Ski racing might be the weirdest sport in the world. We put sticks in the snow on the side of a mountain, and slide around them. After we slide around them, we sit at the bottom and complain about all that went wrong in those 55 seconds, and of course it’s never our fault. The cool part about ski racing, is that there isn’t a path you have to follow to achieve your goals.
For those who do not know me, my name is Sam DuPratt. I currently race for the University of Utah. Why does my opinion and/or voice matter in the world of ski racing? Realistically it doesn’t, but my counter argument is that I have raced at every level of ski racing, with the exception of the Olympics (which isn’t a big deal, super over hyped really). While racing at almost every level I have found many challenges to the sport that may not be apparent to the naked eye.
While I have had great experiences with everyone I have worked with in the ski world, I have found that certain situations do not fit me well. The word that comes to mind is intensity. I really struggle when my world revolves around ski racing. It becomes all I think about, dream about, and worry about. It sounds pathetic to say that ski racing can be my biggest life issue, but it really can be, and I do not think I am the only one. Putting this kind of pressure on yourself only gets worse throughout the season. One bad race and the weight on your shoulders increases. Pretty soon the foundation underneath crumbles and before you know it, ski racing is no longer fun. Believe me, there is nothing worse than paying $30,000 dollars to be stressed out of your mind 24/7 about sliding around sticks in the snow (perspective).
After 5 years of the highs and lows of pursuing the world cup with a self-made weight vest of USST criteria on my shoulder, college was beyond refreshing. It wasn’t because my dreams were gone, it was because I had other equally important things going on in my life. Skiing became my stress relief and my passion again. This resulted in my best season yet.
College has been a source of developing ski racers for some time now, but it still seems as though no one takes it seriously. There are endless examples of success starting with the most recent, Laurence St. Germain, with a top 15 in Killington. David Chodounsky, USST’s best male slalom skier for the past 5+ years, has a 4-year degree in engineering (nerd). David Ketterer won the last SL NorAm title by over 250 points. The list goes on longer than you would believe. At what point do we take it seriously? I am not saying take college ski racing seriously, because the gap between college race venues and world cups is astronomical, but something about ski racing while in college works.
Personally, I believe it is because when an athlete is pursuing something long term like an education, all of their eggs aren’t in one basket. The stress relief of having a back-up plan is beyond words. The ability to ski freely while knowing you have options brings the joy back into skiing, at least it did for me.
The main issue with college skiing as a development path, is the lack of opportunity beyond college. For many of the best skiers in college, it is a dead-end road. It would be selfish to expect the national teams to pick up 23-year old skiers with 10 points because they did well in FIS university races. But a lack of opportunities to prove ourselves at higher levels is very difficult. No local team wants to take on the burden of a Nor-Am/Europa Cup skier. Supporting someone at that level is not cheap for an organization. I had the opportunity to work with Cody Marshall from Groundswell Athletics, while at the Solden World Cup this year. He showed me a lot of what Groundswell has to offer and it is promising. Groundswell is creating a place for athletes to pursue a career in business while pursuing dreams in ski racing. It is like a sanctuary for athletes who struggle with the idea of only having one option. I think it’s an option that will bring more athletes like Dave Chodounsky, Leif Haugen, and Jonathan Nordbotten to the World Cup. An option that doesn’t cost organizations or individual athletes thousands of dollars.