Snow Sunday: The Gift Of Ski Racing
Each sport has its own rituals, its own culture, its own weekend routine. And for those of us who grew up as athletes, it is these weekend routines, more so than the competitions, that defined our childhood. For me that sport was ski racing, and now it is too for my daughter.
I love dropping her off at the top of the Gondola in 10-degree weather, or at the bottom of Lift Four on a snowy day. I watch her sling her backpack on, put her skis over her shoulder, and wave good-bye as she hikes to the lift, her blond pigtail dangling out of the back of her helmet. She has no idea how brave and strong she is. She has no idea that it’s cold and windy outside and that in many homes, Saturday is the day to sleep in and watch cartoons.
I watch the independence and confidence a sport such as ski racing breeds in young girls. They have the freedom to ski the mountain with their friends and coaches, focusing while skiing, then laughing and telling stories while riding the lifts. The older kids, fourteen and fifteen year olds, train on the course beside them, always in their view. In the start gate, they’re asked to throw themselves fearlessly down the hill, looking for ways to go faster.
On weekends, we get together with our friends to watch the legendary Hannekahm downhill or a World Cup slalom. Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, and Americans Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, and Mikaela Shiffrin are household names. The girls chant for them when they’re in the starting gate on TV. My eldest watches their disciplined hands, and their quick feet. She cheers when they fight to stay in the course and shares their heartache when they fall.
Sometimes friends ask me, “What’s the end goal?” Why are our kids going up early on the weekends in the snow and the wind at 10-years-old? Is it the U.S. Ski Team? World Cup?
For me, it was a ticket to my first choice college and the opportunity to ski Division I NCAA—and that was a fulfilling career. But as a former coach reminded me very recently, I can’t make my goals be those of my kids. And as I watch my daughter enter this sport and as I travel with her to races and see my former teammates and rivals doing the same thing, I realize it wasn’t about how far one got in the sport, but instead the experience itself.
It was about standing in the starting gate by yourself, knowing at that point, your teammates and coach could do nothing for you. Once you kicked out, the only person you could rely on was yourself. It was the freedom of skiing the mountain, before and after races, and the constantly changing weather teaching you to adapt. As a girl, it was knowing the importance of having a strong and healthy body and what those things allow you to do.
But more than anything, like most sports, it was the friends you made—teammates, rivals, and coaches. And it is those like-minded, crazy, friends you end up meeting around the world and skiing with for the rest of your lives.
Right now, I can’t tell you the end game: my kids will each have to figure that out for themselves. But I do know the weekend routine, and culture inherent to ski racing, will continue for them, as it has for me, long after the races are over. And, if all we get out of this is a sport we can share across generations, then it will have been more than worth it.
Jesse James McTigue
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