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The good and bad of junior race teams?


Certified Ski Diva
Hello everyone! I know little about Skiing. I've been at this three years because my kids tried it and loved it, so I tried it and loved it but I'm still learning so much and know nothing about ski racing.

My son is 5, but will be 6 by next season. One of his coaches this year wanted him evaluated by the president of the race club, so we skied with him last week. This guy said my son is using his edges well and actually going from edge to edge really well, is fearless, likes to go fast and clearly loves to ski, so for his age he shows talent and potential to be a race skier. However, at only 5 he lacks a bit of maturity to handle that kind of commitment. He suggests I sign him up for the program he was in this year BUT also have him join the race team in the early season so the coaches can evaluate him as well as see where he is maturity wise. He said this year can be a big year for growth in maturity. He also said it would depend a bit on the team, if they're mostly older or younger kiddos and where my kiddo would fit. So, maybe not next year but maybe at some point in the future he could be a racer.

Please tell me the good, the bad and the ugly about a kid being on the race team. As a parent who knows nothing, how do I protect my kiddo if I don't know what to watch for. I also want to keep Skiing fun.


Certified Ski Diva
I think each team is so different. I would ask to speak to current parents to hear their POV. Racing is a big committed time dedication and money. IMO the risk of pushing a child before he is ready and turning him off seems greater than the risk of letting him mature another year.
Agreed. It might not be next year (more than likely won't be next year) but either way, my son loves it and it could be a year or two down the road before he actually joins. I'm just curious about what all is involved and what to watch for, etc.


Staff member
The question is goes HE want to race? My friend pushed her kid and he hated it. But now....he's on the Canadian National SLOPESTYLE Team. Loved to jump and spin. And still skis very well.

So what does he want to do. There is more to skiing than racing.
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Angel Diva
At my home hill, there is a "development" team for younger kids who are interested but really don't know yet how much they like actual racing with gates. It's clearly a good way to have regular lessons for relatively little money compared to ski school.

@BackCountryGirl coaches young kids at Sunday River.

When my daughter was little (preschool), her swim teacher suggested I consider the swim team. Mostly for more lessons. While my daughter loved the water, I already had a sense that being competitive wasn't part of her nature. When she was an intermediate skier as a young tween, I asked her about joining the development team. Mostly to make friends who skied. She'd been doing gymnastics class weekly by then. She decided that she'd rather just ski for fun than be part of a team lesson regularly.


Angel Diva
While I am not a coach, and do not have kids, I have been around kids who race (one is on the US development race team in europe as I write this) and gone through the USSA (United States Ski Association now known as US ski and snowboard) race coach training program.

The expense down the road is definitely a concern even for some well off parents I know. If kids are to be competitive once they enter their teens, you are looking at many pairs of skis for each discipline they compete in, lots of travel and hotel stays (this could be fun too), and for some kids who are far from the slopes, boarding schools are very common.

It is wonderful that the coaches are showing interest in your child's early skills. I second @Jilly and her question about your son loving it for his own sake, and your own desire to keep it fun for him. The traditional USSA training program does not have little kids in gates or racing very much at all the first few years. They spend most of the time developing basic skills while learning to love the sport.

I hope that the team you are working with remembers that at his age most of the skiing should be about play and not actual racing, even if he is to become a top racer. I hear of areas where the skiing is so competitive that the kids don't get to be rounded athletes and the parents are a bit too pushy. I have attached a photo of USSA programming approach by age groups. It might be worth asking around to see what training model they use. Some of the best skiers in the world were clearly going to be amazing from the get go, while others matured quietly alongside their peers before starting to really show their skills in their mid teens.

Make sure the team he joins is one with a focus on fun, and also safety. We have three teams in my town. The HS team, the resort ski school team and the ski club team. The latter is for alpine racing the most competitive, but when the kids train at the resort where I work, the groups are rarely well managed by the sweet young race coaches. The HS and resort teams have coaches that focus a bit more on etiquette around the mountain and recreational skiers. Granted, the ski club kids are the ones that have gone on to make the US ski team, but their singular focus on going fast does not always translate to the awareness necessary to keep them safe (why coaches are so important). I am sure that every ski hill, and mountain town community has different team situations, and the more you can talk to other team parents specific to your club the more you will know.

With good coaches and a supportive parent like you, the kids I see racing through childhood end up with a great foundation for all sports and sportsmanship. It keeps them busy during the winter months outside, and creates a hopefully fun second family. In terms of true competitive post high school racing, the roads sadly seem to split a bit. Most US ski team racers did not go to college, as the sport tends to demand full time training, leaving little room for academics at that level. I also have a lot of kids I know that did get partial college scholarships for skiing, but the opportunities are likely much fewer than in many other sports. The ones who end up going to college after high school are highly unlikely to continue to the international level after university.

USSA age breakdown.JPG


Angel Diva
I agree with much of what others have said. I've been the lead U8 coach at Sunday River's Competition Program, which we call Future Stars, for the last 9 years. That means that I have young people who are under the age of 8. This year, that means my kids were born in 2013 and 2014, so some are still 6 and some are 8.

My program is administered by the Gould Academy, which has a robust academic and elite ski program. But, my program is actually under the mountain's management so I am a mountain employee for this program (and work for Gould to coach its special race camps.) I go into this detail because programs all run differently. Some are club programs that hire coaches and others are mountain programs. We are pretty unique in that the program head and most of us lead coaches are PSIA Level 3s and even current and former ed staff members as well as US Ski and Snowboard certified. To be honest, I have found that the PSIA background has made me a better race coach. Because most of us are bona-fide ski geeks, we go out and train with each other after our program day with kids ends. The amount of work I had to do and still do to understand movement and be able to communicate and link drills to skills has really made a difference, especially with young kids. So I'd be sure there is some solid instructional background among the program's coaches. Young kids are super visual and you often can make the changes you want to see by having them follow you.

We are super focused on fun and all mountain skiing. We spend time in gates, but do so according to the ATS recommendations for the age/stage of the kids. That is the chart posted by @snoWYmonkey.

We expect one pair of solid multi-event skis, and well fitting boots that are soft soft soft. Gear requirements are same at the U10 level. Some kids have twin tips, but I really prefer that they keep on a solid ski that isn't too noodly. I'm pretty judicious about coverage in trees; but for the most part, kids outgrow gear before they outwear it. We coaches to our best to link up families who might have that perfect ski for the unexpected mid-season growth spurt.

Normally, we do intramural races -- we create mixed age groups teams from within the program, named after D1 schooks and have Carnivals. This year has been a bit funky, but our last Carnival is a downhill. (For those who know Sunday River, everyone goes down Lollapalooza from the end of the top S turns to the hotel. A gas.) We typically do 3 off mountain races that are opens (no USSS membership required) and they are super fun because the kids get to explore new terrain and learn how to manage the jitters, the highs, and the lows.

I have developed Future Star rules, too, designed to teach sportsmanship, teamwork, good racer etiquette, and self management. They know they have closed trails to ski fast and know not to bomb elsewhere. We wait for each other outside life lines, we rack our skis and carry our own gear, we say please and thank you, and we eat good breakfasts, and carry healthy snacks. Everyone's favorite rule is: no pee, no ski."

The first kids I coached are now 2nd year U16s. Many of the kids that have started young are very successful low point racers ad some aren't. Some left alpine does moguls, slopestyle, and skier cross but I'd like to think that they all got something out of the program.

The worst situations happen when parental expectations for results are high; when the parent wants the athlete to be a racer more than the athlete wants to be a racer; and when the parent is unable or unwilling to trust the coaches and interferes in that relationship by sideline coaching.

So, there's nothing wrong with starting a child in racing at 6, just make sure they still hit boxes, rails, and jumps; ski in trees; and have fun with friends.

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