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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jesse James McTigue

Jesse James McTigue

Jesse James McTigue moved to Telluride when she was eleven. She has left many times –to attend a ski academy and college on the East Coast, to travel in South America, and to teach middle school in Oakland, CA –but she always seems to return. She returned (again) in 2008, married with kids, and thinks this time it may be for real. When she’s not chasing her kids, she’s searching for sanity on her skis or bike and makes her living freelance writing, grant writing and tutoring.

13 Responses

  1. Dana Ireland says:

    Jesse! I still miss it… The schlopys, the hazeltons, pucketts… My friends questioned me too and all I could say was I could see nothing wrong with fresh air, friendship, teamwork, loyalty, and trying to be your best in the classroom as well as the slopes. I remember you fondly… Your face and your spirit. Dana

  2. Doug finn says:

    Mum started skiing by walking up! I started on a rope tow at 3. Started my kids early,son was 2 months in a sling under my parka.Its the joy of fresh snow,family,being together.You said what I feel about a sport that is so much more.

  3. Betsy Barrett says:

    Nice article… As a 57 year old women in the business world, weekend routines and ski racing In particular prepared me for life. It taught me you don’t give up when things get tough, it taught me courage,gave me an inner strength and most important – a work ethic. I’m always thrilled to see kids in sports these days!!! Keep them busy in sports and they have a chance.

  4. Sarah Lemire says:

    For girls especially this makes them daring and risk takers which is so important if they want a career that goes beyond homemaker which they will have along with the career. My daughter raced for Dartmouth and learned to ski on a tiny hill in NW Ct where you raced or got bored and wanted to be in VT or NHl. Every year she and friends from college skiing though not all made the Div ! but still are great skiers who meet up in either CO, UT for a weekend. This weekend she and 14 of her former Dartmouth Div ! team are meeting here in PC,UT. One of them was a dual sport athlete and left school early to be the goalie for a Pro Women’s Soccer team. She was on the Olympic team but a different goalie actually played. These women are all fabulous examples for women can do in life. They are all professional women in varied fields. Can’t wait to see them.

  5. John McMurtry says:

    Love this! I have three ski racing daughters, twins 14 and a 16 year old. This hit the mark, outstanding!

    Best,

    John Mc.

  6. Amie Bervy says:

    This hit the nail on the head. I can relate to everything in this article. I grew up ski racing and now my 2 children do it. So blessed that I’ve been able to allow them to experience such an amazing, life learning sport. Thank you for writing this.

  7. Sue Garber Vigland says:

    Hey Jesse! Great article! Ski racing certainly gave me all of those things! I will look you up the next time I’m in Tride! I was there last winter. I live in Traverse City these days. It was so fun to come across your article on FB! Take care, Sue

  8. Mangai H says:

    NAILED IT Jesse! 26 years removed from racing, multiple military combat deployments, and nothing makes your heart race like the emotions you describe the start house.
    James gang rocks!

    Thanks

  9. Justine Jereb Kennelly says:

    Hi Jesse,

    What a good article! I often ask myself the same questions as my 10 year old girl joined a race team this year. Happy to see all is well with you and yours.

    Justine

  10. Chris Puckett says:

    Jesse, I feel like I have said these same thoughts so often lately. You sum up so well the reasons why so many of us that raced are getting our own kids skiing. I am looking forward to watching your kids move through the sport.

  11. Such a wonderful commentary, Jesse! So in tune with my own thoughts. Hope you are well!

  12. John Higgind says:

    My wife and I raised 3 ski racing daughters. The weekends were a wonderful mixture of driving to the next race, staying in motels (which was great when they were teenagers because we knew where they were) and early morning breakfast so we could be on the hill when the lift opened. Two of my daughters raced in college so the fun went on for 15 years. I became an official of USSA and continued to work as a TD even after my kids left the sport. I know that the discipline, sportsmanship, team spirit that they learned as ski racers has benefited them all of their lives. I don’t regret one minute of that adventure.

  13. John Jepson says:

    In the 1950’s and early 60’s, with some early snow on MT. Rose, our ski coach would pull us out of school ( Mount Rose Elem., Billinghurst Jr or Reno High) mid day, load us up in a Ford Country Station wagon, drive over the top of the mountain to an area we called the Sand Dunes. We would hike in, ski and boot pack the slope, stick bamboo poles in the snow and practice slalom gates until dark. No hinged poles, you ski around these things, they hurt. Sleep on the way home. Training is everything!