team has been skiing really strong. I feel very confident in where we are, and what we are able to do here,” he said. “There’s a chance I might race this weekend in the downhill, so I’m building up to that. In super-G I feel really good right now, I feel completely in command of what I want to do, so I’m going to try and throw one down again, you know.”

Littleton’s Kyle Negomir, another SSCV alum, has a long history with the Birds of Prey event, dating back to his days of working on the course, instead of racing on it.

“I would be up there slipping, pulling B-net, shoveling snow, doing whatever needed doing with the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail crew. My parents have worked here God knows how many years. My mom’s up there Wednesday and Thursday this week. They usually put her as a gate judge somewhere scary on the brink or something, you know, they’re like, ‘Ah she’s tough, she can handle it.'”

Kyle Negomir completes his first training run on the Birds of Prey downhill course on Tuesday.
Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

“It’s pretty special to be able to be at your home race and you see your parents doing inspection,” he said. “They’re on the hill working with everyone else. But it’s cool that you know there’s such a big community with the Talon crew and everyone that puts their time and energy in to help us and to help pull this race off, so I really appreciate seeing my parents as a part of that.”

And while not technically a “local” — being Mikaela Shiffrin’s boyfriend does still earn partial credit with the home crowd — Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who had a dominant performance in last year’s races, topped Tuesday’s results by posting a 1:39.68 time, followed by Cyprien Sarrazin of France and Andreas Sander of Germany. Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, a usual heavyweight of the event who was recently sidelined at the Copper training sessions due to back pain, posted the eleventh-best time.

Training continues Wednesday at 10:45 a.m. The Thursday training session is canceled, according to event organizers.

The World Cup men’s field is preparing for the first speed race of the season after previous speed events in Zermatt, Switzerland, were canceled due to poor weather conditions.

Birds of Prey World Cup races a go at Beaver Creek after passing snow control test

Beaver Creek passed a snow control test on Friday, Nov. 17, after which the International Ski and Snowboard Federation gave the green light for the Birds of Prey ski races to return to the mountain in early December.

Passing the test means the course is in good condition and will be ready to host the men’s downhill and super-G training and races from Nov. 28 through Dec. 3.

“Beaver Creek is known for its incredible early-season conditions, and we are happy to have official word that our course is once again in excellent shape for racing,” said Event Director Sarah Franke of the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation, which hosts the event each year. “A huge congrats and thank you goes out to our partners at Beaver Creek Mountain and our amazing race crew, known for creating one of the best racecourses in the world. We can’t wait to welcome the world’s fastest men back to this iconic course in the upcoming weeks.” 

The Birds of Prey races have been held in Beaver Creek since 1997.

Racing Schedule

Nov. 28-30: Downhill training
Dec. 1: 10:45 a.m., Downhill 1
Dec. 2: 10:45 a.m., Downhill 2
Dec. 3: 10:45 a.m., Super G

*Race times subject to change. 

Domestic Television Schedule

Friday, Dec. 1

10:45 a.m. – Downhill, live on Outside (free) 

Saturday, Dec. 2

10:45 a.m. – Downhill, live on Outside (free)
12:00 p.m. – Friday’s downhill (delayed) on CNBC
3:00 p.m. – Saturday’s downhill (delayed) on NBC  

Sunday, Dec. 3

10:45 a.m. – Super G, live on Outside (free)
2:30 p.m. – Super G (delayed) on NBC 

Photography that has taken flight in Birds of Prey awards packages

In addition to earning the fastest time on the hill, some ski racers on the FIS Alpine World Cup circuit get some pretty interesting prizes from different countries. In Levi, Finland, it appears that winners get a reindeer, in Val d’Isere, France, you either get a huge wheel of Beaufort cheese or a cow and in Beaver Creek, a bird of prey.

These prizes aren’t exactly literal, there are more so tokens from each race venue, mere symbols of the area, although, Lindsey Vonn opted for the cow versus the $5,000 she was offered by the farmer in 2005 after she won the downhill race in Val D’Isere.

Many times, the public sees pictures of a beautiful bird of prey on stage with the top three finishers of that day’s race at Beaver Creek. The bird goes back to the Raptor Education Foundation but the athletes do get to take home a beautiful photograph that beholds the image of the event’s namesake.

Former U.S. Ski Team members,Bode Miller, left, and Ted Ligety, right pose with Anne Price of the Raptor Education Center at an awards ceremony at the Birds of Prey ski races.
Westrich Photography/Courtesy photo

The Talons area of Beaver Creek Mountain is home to several runs named after birds of prey. The Golden Eagle run hosts the men’s racecourse and the Kestrel run hosts the women’s racecourse. Screech Owl, Ruffed Grouse, Peregrine, Ptarmigan, Osprey and more fill the trail map. The majestic birds are represented in the photography of Rob Westrich of St. Louis, Missouri. The framed photos are what grace racers’ homes all over the world after reaching the podium at Beaver Creek and this art became a part of the race package in 2009.

Westrich had just started photographing the amazing birds the year before, after attending a Cub Scouts meeting with his son. The World Bird Sanctuary brought in raptors to share with the scouts and it didn’t take long for Westrich to become inspired. Westrich, whose company, Westrich Photography, has covered the photography needs of the public in the St. Louis area for 75 years, soon found himself taking photos not of people, but of birds. The World Bird Sanctuary brought birds to his studio to capture what would become his fine art series, The Raptor Series.

Rob Westrich’s photography became a part of the Birds of Prey awards package in Beaver Creek in 2009.
Westrich Photography/Courtesy photo

The buzzworthy art gained the attention of those in the St. Louis area and eventually, it was deemed a perfect fit for the Birds of Prey awards package and Westrich has been involved with this for the past 13 years.

“I never thought it would turn into something this big,” Westrich said. “To know the print is hanging in the homes of some of the greatest athletes in the world is incomprehensible. Bode Miller. Lindsey Vonn. Mikaela Shiffrin. The list goes on. It’s an incredible honor.”

Little did Rob Westrich know that a Cub Scout’s excursion would lead to his raptor photography being on the walls of the biggest names in alpine ski racing, like Mikaela Shiffrin.
Westrich Photography/Courtesy photo
Lindsey Vonn addresses the crowd while holding on to the framed birds of prey photography of Rob Westrich.
Westrich Photography/Courtesy photo

WATCH: Ride down Red Tail to watch Birds of Prey World Cup

Join ON THE HILL host Sean Naylor for a lap down Red Tail to the Birds of Prey World Cup spectator area on a powdery weekend at Beaver Creek.

Two legends return to Birds of Prey

Daron Rahlves’ heart beats a little faster when he’s in Beaver Creek.

“There’s a certain energy and a vibe I have when I show up here and when I go up for inspection, that’s when I really feel those memories kick in. It’s really special, I have a lot of great memories here,” said the skier who still holds the fastest time on North America’s Downhill.

The memories Rahlves is talking about are from his success at Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey downhill races. Rahlves won the downhill in 2003, took second behind teammate, Bode Miller in 2004 and was at the top of the podium again in the 2005 downhill race. He retired from Alpine ski racing after the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, and did compete in skier cross at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler, Canada.  

“The U.S. team was not a big contender here when I was racing. It was the Norwegians, the Italians and the Austrians and I finally had enough. I made the mental switch and said ‘this is our turf. We have one chance during the season to shine in front of the home crowd,’ and I made a point to will myself to go fast here and then we saw incredible success here for a few years,” Rahlves said.

Due to the canceled downhill race on Friday, Rahlves took to the slopes with a few current U.S. Ski Team members and his teenage son, Dreyson. Rahlves says he is fortunate to stay in the industry and ski a lot and work with companies like Red Bull, Atomic, Flylow, Gyro and more.  

“I’m the race liaison between the Gyro brand and the athletes and we’re trying to build a race team up, so we’ve signed Ava Sunshine Jemison and Kyle Negomir,” Rahlves said.

“I really like to mentor younger racers and really be there as a resource for the athletes,” Rahlves said.

To learn how Rahlves will be involved in the World Cup race being held at Palisades Tahoe later this season, his role in the latest Warren Miller film and how he is coaching the next generation of ski racers, watch today’s video.

Also in town this weekend was Ted Ligety. Ligety has a long list of podiums at the Winter Olympic Games and the FIS Ski World Cup circuit. He is also among the winningest ski racers in Birds of Prey history. Mr. GS, as he was referred to, won the giant slalom five times from 2010 until 2014, just behind Austria’s Herman Maier, who had six wins at the Birds of Prey. After 15 years of racing here, he was back in the Vail Valley as a spectator. Ligety retired in February of 2021.

Ligety enjoyed skiing powder with some friends and team members on Friday when weather factors canceled the first of two downhill races on the Golden Eagle run and said it was fortunate the call was made early.

“At least in the case on Friday, the race was canceled at 7:00 a.m. and you can just stay in bed and treat it like a rest day and you stay active and can go to the gym versus on days when you’re out there and it’s 1:00 p.m. and it gets canceled, that is pretty mentally exhausting because you’re trying to get yourself ready to race all day long,” Ligety said. “On a day like today I think it is pretty easy to blow off and get ready for the next day.”

Find out what Ted is doing with his eyewear company, Shred, home life with three kids and advice he has for aspiring racers in the video interview.

Fast & smooth Odermatt proves to be ski racer to catch again

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — They glowingly chatter about the ski racer from Switzerland whose turns are so sharp and speed almost unmatched these days.

They study video of Marco Odermatt’s races and training runs to search for clues to how he’s always so smooth. That combination of speed and smoothness led him to a giant slalom gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and the overall World Cup title last season. It’s also allowed him to start strong this season, going 3-for-3 in World Cup podium finishes, including two wins.

Want to know his secret? Just ask. He’ll gladly tell.

“I like to have a good time,” said Odermatt, who will be among the favorites in the speed events at the World Cup stop in Beaver Creek this weekend. “This is the way it works for me. I prefer to have a good time.”

Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt races during a men’s World Cup downhill training run Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Obviously, it’s not all that simple. But he makes it appear that way.

“The possibility is there that he can be the next Hirscher,” International Ski Federation men’s race director Markus Waldner said.

That’s high praise and a reference to Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher, who retired at the summit of the sport after winning his eighth straight overall World Cup title. Since Hirscher’s departure, the competition has been wide open, with Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde winning in 2019-20, France’s Alexis Pinturault in 2020-21 and Odermatt last season.

Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt celebrates his victory on the podium following the men’s World Cup super-G ski race at Lake Louise, Alberta, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP

“It’s probably more interesting for the fans, for the whole tour (to have more winners),” Odermatt said of the overall race. “But I mean, I wouldn’t care if it stayed the same for the next three, four or five years with me. I would be fine with that.”

The 25-year-old Odermatt has steadily been building toward this run of excellence. He was winning as a kid (he got to spend the day skiing with his idol, Swiss downhill great Didier Cuche, as part of the prize). He was winning as a youth (four individual gold medals at the 2018 junior world championships in Switzerland).

Now, he’s taking it to the next level — 32 World Cup podiums, including 13 victories, over 101 starts.

“He’s just showing that he’s at the top of the world, in terms of his dominance, and his level of skiing,” said Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the racer from Vermont who captured silver in the super-G at the Beijing Games. “The tides are shifting into his time right now.”

Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt jumps off the starting gate during a men’s World Cup downhill training run Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Beaver Creek, Colo.
John Locher/AP Photo

Odermatt’s fellow racers study his technique, to see what he’s doing so well.

“He just gets to the top of the turn before everyone and makes more power. And he’s in control doing that,” U.S. ski racer Bryce Bennett explained. “That kid’s amazing.”

Now, he gets to find out if it’s more difficult to win his first overall crown or to repeat. Odermatt has a feeling he already knows.

“I think it’s harder to win it (the first time),” said Odermatt, who counts playing cards with teammates among his ways of unwinding and having a good time. “Because now I know that I have everything to win it. You have even more confidence about this. If it’s the first time, you just don’t know if you are able to do it.”

He’s already on the right track. He won the giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, in October, then followed that up by taking third in a downhill and winning a super-G last weekend at Lake Louise, Alberta.

The races this weekend are on a challenging Birds of Prey course he thoroughly enjoys. With good reason, too, considering his first-ever World Cup win was in Beaver Creek during a 2019 super-G race. Odermatt also won another super-G event on the course in 2021.

“Odermatt is the favorite,” said Austria’s Matthias Mayer, who turned in the top time Thursday on the second day of downhill training, 0.11 seconds ahead of teammate Vincent Kriechmayr. “At this time, he is in very good shape. He showed us this last year, and he’s showing it this year again. He’s amazing.”

Pinturault seconded that opinion.

“Marco’s the next generation,” the 31-year-old Pinturault said. “He looks pretty strong.”

And looking for ways to get even stronger.

“There are always things to improve. There are so many different puzzles that have to fit together,” Odermatt said. “I’m still young. I had one, two, very good seasons, but not so many. So there are still many goals to come, many cool races where I haven’t won. And even if you already have won once, you want to win again.”

Inside the skiing pipeline: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Olympian Paula Moltzan, who skied for Buck Hill Ski Team and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, competed for the University of Vermont, where she won the 2017 slalom national title. Her NCAA stint came after a nomination to the U.S. Team and a world junior championship, but propelled her back into World Cup success.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

As our car crossed the Rio Grande River into Alamosa, Colorado, a large stone monument greeted my wife and I to the “City of Champions.” When I walked into my first graduate course at Adams State University, surrounded by lean endurance athletes, it was evident what those “champions” tended to do. I was walking into a room full of elite runners, who, eager to etch their names into their sport’s pipeline through continued competition, future coaching, or further education and research, often wound up dabbling in all three.

Of the school’s 64 team national championships, 46 have come courtesy of cross-country and another 10 from track and field.

While the majority of my Adams State classmates’ quest for a thesis involved simply walking to the back of the school’s computer lab to find inspiration from alumni dissertations, my search for research gaps in the American Nordic ski literature felt a bit like wandering into the woods to find a timberwolf. Yeah, it might be out there, but there’s probably a reason to leave it alone. Eventually, I turned to Norway’s database, and one name kept popping up at the top of study after study: Oyvind Sandbakk.

The Aspen Institute article’s authors Inge Anderson, Johan Olav Kloss and Sandbakk himself wrote the following:

“Norwegian sports facilitate learning across sports. We have joint research and development projects, and arenas, where athletes and coaches meet across disciplines. This form of competence sharing has systematically been valuable. Few countries, if any, match Norway in this area.”

Oyvind Sandbakk, who recently penned a piece for Aspen Institute on the Norwegian athletic model, is one of the leading sports science researchers. He is based in Trondheim, Norway.
Special to the Daily

Sandbakk, director of the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance — and one of Farrey’s ‘architects’ — is living proof of the synergy between elite sport performance and elite sport science research in his home country. The opening scene and my blank staring at hundreds of scientific journals, only to come up empty, is more emblematic of America’s lack of such cohesion.

Apparently, one result of having approximately 53,000 NCAA track and field athletes across DI, DII, and DIII – compared with 386 male and 374 female NCAA skiers (according to an 2021 NCAA participation survey) — means infrastructure to support research and development in one sport but not in the other.

“The most underutilized resources in the United States’ ski racing system are the colleges and universities,” is how Aldo Radamus, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Executive Director from 2002 to 2016, opened up part four of his Ski Racing Media column series on Alpine ski development.

“That’s a free development system for the US Ski system,” McMurtry said. “It’s like, the NFL has a free development program with NCAA football. That’s something we have that the Europeans don’t have.”

Dan Leever, who penned an article titled “What’s wrong with U.S. Ski Racing?” for Snow Brains in 2018, stated, “We must fully embrace NCAA skiing.”

“There is millions of dollars of funding available in the NCAA system.The NCAA programs can do a perfectly good job of developing athletes in-season, the biggest gap is in the prep period. This should be easily doable and affordable for USST,” he wrote.

He also wrote that he believes “college skiing is the pinnacle of the intrinsic joy in ski racing.” When interviewed for this story, he pointed out that one reason the NCAA hasn’t been a better pipeline to the World Cup is because “we’re not producing good enough skiers to be competitive at DI NCAA schools.”

“It does relate to a weakness in our system,” he added.

Kicked out of class

Ski Racing Media published a story on Thomas Stauffer, the mastermind behind the Swiss team that unseated the Austrian mens team’s grip on the Nations Cup in 2020. That year the Swiss ended the Austrian’s 27-year winning streak. In addition to pointing out the national team’s patience in developing athletes, author Peter Lange asked Stauffer about his philosophy in regard to education. Of the more than 40 Europa Cup and World Cup athletes, only one had not continued his education beyond mandatory school at the time of the article’s publishing.

Tanguy Nef skied for Dartmouth in addition to World Cup races for Switzerland that year. “When Tanguy went to Dartmouth to continue his education, I was fine with that,” Stauffer told Lange. “You want to have mature athletes with their own minds, I absolutely had no problem with it.”

Because NCAA skiing, along with ice hockey, received a waiver to the collegiate rule requiring athletes to complete their athletic eligibility within five years of high school graduation, Radamus believes the system has been displaced from its possible slot in the pipeline.

“…the common advice from NCAA coaches and club or academy coaches alike is to recommend athletes commit to one, two or even more post-grad years to continue to progress, mature and become more competitive before entering the collegiate ranks,” Radamus wrote in part four. “Athletes already at the national team level around the world pursue that pathway until failing to re-qualify or wanting to leverage their accumulated skills by receiving an education.”

The result is that the NCAA ranks are saturated with elite European athletes looking to improve their FIS point profiles in the “soft” American collegiate carnivals while also getting an education, severely limiting access for U.S. athletes to the system. Radamus pointed out that if the NCAA revokes the eligibility exemption, top American high school athletes will become the most desired recruits and can “seize the opportunity to receive the support for their continued development and the need for expensive post-grad years will be significantly reduced.”

“An athlete continuing his or her development through his or her college years would be able to graduate at 21 or 22 years of age with the possibility of a professional career as a ski racer still ahead of them and their degree and future in their back pocket,” Radamus continued.

In a phone interview last month, Radamus expressed that while Olympic medalists haven’t typically come through the NCAA pathway, that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful.

“I do think college is important to this as another pathway for athletes to stay involved in the sport,” he said. “Colleges play an important part today, but they could play an even more important part in the pipeline. I think if you eliminate that rule in skiing, you enhance that possibility that somebody in the normal course of their development will spend at least one year as a member of an NCAA team as part of their pathway.”

He pointed to Paula Moltzan, a 2022 Olympian with ties to Vail. “She was identified early, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, a world junior champion,” he said. “She plateaued, lost her position on the team and was able to use college racing to mature, develop additional skills and now she’s come back and she’s a rising talent. She could be the first one who comes through a college pathway to be a U.S. Olympic medalist.”

Leever pointed to Brian McLaughlin and Erik Read as examples of athletes who utilized the NCAA and NorAm circuit en route to the World Cup. As someone who devoted thousands of hours to understanding development trends, much of which is captured in the “Leever Study,” the longtime U.S. Ski and Snowboard board member fully understands the statistical probabilities behind podium-track athletes.

Dartmouth skier Brian McLaughlin competes at the NCAA Men's Slalom Skiing Championship on March 10, 2017. McLaughlin was named to the U.S. Ski Team for the 2019-20 season.
Fred Kfoury/AP photo

“I get that athletes not on this initial progression are outliers. However, we do not have the depth of athletes like other, predominantly European, nations that allows us to only rely on phenoms,” he wrote in 2018. “We don’t have that luxury, so we need to think differently, and commit resources to a wider base of skiers. Promoting the culture of ski racing is also important. We need fans, and a broad base of supporters … 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 grassroots of our sport not to wither and die? Think about it.”

Late bloomer boom

Because Alpine and cross-country skiing rely on physical maturity, the NCAA could be one of the uniquely American solutions for late bloomers.

“There’s also a lot of skiers in the World Cup that were totally off the map at all those races and missed the stepping stones we talked about — the JO’s, the Junior Championships, the out-of-region races — and are still competing on the World Cup, succeeding in the sport, and moving upwards because they’ve worked hard, taken all the steps and they have the platform to build from there when they have more skiing volume,” River Radamus said on the Arc City podcast in March. He referenced Austrian skier Johannes Strolz as a perfect example of someone who needed time to blossom.

“He was working construction and working his butt off in the gym and doing the work when nobody watched. He was overlooked for the resources and the opportunities that are provided for the team athletes,” he said.

Strolz won the Adelboden World Cup from bib No. 38, went to the Olympics, and won two golds.

“This sport is never linear. Just because you’re losing to someone now, doesn’t mean you’re going to be losing to him in a year, if you outwork them. And it goes in peaks and valleys,” River Radamus said on the podcast.

Leever also brought up Strolz in referencing U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s reaction to the Leever Study’s findings. After analyzing the top 30 World Cup skier’s junior progressions, Leever proposed rough necessary performance markers along a World Cup career trajectory. U.S. Ski and Snowboard decided Leever’s statistical pathway wasn’t tough enough.

“They made it much more stringent than that, and as a result, no one could meet the criteria and it basically demoralized the whole community,” he said. “They’re so myopic in the way that they’ve looked at it historically that they don’t realize that there are people like Johannes Strolz. There’s a guy at 29 years old, never been in the top 30, gets three medals at the Olympics. Is that not proof positive enough for you?”

For cross-country skiing, the relevance of the NCAA system has flowed in and out of prominence, with the number of American-born individual national champions countable on a pair of hands in the 1990s and early 2000s. The relationship with the U.S. Ski Team and the college system was on full display in a recent repost of an archived article from 2009. In the story, one Rosie Brennan, then a Dartmouth sophomore, was dismissed from the U.S. Ski Team.

Nat Hertz wrote, “According to USST staff, these three skiers—and the other four that were dismissed from the team—were not dropped because they were attending college, per se. Instead, they were dropped due to a simple lack of improvement, and a lack of integration into an international-caliber development pipeline.”

Ironically, Hertz would cover Brennan, now 33 and a poster child for late-blooming Nordic skiers, at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she raced every event, including a fourth-place finish in the classic sprint. Brennan was fourth in the overall World Cup standings in 2021 and is the best female skier in the country not named Jessie Diggins.

“The opportunities in terms of training that I have at Dartmouth are much better than I could have gotten anywhere else,” Brennan stated in the 2009 article. “I have a great coach, and great teammates.”

Hertz highlighted one of the other potential battles when it comes to integrating the NCAA into the pipeline when he wrote, “Brennan said that while she also thought there were other pathways to success, ‘sometimes, you’re fighting a political battle as well, if you’re not on the [USST].'”

Jim Galanes, a four-time U.S. Olympic cross-country skier and Summit County resident, believes the college route can be part of the pathway, but he said, “I refuse to call it a pipeline. Because that means there is a strictly defined pathway. There is not.”

During her era (1978-1984), Judy Rabinowitz described how being on the U.S. Ski Team meant “eschewing (or postponing) higher education, training on one’s own during the summer months (except for the odd training camps on European glaciers), followed by winters traveling full-time with the team, either domestically or in Europe, coached by USST coaches.” Rabinowitz ended up getting a degree from Harvard and Harvard Law School before working in the U.S. Department of Justice in San Francisco and eventually Denver.

“Today’s more decentralized and club-based model seems healthier, as does the increased openness to USST members attending college while on the team and even leaving the World Cup circuit to compete for their colleges!” she wrote.

Recently, cross-country coaches have shifted toward encouraging the collegiate route. At the 2022 NCAA championships, American Olympians swept the individual titles, with Ben Ogden claiming both men’s races and Novie McCabe and Sophia Laukli each winning one of the women’s races.

“I suspect this change will lead to less athlete burnout and increased confidence that comes with having more preparation for life after skiing,” Rabinowitz stated.

Cindy Nelson remembers a similar situation to Rabinowitz’s.

“It was really taboo to go to college,” she said.

Nelson, who has been on the U.S. Ski Team’s board of trustees since retiring in 1985, has been impressed with how the team has improved in this area.

“The ski team has a great educational program now. Scholarship programs — we work hard on it — it’s really come to light in the past 20 years I suppose.”

John McMurtry, the coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team from 1976-84, suspects the bridges have been burned and no one is looking to rebuild.

“Here’s the other message that really hurt this sport,” McMurtry stated. “The director of athlete development and Alpine director made it clear to this country that you have to make a choice between either going to college or being on the U.S. Ski team … you can’t do both. That killed it.”

“Jesse Hunt sat in front of the whole community at U.S. nationals four or five years ago and berated college skiing right in front of everybody,” Leever recalled. “Saying college skiing doesn’t lead anywhere, they’re not serious athletes — it was hogwash. Those are the kinds of things they have to fix.”

He continued, “They have to change that so that people recognize that wherever someone comes from, whatever his background, his means, his pathway — we’ll find a home for him, and if he or she is fast enough, we’ll put them in a race and away they go.”

McMurtry added, “What it takes is the ski team’s gotta sit down with the NCAA and work these issues out so that it’s for the kid’s benefit, and I don’t see anybody doing that.”

Science and skiing

Unity between scientists and the ski team was an integral element to the success of the teams in the 1980s, according to McMurtry.

“We had a tremendous sports science program, which really became a model for other sports,” he said, pointing to Richard Steadman, the chairman of the sports medicine counsel. A full-time sports psychologist, Jeremy May, as well as PhDs in biomechanics and exercise physiology, worked alongside the coaches and athletes during his era.

“We had absolutely the best,” he proclaimed.

Cindy Nelson remembered John Atkins, the athletic trainer for both men and women, pushing athletes out of their comfort zones by prioritizing the team over the individual.

U.S. skier Cindy Nelson is shown in action during the ladies' giant slalom in Val-d'Isere, France, Dec. 11, 1984.
AP Photo

“He really worked hard at putting individual athletes who were competing with each other under the same flag, to win. Do you want to share your training secrets with the person that’s going to beat you? Probably not,” Nelson said. “So, how do you balance that and make each other stronger because you’re competing against your teammate who’s also as good. John came up with some things that were really hard for all of us to abide with.”

Before the “Atkins influence” it was common for athletes to depart from the finish line after their run.

“John told us it didn’t matter what your result was, you needed to support each one of your teammates,” Nelson said.

Cindy Nelson, one of the most successful U.S. skiers in the ’70s and ’80s, is shown after suffering a broken ankle in a World Cup race in West Germany. This January 1977 photo was taken before she went home to Lutsen, Minnesota, to rest and recover.
AP photo

He absolutely changed the environment from its ‘me-me-me — if I don’t win then my days over’ — to everybody is a whole. And I think it was a lot of that cultural change that helped us win the Nation’s Cup.”

“It was a sweet spot in time,” McMurtry reminisced.

“It was fully funded, we had state-of-the-art sports science, and when all those pieces come together — and on top of that we had tremendous athletes — that’s when you win Nation’s Cups and more medals at the Olympics than any other country.”

Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Part IV: What happened?

Part V: The Leever Study

Part VI: The importance of Idraet

Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

Part VIII: An American answer

Inside the skiing pipeline: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Slovenia's Zan Kranjec races during the World Cup giant slalom in Meribel, France. Slovenia, historically a ski-rich nation, only had one slalom skier on the Europa Cup circuit last season, according to Peter Lange.
Marco Trovati/AP photo

Peter Lange, publisher of Ski Racing Media and Alpine coach of youth up to the World Cup level for more than 35 years, remembers a day when Dynastar used to send money to get kids to ski camps.

“That is so gone,” he laughs. “Equipment and access and all these things cost money and yes some people can afford it and have an advantage, but that is true in other sports. How important is the car in Formula 1? It’s part of the sport.”

Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

Part IV: What happened?

Part V: The Leever Study

Part VI: The importance of Idraet

Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

Part VIII: An American answer

A veteran of covering and coaching the sport across the globe, Lange has noted that the cost issue in skiing is not unique to the U.S.

“The reality is, it’s true everywhere,” he said. “The expense of ski racing is rocketing all over.”

Given the sport’s inherent relationship with technology, the equipment piece of the puzzle is bound to only get worse.

“The equipment has to get more expensive,” Lange prophesied. “The companies are not making the kind of money they used to. There’s more technology, higher priced materials and more engineering.”

Even though sticker-shock might discourage would be participants, in the overall scheme of things, the major factor in the cost battle — particularly for Americans — is travel.

“Our particular problem is amplified because we have to have overseas flights to Europe,” Lange explained, noting that cost of equipment probably plays the smallest role.

“Let’s not forget, this is a European-centric sport and the European model, because of the close proximity to year-round skiing, it’s very expensive for people to get a lot of volume at a young age,” added Dan Leever, who spent thousands of hours interviewing many European thought-leaders, athletes and coaches on the topic of development in producing The Leever Study, a project discussed later in this series. The prevailing opinion given to him was the U.S. shouldn’t simply copy the European method. Easy access to snow was a big reason.

“For us to ski in the summer, you have to get in an airplane and go somewhere,” he said.

Peter Lange is the publisher of Ski Racing Media and has coached Alpine skiing at all levels for over 35 years.
Special to the Daily

Intentional skill acquisition on snow, at an early age, was one of the irreplaceable tenets for success Leever uncovered in his research. Along with a myriad of other club and competition-related costs, Leever feels U.S. Ski and Snowboard has not effectively told parents what they’re getting themselves into when their daughter claims she wants to be the next Picabo Street.

Former World Cup skier Alex Leever, son of Dan Leever, competes in the slalom race at the U.S. Alpine Championships this March. Peter Lange was Leever’s longtime coach before the athlete announced his retirement at the end of the season.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

“So, we historically have not communicated well to parents of upcoming skiers just what the path requires if you want to take it to an Olympic level. And that requires a lot of volume young. There’s just no other way around it,” he said.

Some nations such as Switzerland and Austria don’t have to worry about travel and training camp costs because year-round access to snow is abundant and proximal to team members. Meanwhile, U.S. skiers ring up large bills living what Lange said is “the hotel and restaurant life.”

“That adds to our expense when we’re talking about the top,” he said.

Even with their geographical advantages, financial problems have hindered Alpine-rich nations. Slovenia put out one slalom racer on the Europa Cup circuit this past season.

“That is shocking,” Lange said.

“It is an Alpine ski nation. They don’t have enough people who can afford the sport to produce more than one qualified athlete. There was two, and one quit. It’s the same reason — it takes so much resource.”

Lange believes U.S. Ski and Snowboard would love an answer to the cost problem.

“There’s been all sorts of initiatives to take cost out of ski racing by some very wealthy people in the industry. It’s such a difficult one to solve,” he said, adding that it isn’t helpful to resent those with more resource or talent.

“There have been people trying to answer this question with resource. It’s not like it’s not being considered and looked at or that people aren’t aware of it, but the answer is not an easy one.”

Few have invested the kind of resource into the topic as Leever, who watched two of his sons progress through the Alpine pipeline and spearheaded the aforementioned study on trends in elite development in Europe.

“Typically, most elite programs for development in Europe, if not free, are very inexpensive and underwritten oftentimes by the government,” he said. “As a result, it’s much less expensive to pursue an elite track in ski racing.”

Leever doesn’t expect the price of the sport to ever go down.

“That’s never going to change. It’s always going to be expensive by its very nature, but there are a lot of things that can be done to make it less so,” he said. “And some of those things are a matter of educating families.”

An exaggerated focus on traveling and racing is one area families have been led astray.

“Mikaela Shiffrin raced very little growing up,” Leever pointed out. “A dozen times per year compared to kids doing 50 times per year. That’s just a waste of money. It’s been proven over and over again that the skill acquisition is more important than the ‘learn-to-race’ aspect.”

Battle Mountain ski racers wait for their start during a giant slalom in Beaver Creek in 2019. Peter Lange believes validating all levels of competition, regardless of their position in a pipeline, is an important step for the ski community to take.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

To achieve elite performance in skiing, Leever believes there’s a “well-proven pathway,” that parents have sometimes been sheltered from.

“The U.S. didn’t really articulate that,” he said of the route to the top. “I think that many people or at least some people in the U.S. knew it but they were afraid to tell parents for fear that nobody would do it at all because it was too big of a commitment. And it is the type of commitment that one typically buys into over time.”

Leever has seen some initiatives, particularly in Vail, that have worked wonders in bringing the overall cost down.

“There are clear amazing initiatives, and I think (Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy) is one of them. Where the school district has created a ski academy that’s free to the students, that’s for the local kids, is part of their options available to them,” he said.

“The other thing that’s a big deal, particularly in Vail, is the amount of charitable support that’s available,” he continued. “The kids who ski in Vail, if they’re not well to do, have amazing support available to them. As much as 100% of the total cost of ski racing can be absorbed by scholarships and grants. That’s typically not available anywhere else. So that’s a very powerful model that we have.”

Lange also believes charging its national team athletes was never a part of U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s plan, but the alternative would have been worse.

“It just got to the point where they didn’t have enough support or sponsorship to do it,” he stated. “So, rather than cut the number of athletes on the team, they offered the team, but at a price.”

As idealistic as things were in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the way Leever and Lange see it, those days are gone.

“The days of equipment being free or largely free are over,” Leever stated. “The reason for that is that the skiing market matured and the lack of growth just didn’t provide the funding from the ski manufacturers to be able to give away a lot of equipment. It’s just a different world today than it was 20 years ago.”

Lange agrees, noting that for better or for worse, the days of $100 club fees are in the rearview mirror.

“Back in the day — those days are gone,” he said, noting that the sport’s evolution has fueled the arm’s race as much as disillusioned parents, believing they have to pounce on every opportunity possible, have.

An athlete gets ready to compete in the Steadman Clinic Vail Cup, one of several opportunities for young kids in the Vail Valley to be introduced to ski racing.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

“We make parents and athletes feel like, ‘God, you gotta participate at the NorAm or the FIS level,'” he said. Lange thinks all levels of competition — Buddy Werner, CHSSL, FIS, USSA and NCAA should be validated in and of themselves.

“It itself, standing alone, Buddy Werner is awesome. Not because its a pipeline to the ski team. High school, in itself, is valid. USSA is valid, not because it’s a pipeline to NorAm,” he outlined. “The problem is that parents in their own mind don’t think they’re valid because they know somebody with some money whose kid is on the NorAm circuit and now their kid is going to get the scholarship to the University of Denver,” he hypothesized.

Leever echoed Lange’s sentiment that elite-level skiing shouldn’t be the ‘be-all-end-all.’

“There are pathways for everyone in this sport that can be fantastic. If you’re not looking to achieve an elite level, you want to ski for a high school team, you don’t have to ski year round for that,” Leever said.

While Lange applauds those searching for answers and has shepherded athletes from grassroots to the World Cup, the way he sees it, the focus should be on the journey, no matter what hierarchy it takes place on.

“The top is in and of itself not valid,” he stated. “It’s only the journey that got you there and the friends you made along the way. Relationships are the only lasting value.”

At the end of the day, Lange, who has observed the sport from multiple angles for decades, says there is no easy answer to widening the base and increasing international performance.

“We’re facing headwinds that are real and the solution is not simple.”

Perhaps one uniquely American aspect of the solution that has been overlooked — or at least misused — is the NCAA.

Check out Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline in tomorrow’s Vail Daily.

Inside the skiing pipeline: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

The U.S. Ski Team after the women’s contingent clinched the 1982 Nations Cup in Waterville, Maine.
Special to the Daily

    On March 4, 1982 in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire — exactly four decades before it failed to medal at the Beijing Olympics — the U.S. women’s Alpine ski team clinched the 1982 Nation’s Cup, a title calculated by adding every point in a season for all racers from a given nation.

    It was the first — and remains the only time — the United States has claimed the title.

    Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series

    Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)

    Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?

    Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline

    Part IV: What happened?

    Part V: The Leever Study

    Part VI: The importance of Idraet

    Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold

    Part VIII: An American answer

    “We were loaded. The U.S. team was so deep,” said John McMurtry, the coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team from 1976-1984, in an interview with the Vail Daily’s Randy Wyrick in 2014.

    Cindy Nelson remembers the star-studded lineup on both the women’s and men’s Alpine teams.

    “Anyone could win on any given day,” she recalled of the tightly-knit group. She remembered how the Mahre twins, Steve and Phil, could “finish each other’s sentences.”

    “(Tamara McKinney) was super strong, (Christin Cooper) was super strong, I was super strong. We had a lot of skiers that were good,” she said. “I didn’t want any of them to beat me, but yet, you give the course report back up if you were the first one down the mountain so that your teammates knew if something was different than how it looked in inspection. Somehow, we all became great teammates for each other and I think that was the difference.”

    At the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, McMurtry’s team won more Alpine medals than any other country. In the giant slalom, Debbie Armstrong won gold, Christin Cooper won silver, and Tamara McKinney (the first American woman to win the overall World Cup title and World Cup slalom title) placed fourth in a telling display of dominance. The year McKinney won the overall, Nelson was second. The Vail resident was no. 1 before tearing her ACL in Val d’Isere, France.

    First named to the U.S. Ski Team as a 16-year-old, Cindy Nelson was one of the best international racers ever for the U.S. She won a bronze medal in downhill for the United States at the 12th Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria in 1976.
    Vail Daily archive

    “We have been there — the number one team in the world,” McMurtry flatly stated in a recent phone call.

    “Difficult to do in today’s world, but it was difficult then, too,” added Nelson.

    ‘There’s got to be radical change’

    While no one has carte blanche in speaking to the wider scope of the U.S. Ski Team’s historical performance, some are certainly more qualified than others. If there are people capable of providing an educated insight, McMurtry is one of them.

    “I think I’ve got a background,” he humbly stated.

    In collecting thoughts from a myriad of voices, including several current and former U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches and one prominent Norwegian, a theme emerged in analyzing the overall structure and direction of U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

    Examining the national governing body’s development pipeline health — the key cog in the wheel of elusive consistent international success — reveals an ugly illness infecting all of American youth sports: an increased professionalization and subsequent crippling cost of participation. Coupled with a lack of meaningful access and pedagogically appropriate steps in the development ladder, the participation pool for all winter sports has shrunk.

    U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame member John McMurtry coached the women’s Alpine team to its only Nation’s Cup title in 1982. He resided over U.S. Skiing’s most successful era, guiding the team to the most Alpine medals at the 1984 Olympics and designing a development program that produced the successes of Picabo Street, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety.
    Vail Daily Archive

    While the different disciplines underneath U.S. Ski and Snowboard have unique narratives in regard to this discussion, some elements appear collective in nature.

    Where the U.S. has established global dominance — basketball, football and track and field — it harmonizes youth, interscholastic and collegiate systems with national teams, consistently churning out elite professionals as the cream rises to the top of a wide base.

    Conversely, the nature of skiing — one bound to a relationship with mechanical forces like friction and gravity (where increasing grind and ski selection options and expensive wax plant the seeds of cost-inherent advantages), and dependent upon early skill acquisition through structured on-snow practice, expensive clubs and travel-laden competitive schedules — attracts a minority willing and able to engage in the financial arms race required for surviving and thriving in the current pathway.

    Perhaps most importantly, in its stubborn search for the next superstar, some sense the nation has lost perspective on what ought to be its most fundamental sporting value: providing young people an opportunity to compete at something they love, learning life lessons along the way. Proponents arguing for such a holistic philosophy note its mutual inclusivity with world domination, citing the statistic that 93% of youth in Norway, traditionally a world winter sports power, participate in a sport.

    “And they’re not there to win gold medals. They’re there because of the health values that sports give children as they’re developing as people,” argued McMurtry. “Our focus has been wrong. We’ve been from the grassroots club level trying to identify who’s going to be the next Mikaela Shiffrin. And that’s not the point of sports.”

    The tenor of current and former national team athletes’ and coaches’ voices seems to suggest that a uniquely American approach — one which considers the the United States’ geographic, cultural, and socio-economic variables, factors essentially non-existent in homogeneous, ski-rich nations like Austria, Switzerland or Norway — is paramount. Creative solutions which drive down cost, provide attractive access to the sport and appropriate support throughout are needed to strengthen the pipeline. Utilizing the American blend of clubs and schools, NCAA teams and regional development squads, are key to widening the base, ensuring proper retention and development of talent, and reviving a culture of competitiveness.

    “We were there, and we can do it again, but there’s got to be radical change,” McMurtry said.

    Sport for all

    In a call back to their plundering of the 2018 Olympics, three “architects of Norway’s sport system” shared key ideas for nationwide sport development in a February 2022 Aspen Institute article titled, “How Norway won all that gold (again),” a reference to the record 16 gold medals won by the nation’s Beijing Games athletes. As Aspen Institute editor Tom Farrey notes, “The performance burnished Norway’s reputation as having the best sport system in the world.”

    “Children’s Rights in Sports” headlines the seven pillars to the country’s approach.

    “Participation in sporting activities for children up to 12 years of age follows the Children’s Rights in Sports statement, which underscores the intrinsic value of playing sports and encourages experiences and skills that in turn provide the basis for a lifelong enjoyment of sports,” write the authors.

    Oyvind Sandbakk is a professor and director for the Centre for Elite Sports Research at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway, as well as the editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. He co-authored a piece titled “How Norway Won All That Olympic Gold (Again), which appeared on in February.
    Courtesy photo

    “The system as a whole is not just an elite sports system, but the whole cultural milieu is what produces Norway’s excellence at the international level,” said Jim Galanes, a four-time U.S. Olympic cross-country skier and Summit County resident.

    A well-traveled World Cup veteran and former director of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic program, Galanes is well aware of the weight a nation’s sporting heritage can play in this discussion. His larger concern, however, is over perceived differences between the United States Olympic and Paralympic committees and Olympiatoppen — the organization responsible for training Norwegian elite sport — in regards to prioritizing access and enjoyment for all. He points to how Norway focuses on sport’s intrinsic value over simply winning.

    “In Norway, it appears sport serves a greater purpose than elite success, World Cup wins, or Olympic medals,” Galanes said.

    The Olympiatoppen endurance department’s mission statement refers to a “holistic performance development,” centered around four values: joy through mastery, community through development together, health through a holistic life and honesty through viewable attitudes.

    Jim Galanes competed at the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympics as a Nordic combined and cross-country skier. After retiring as an athlete, he coached for the U.S. Ski Team for six years and then for Stratton Mountain School. His visionary creation of the APU program has produced the nation’s top cross-country skiers for over a decade.
    Courtesy photo

    For McMurtry, this is the crux of the conversation.

    “It’s not just skiing, it’s youth sports in general,” he said. “I would say it’s a crisis and it basically comes down to cost. It has to be accessible for all and we’ve built these barriers now — not just in skiing — that are just absolutely horrendous.”

    “The Norwegian model is a much more intelligent model in that rather than paying all the money, it’s just opportunity,” said Vail’s Mike Brown, who was a top-level Alpine junior racer before his 10-year U.S. Ski Team career. Brown competed in the super-G on home snow at the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships and was eventually inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.

    Mike Brown was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014 after enjoying a 10-year career on the U.S. Ski Team. His parents started the Buddy Werner Ski League at Beaver Creek and were instrumental in the founding of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.
    Vail Daily archive

    A 2015 document titled “Joy of Sport for All” lays out Norway’s “cradle-to-grave” approach, which offers access to sport for all who want it.

    “At the core of all activities for this age group are our values, the rights of children in sport, the provisions on children’s sports and child safeguarding in sports,” the document states.

    McMurty believes the present American generation has lost sight of sports’ holistic, transcendent value.

    “I’ve been in local club programs where you’re signing your kids up and already at 10, they’re identifying kids and ‘you’re going to be in this group because we think you’ve got something special,'” he described. “They put them in this little special group — we’re going to send you to New Zealand, season’s going to cost you 100 grand. Well, we didn’t do that back when we built a team that was No. 1 in the world.”

    State of Play: Children’s sports participation in America

    The 2021 Aspen Institute’s State of Play give an inside look at participation data in youth sports in America.

    Below are some key findings:

    76.1% of children ages 6-12 reported playing a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 72.9% in 2012. 37.8% reported playing a team sport on a regular basis, down from 41.4% in 2012.

    73.4% of children ages 13-17 played a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 69.1% just one year ago.

    The percentage of kids ages 6-12 who engaged in no sport activity during the year fell from 16.9% in 2019 to 13.7% in 2020.

    Hockey was the most expensive sport among 21 sports evaluated ($2,583 per child per year). Skiing/snowboarding was second ($2,249). Sports families spent an annual average of $693 per child, per sport.

    Only 12% of parents spent no money for their children to play their sport.

    Travel is the costliest feature in youth sports.

    The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11 (this data was most recently available in the 2019 Project Play survey)

    40% of parents with children in organized sports say their child plays year-round.

    Free play, which has been demonstrated to produce higher levels of physical activity than organized sports, is declining. “According to a household survey of 22 counties in those regions, fewer than one in five youth play football near their home (Aspen Institute/Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation survey, 2017). It’s one in 10 for basketball and less than one in 20 for baseball and soccer,” reads the report.

    In May, Houston adopted the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, an initiative developed by Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program. It has been adopted by over 130 organizations and includes eight rights for children: the right to play sports, safe and healthy environments, qualified program leaders, developmentally appropriate play, share in planning and delivery of activities, equal opportunity for growth, to be treated with dignity, and enjoyment.

    According to Galanes, the U.S. national governing bodies tend to attempt to identify talent too early, resulting in what he calls a “money for medals” approach.

    “They pick their anticipated top performers at a relatively young age and they put all their bets on those few athletes for the entirety of their careers.”

    Nowhere was this more obvious than Beijing 2022 — hold that thought for part four of this series.

    “Nobody has ever been able to identify a champion at 10. Not only that, that’s not the purpose of sport,” McMurtry argued.

    “Building a sport system for the sole purpose of developing World Champions unnecessarily over-professionalizes the athlete experience for most participants,” stated Aldo Radamus, a former ski racer and former executive of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Radamus said there is an “unnecessary arms race” occurring at the youth level, driven by the inherent nature of skiing and parents financially equipped to exploit it.

    “There’s no question — the sport is inherently expensive,” he said.

    Born in Argentina to Estonian parents, Aldo Radamus was a professional ski racer before becoming a coach in 1979. He went on to coach at Ski Club Vail in the early ’80s, where he met his wife Sara, before moving on to the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club, and then the U.S. Ski Team.
    Vail Daily Archives

    While kids lining up for a 100-meter dash all step onto the same track, in ski racing, fleet size, grind selection, and expensive fluorinated waxes (not to mention the expertise and tools required to make sense of the equipment triumvirate) are often deciding factors in outcome, particularly in cross-country skiing. Time on snow and expert private coaching at a young age also attract families wanting to jumpstart what is perhaps a more critical head start: skill acquisition. When parents — convinced their children have Olympic medals in their future — are willing to fork over whatever cost is required to give their kids the best chance to succeed, it raises the cost for everyone else, too.

    To be fair, in his 2016 study on European Alpine development, Dan Leever interviewed prominent coaches and thought-leaders in the sport. One “longtime European coach familiar with the U.S. system” stated “Behind every great racer is a parent that is a little crazy.”

    As part of a four-part series in Ski Racing Media on development, Radamus wrote than an accelerated professionalization in youth sports, “clearly evident in ski racing,” has contributed to declining participation because “expectations have been raised for participants to commit the time and resources required to pursue the sport at an elite level.”

    “Our top clubs and academies tend to try to provide the same level of programming and support as the national team. Many of these services are non-critical for a developing athlete to fulfill his or her potential,” Radamus said.

    Aldo’s 24-year-old son, River, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team who races on the World Cup circuit and finished just off the podium in fourth in giant slalom at last winter’s Beijing Olympics.

    Conversing with fellow SSCV alumna Jimmy Krupka on the In Arc City podcast last month, River Radamus outlined the nature of skiing and the financial affluent crowd — willing to pay for better equipment, better coaching, and more expensive training camps — it attracts.

    “I’ve seen programs like that (SSCV), the cost continues to rise year after year after year into this era where it’s unrecognizable to what I felt like I saw as a kid. There’s a lot of reasons for that,” River Radamus said. “Things like that have value, absolutely, but you see in Europe that you don’t need those things as a youth to succeed. But what that does, it slowly raised the price. It becomes an arms race.”

    “The fact that some want and can pay for these services doesn’t mean they should be provided as a core part of the program, raising fees for all participants,” said Aldo Radamus.

    McMurtry recalled a time where one parent paid to have Golden Peak at Vail reserved for a private session for their children and Mikaela Shiffrin. Another time, a parent paid the national team to bring their kid to a training camp in New Zealand.

    “Can you imagine a parent paying the Denver Broncos so their son could go to training camp?” he joked. “That kind of thing discourages kids and families who think they can’t compete with that. But that’s what’s happened with this sport. It’s like many things in this country — it’s money, money, money-driven.”

    While Aldo Radamus knows its impossible to legislate against parents hiring private coaches, purchasing equipment or paying for camps, he does believe “there can be sensible legislation outlining the structure of the pipeline so that guardrails are being provided to help families and athletes and their coaches essentially make the right decisions about how that athlete and when that athlete is ready to advance to another level and needs an additional opportunity.”

    Aldo Radamus outlined several suggestions in the second part of his series, including a shift towards localizing competitions, limiting excessive prep period and competition period travel and grouping athletes intentionally.

    “Racing in competitions with similarly skilled athletes promotes both enjoyment and development. Being an outlier off the back or off the front can both be detrimental.”

    His son, River, expounded on the latter point with Krupka, where he mentioned a difference in how races are set up in Europe compared to the U.S.

    “Races in Europe are usually much cheaper than FIS race entries in the U.S. So, the motivation for the race host is hosting a race for the right athletes. It’s not a profit-driven gambit,” he said. “The reason they host the race is for athlete development. Making sure they have opportunities for their athletes to score but also for them to grow and learn. In the U.S., the races are hosted to fund the programs that are hosting them.”

    Thus, he argues, American race directors are motivated to fill all of their slots, no matter the ability range of the competitors.

    River Radamus was raised in the Vail Valley and attended Ski and Snowboard Club Vail en route to winning two World Junior titles, three Youth Olympic Games gold medals, and a fourth-place in the giant slalom at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
    Marco Trovati/AP

    “Whereas if you sit on the side of a race in Europe, if there’s a skier that clearly shouldn’t be there, the people are on the side of the hill like ‘uggh what’s he doing here,’ because it’s not the appropriate race for him,” River Radamus said to Krupka. “It’s not the appropriate place for them to develop.”

    The result, according to the 2022 Olympian, are “more skill-based races.”

    “Everybody whose in a race feels like, ‘OK, I’m here to push, I’ve got a chance to win or move up,’ whereas in the U.S. there’s a lot of races that kids go to because their parents think that they should for reaching a certain benchmark or their program is taking all the athletes, too, so I should tag along as well,” he told Krupka. “And kids go to out-of-region races that they don’t necessarily need to go to, pay tons of money, enter this race, and just get absolutely smoked. And then, you’re at the bottom like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.'”

    It is one explanation, perhaps, of the sport’s disturbing burnout trend.

    “Increases in female participation have been offset by a shrinking male population and modestly growing participation at the U14-and-younger age groups is offset by alarming attrition among U16-and-older ages,” wrote Aldo Radamus in part one of his series.

    Like Galanes, McMurty, and the leaders of Olympiatoppen, Aldo Radamus has championed participation as the cornerstone to national success. He wrote in Ski Racing Media, “In the interest of creating healthy sport, we have to have an exciting, accessible and inherently rewarding activity and a system to develop the most talented and committed to be the best in the world.”

    “Historically, the U.S. team has done a poor job handling the development of young athletes moving up to the U.S. team,” added John Dowling, SSCV’s mogul director, who has supplied Team USA with the lion’s share of its mogul team members over the last decade and change.

    Tess Johnson was the youngest to be named to the U.S. Ski Team when she was nominated at 14-year-old in 2016. She competed at the 2018 Olympics and was fifth on the overall World Cup standings in 2022.
    Rick Bowmer/AP

    One of Dowling’s athletes, 2018 Olympian Tess Johnson, has said that in talking to friends in Alpine circles, she noticed a key difference while reflecting on their younger years.

    “On a powder day or any given day, they were always training, always on Golden Peak,” she said.

    “Like it was just so much training and so monotonous, especially at that age. They would rarely go freeskiing and we would go freeskiing twice a week,” she said, noting it as one reason she’s never felt burnout “on-snow.” “We’re 12 years old. I always loved and appreciated that Dowling and (Riley) Campbell made a point of making us go and freeski and ski the whole mountain and ski a few laps through the park.”

    “We have a penchant in this county in many sports to try and identify talent at 14-16 years of age — too early — and I believe the track record of athletes getting washed out of the sport at these ages is pretty bad,” Galanes summarized.

    River Radamus said that in Europe, “There’s more engaged athletes, athletes that last,” compared to the U.S.

    John Dowling was the 2018 U.S. Ski and Snowboard moguls coach of the year after providing four of the country’s eight mogul athletes for the Pyeongchang Olympics. He is the mogul program director at SSCV.
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    “The pipeline narrows, but athletes last into FIS longer in Europe than they do in the U.S. because there’s always something to push for, there’s something to reach for and you’re engaged and you’re having fun and you’re competing against people that you feel like, ‘I put in a little extra work, I can beat this guy.’ And in the U.S., I feel like that drops off much quicker,” he told Krupka.

    The Aspen Institute’s “architects” seem to address this component in the Norwegian system’s second pillar, writing, “To be the best in the world, you must train the best in the world. At the same time, the training philosophy in Norwegian sports involves taking responsibility for both the social, mental and physical development into being a top athlete. It’s about developing people!”

    Judy Rabinowitz, one of the early members of the U.S. women’s cross-country team and a 1984 Olympian who now lives in Leadville, wrote to the Vail Daily in regards to the Aspen Institute’s article on the Norwegian model.

    “I was also impressed by what the article described as a mission to develop athletes who are multidimensional (and joyful) citizens equipped with skills beyond sport, and by the prestige attached to coaching as evidenced by the fact that most Norwegian coaches come from “academia” and are versed in pedagogy,” she stated.

    To understand why America has lagged in creating synergy between science and sporting bodies and cultivating a competent coaching culture, a trip back to college might be necessary — stay tuned for Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline.

    But first — is the cost issue really something unique to the United States?