Panel discusses future of ski racing
VAIL — Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is rich with skiing history. Its alumni gather each year in Vail to remember where they’ve come from and take a look at where the industry is going.
Dartmouth’s contributions to the sport include founding ski areas, creating ski clothing, equipment and grooming technology. The college also continues to produce Olympians and extreme athletes.
About 200 Dartmouth graduates gathered March 5 at the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail for the 17th annual CarniVail event. This year’s focus was the future of ski racing, and the panel discussion included some of the top experts on the topic.
The panel presenting to the Dartmouth graduates included Tiger Shaw, Class of ’85, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association; Lisa Densmore, Class of ’83, longtime ski industry movie maker, lecturer and one of the most prolific Master’s Ski Championships winner worldwide; and Aldo Radamus, executive director of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
“You wouldn’t see an audience and a panel like this just about anywhere else,” said Steve Waterhouse, who curated the event. “With this audience, you’ve got a whole group that’s been through that.”
Ski racing in the U.S. has some challenges ahead, but it is in safe hands with people looking to stay competitive with the rest of the world. Concerns revolve around accessibility and opportunities for kids to get involved and stay involved in the sport.
Access to year-round training facilities as well as travel costs are the two main factors hindering the sport, panelists said.
The sport’s governing body is looking at how other countries progress ski racing. However, the U.S. has a geographical disadvantage. Smaller European countries, such as Austria, can gather their younger teams at a mountain that is open year-round easier than the U.S., which has high costs associated with bringing kids from across the country together in one place.
“If we’re going to compete with the best in the world, how are we going to do this?” Shaw asked.
Possible remedies include indoor facilities allowing athletes to train 365 days per year or improved snowmaking keeping ski hills open longer.
Today, the Untied States Ski and Snowboard Association spends about $20 million to fund about 200 athletes — about $100,000 per athlete. For the B Team and below, those athletes are required to pay their own travel expenses while the association pays for coaches, trainers and other associated costs.
As athletes progress in the sport, whether in youth programs or college athletics, the sport can become more expensive as costs begin to mount.
“The cost to be in the game is prohibitive,” Densmore said.
Races televised in the U.S. are lucky to break even financially, as the cost of production is often more than the TV rights are worth, the panel said. However, races televised in Europe are successful financially.
Since the sport is labor intensive, it is hard for a college athlete to train and practice enough to compete on the elite level. However, international ski racers are coming to U.S. colleges to compete since it can be difficult to progress in the sport overseas.
Shaw was one of the first American athletes to qualify out of college, and now it is becoming an easier task for athletes to both compete professionally and get an education.
Dartmouth and Denver University are leading the way in terms of getting college athletes to compete professionally, Radamus said.
With 12 ski and snowboard disciplines, the sport’s national group understands new events could help get more people out on the slopes competing. However, many people need to see it on TV before they go out and try it themselves, Shaw said.
“What’s the new frontier?” he asked the crowd.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.