A Growing Outrage

I want to share with the ski racing community something I find unjust and unfair to both elite and new athletes alike. Not only does this injustice hinder the development of younger racers, but it also discourages higher level athletes from racing.

Like many sports, ascension through the competition pipeline in alpine ski racing is based on a world ranking system. A skier’s world rank [WR] comes from a personal point profile in each discipline of competition. The lower your points, the lower your WR. At every race, there is a “penalty” applied, which is the point result the winner scores, and everyone else who finishes has extra points added onto the original penalty based on how far back in time they were off the winner’s time.

This applied penalty is based off many things such as vertical drop, length of course, etc. A lower penalty is meant to indicate a more challenging race.

The biggest factor contributing to a low penalty is the existing point profile of the top five skiers who start and the top five skiers who finish the race. An average of these two numbers is calculated into the final penalty. This means the more people with a lower WR at a race, the better the results should be for all close competitors.

Since the penalty of each race is largely dependent on the top five point holders, it used to be a fairly typical policy that the top five racers at each event were offered a complimentary entry, free of charge. Entry fees have gone up in recent years, now costing anywhere from 50 to 70 dollars per race.

Last season, the Eastern Region stopped offering complimentary entries to the top five athletes in Eastern Cup races, opting instead to only wave the entry fee for one of the top five point holders. The four other athletes in the top five have a much harder opportunity to score than athletes outside the top five (due to the fact their original points were calculated into the penalty), but they still have to pay full price to compete.

This has caused many elite athletes in the sport to question the purpose of attending a race where there is no perceived benefit, and is, in fact, a serious financial drain.

The University of Vermont’s Tim Kelley, the 98th ranked slalom skier in the world, is one of the many athletes disheartened and frustrated by the recent lack of monetary support in Eastern ski racing.

“I’m a honorary member of the Eastern Team so, no, I don’t have to pay, but if it wasn’t for that I would have had to pay at Suicide Six where I was second in points,” confessed Kelley. “It’s stopped guys like Travis [Dawson], Donnie [David Donaldson], and Sean [Higgins], from wanting to do ECups, and the penalties are suffering which makes the number of competitors decline.”

Travis Dawson, Kelley’s fellow Catamount from Canada, has decided to pull his entries from the races this weekend held in Waterville Valley, N.H.

“I understand how sponsors [and hosts] are few and events are expensive,” Dawson explains. “But the Eastern [Region] has to know that for a racer, it’s an even more expensive season. And for top racers who can’t make results at the Eastern Cups, but still have to pay entry and travel, it leaves little incentive for any points to show up for the races.”

Dawson also expressed concern for the rising penalties and the effect it will have on the youth of the sport.

“What money they save by making four extra racers pay every day, they lose a penalty and an opportunity for young skiers to make results that can help them on bigger stages like NorAms,” noted Dawson.

Most Eastern Cup races yield between 110 to 135 competitors. Depending on location, the entry fee varies. But at the most recent races at Stowe, the fee was 70 dollars per day. If there are only 100 competitors racing, that fee brings in 7,000 dollars. To cover entry fees for just four extra people would cost organizers a mere 280 dollars.

It begs the question, is the money being saved by alienating the top guns of our sport worth the increased penalties and decreased trust between athletes and the governing organization?

I fully admit that I am ignorant of the Eastern office’s budget as well as that of the separate mountains that hold the races, but I cannot imagine that such a small sum would garner more good than bad in this situation. I believe it is past time for the East to return to the template that many other regions in the world still use. I have heard the voices of many athletes, and they are all demanding the same. Are you?

You can find a copy of this on AlpinePress. Please share your thoughts if you have them and add your voices to the many.

-Tucker

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