There's been a lot of jibber jabber recently about how much US skiing is sucking and various ideas about why. Not much about how to fix it, but to their credit the USST is trying to come up with a "pipeline" for junior skiers to follow and they've made some changes. NENSA is following suit, trying to stay in line with the USST, which makes sense, from some points of view, but seems exceedingly biased towards juniors, from other (my?) points of view. Because NENSA is not a governing body of a team that has to compete and hold its own internationally, it is the governing body of a region of skiers, and should be supportive of all its skiers.
Plenty has been written about how we need to bring in more skiers, particularly juniors, how our juniors need to train more, how we need access to free/cheaper equipment, how we need to keep our juniors training well in college or delaying college if they're talented, yadda yadda yadda. Something that hasn't been brought up is senior skiing. Seniors and masters don't count for as much in the USST's eyes, since masters are far less likely to represent the US internationally (although there are definite exceptions), and to the USST, if a senior skier hasn't been in their sights since they were a J2, obviously that skier isn't going to amount to anything. Once you hit 25 you better be winning medals or you're gone. Oh, that Valaas girl, yeah she did alright, got a silver medal at U23 world champs, no big deal, but she didn't medal on the world cup, and geez, shes 25, so we better let her go. Make room for some more 19 year olds. They're the ones with a future. Man I wish I'd seen the USST heads squirm when they had no choice but to add Sarah Konrad to the Olympic Squad since she's wicked fast... and old.
Its no secret that I'm not olympic material. I picked the wrong parents (but only in terms of mitochondrial density. They're pretty good for everything else). No matter how much I train, there is no spot for me at that level. This doesn't bother me too much, since I tend to enjoy what I'm doing for "training". The thing is, there are a lot of other skiers out there, who were skiing with me as a junior or in college, who aren't skiing now. There are plenty of reasons that they don't ski anymore, I mean, 25 is the point where life, job, relationships, marriages, kids (god forbid), living in cities, it all catches up with you, theres no time to train 600 hours a year for a sport you have to drive three hours each way to compete in, just to get your butt kicked by someone who doesn't work and is "living the dream".
What happened to that middle tier of skiers? Where have they all gone, and more importantly, how can we get them back or keep them in it? Most post-collegiate skiers know what it takes to be successful in skiing, and know that they no longer have the time (or inclination) to do it. I bet thats why you see an increase in numbers in cycling around the senior level - you can race bikes as a weekend warrior and there will always be someone slower than you, but that won't cut it in skiing when you only have the pros to race against. There is no cat 5 in skiing, and if there were, there would be no seniors in cat 5. For whatever reason, its a given that if you are going to be a senior skier in the US, you will live the life of a pauper, "chasing the dream" sleeping on couches, eating ramen, and playing video games in your downtime. This leaves you where when you turn 40? Oh, right, totally inexperienced in the so-called real world with no savings to speak of and nothing to show except a lot of frequent flier miles and some overuse injuries. So basically, if you're between the age of 23 and 30, you have three choices: 1. join a pro team. 2. Try to ski without said pro team and suck. 3. quit skiing.
It would be great if there were some support for senior skiers. Just because we have "real" jobs doesn't mean we have a lot of money, and the way this sport is going, that is a definite necessity. NENSA claims they're trying to do something, so they set up the Craftsbury Green Team. Great, another pro team that requires giving up your job, your life, your location, in order to chase a dream in a region where there is no dream to chase. This isn't what I'm talking about when I ask for senior skier support. We need a support system for people not on pro teams. Why does cycling do so well with numbers in the senior age class? Population centers (and snow) aside, one nice change is prize money - every Joe Shmoe putting on a race pays out top three, at least in the upper cats. Does skiing do this? No, where would we get the prize money from? NENSA charges 1.75 times as much as a bike race charges for entry fees. Where does it all go? I mean, I can see added expenses for using the ski area and grooming. I know NENSA is a non profit and always looking for money, but seriously, skiing is not cheap, and incentive to win back an entry fee would get more people coming.
More support for seniors? Well, maybe just not cutting them out. In the past, NENSA has let seniors come to the REG camps because they qualified. Now, because they're trying to stay in line with the USST, the seniors are cut out. Because god forbid that a senior skier would want to improve also. We weren't picked up by the so-called scouting programs as J2s, therefore we don't count, we'll never amount to anything. In the past, NENSA has allowed a "NENSA quota" to participate in the October USST camp at Lake Placid. No longer, now its just for NENSA juniors. Come on, guys, we haven't given up on life yet. Just because you are at a certain level doesn't mean you don't want to improve. But apparently, according to NENSA and the USST, once you hit a certain age you don't really care if you improve or not. You're too old, death and master skiing is right around the corner. There are no opportunities anymore.
I know NENSA is working hard to promote senior skiing. And all I have to add is bitching, nothing supportive or helpful. But I think its stupid that you lose so many skiers after they leave college. At least Boston has Weston - there is a race series thats growing, and not cutting out seniors. How do you get that crowd to come do real races?