Is the inevitable rise in the cost of ski racing just an American problem to tackle?

Zan Kranjec of Slovenia competes in the World Cup Giant Slalom race in Meribel, France. Slovenia, historically a ski-rich nation, had just one slalom skier on the Europa Cup circuit last season.
Marco Trovati/AP

VAIL — Peter Lange, editor of Ski Racing Media and alpine youth coach up to World Cup level for more than 35 years, recalls a day when Dynastar sent money to bring kids to camps ski.

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

A veteran of covering and coaching the sport around the world, Lange noted that the ski cost issue is not unique to the United States.

“The reality is that’s true everywhere,” he said. “Spending on ski racing is exploding everywhere.”

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

“Equipment must become more expensive,” Lange prophesied. “Companies don’t make as much money as they used to. There is more technology, more expensive materials and more engineering.

While the sticker shock might put off attendees, overall, the biggest factor in the cost battle — especially for Americans — is travel.

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

“Let’s not forget that this is a European centered sport and the European model, because of the proximity of skiing all year round, it is 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 during the production of the Leever study.

The prevailing opinion given to him was that the United States should not simply copy the European method. Easy access to snow was a big reason.

“For us to ski in the summer, you have to get on a plane and go somewhere,” he said.

The intentional acquisition of skills on the snow, at an early age, was one of the irreplaceable principles of success that Leever discovered in his research. Along with myriad other club and competition costs, Leever believes US Ski and Snowboard hasn’t told parents what they’re getting into when their daughter claims she wants to be the next Picabo Street. .

“So historically we haven’t communicated well to parents of future skiers what the path requires if you want to take it to an Olympic level. And that takes a lot of youthful volume. There just isn’t a another way around it,” he said.

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

Some nations, like Switzerland and Austria, don’t have to worry about travel and training camp costs because year-round access to snow is plentiful and close to team members. Meanwhile, American skiers are racking up big bills living what Lange called “the hotel and restaurant life.”

“It adds to our expense when we talk about the summit,” he said.

Even with their geographical advantages, financial problems hampered the nations rich in the Alps. Slovenia released a slalom racer on the Europa Cup circuit last season.

“It’s shocking,” Lange said. “It’s an alpine ski nation. They don’t have enough people who can afford the sport to produce more than one qualified athlete. There were two, and one quit. It’s the same reason – it takes so many resources.

Lange thinks US Ski and Snowboard would like an answer to the cost issue.

“There have been all kinds of initiatives to reduce the cost of ski racing by very wealthy people in the industry. It’s so hard to solve,” he said, adding that there’s no point in blaming those with more resources or talent.

“There have been people who have tried to answer this question resourcefully. It’s not like it’s not being considered and considered or people aren’t aware of it, but the answer isn’t easy.

Few have invested as many resources in the subject as Leever, who watched two of his sons progress through the Alpine pipeline and led the aforementioned study of elite development trends in Europe.

“Generally, most elite development programs in Europe, if not free, are very inexpensive and often government funded,” he said. “As a result, it is much less expensive to pursue an elite track in ski racing.”

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

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

An over-focus on travel and errands is one area where families have been misled.

“Mikaela Shiffrin ran very little growing up,” Leever pointed out. “A dozen times a year, compared to 50 times a year for children. It’s just a waste of money. It has been proven time and time again that skill acquisition is more important than the “learning to run” aspect.

To achieve elite performance in skiing, Leever believes there is a “proven path,” which parents have sometimes been immune to.

“The United States hasn’t really expressed that,” he said of the road to the summit. “I think a lot of people, or at least some people in the United States, knew that, but they were afraid to tell the parents for fear that no one would at all because it was too big a commitment. And that’s the type of commitment that you typically make over time.

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

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

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

“The other thing that’s important, especially in Vail, is the amount of charitable support available,” he continued. “Kids who ski in Vail, if not well off, have incredible support. Up to 100% of the total cost of ski racing can be absorbed through scholarships and grants. It is generally not available elsewhere. So it’s a very powerful model that we have.

Lange also thinks loading his national team athletes was never part of US 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 said. “So rather than reducing the number of athletes on the team, they offered the team, but at a price.”

As idealistic as things were in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, as Leever and Lange see it, those days are over.

“The days of equipment being free or largely free are over,” Leever said. “The reason for that is that the ski market has matured and the lack of growth just hasn’t provided the funding for ski manufacturers to be able to donate a lot of equipment. It’s just a different world today from what it was 20 years ago.

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

“Back then, those days are over,” he said, noting that the evolution of sport has fueled the arms race as much as disillusioned parents believe they must seize every opportunity possible.

“We make parents and athletes think, ‘God, you have to compete at the NorAm or FIS level’,” he said. Lange thinks all levels of competition – Buddy Werner, CHSSL, FIS, USSA and NCAA should be validated on their own.

An athlete prepares to compete in the Steadman Clinic Vail Cup, one of many opportunities for young children in the Vail Valley to be introduced to ski racing.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

“In and of itself, alone, Buddy Werner is great. Not because it’s a pipeline for the ski team. High school, in and of itself, is worthwhile. The USSA is valid, not because it is a pipeline to NorAm,” he pointed out. “The problem is parents, in their own minds, don’t think they’re valid because they know somebody with money whose kid is on the NorAm circuit and now their kid is going to get the scholarship to the University of Denver,” he said. hypothetical.

Leever echoed Lange’s sentiment that elite-level skiing shouldn’t be the ultimate solution.

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

While Lange applauds those looking for answers and has guided athletes from the grassroots to the World Cup, he says the focus should be on the journey, regardless of the hierarchy in which it takes place.

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

Ultimately, Lange, who has watched the sport from multiple angles for decades, says there is no easy answer to broadening the base and increasing international performance.

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

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