Message from VARA's President


November 19, 2014

Dear VARA Members:

It has been over a year since our last update regarding developments at the state, regional and national level, and I wanted to take this opportunity, on the eve of a new season, to provide you with an update about some recent changes.

At the national level, USSA presented its McKinsey Report findings to Congress in the Spring of 2013, and shortly afterward announced the appointment of a new CEO, Vermonter, Tiger Shaw.  Since then we have seen a number of initiatives that are beginning to address the concerns previously reported on by the VARA board. 

The VARA board of directors met privately with Tiger Shaw last November for a frank and open discussion in which we expressed our concerns about several issues between state, regional and national governing bodies.  Tiger pledged to improve in many areas where we expressed concern, including increased involvement of US Ski Team staff at a regional level, ensuring a minimum standard of financial support for Eastern Region staff, improved coaches’ education programs, and addressing the development of ski racing at all levels.  In Tiger’s words, “Best in the World” needs to apply not just to elite skiers on the national team, but also to grassroots participants racing at whatever age and level.  Tiger has pledged to hone the focus of USSA from an Olympic only sport to an Olympic driven and membership focused organization, and we at VARA applaud this new vision and directive. 

We are encouraged by the actions that USSA has initiated, including investing in additional human resources in the East, hiring Eric Harlow (former VARA Board member and Vermont coach) as the Eastern Program Director, and Marty Gray (former Vermont coach), as the Eastern Regional Development Coach.  In addition, they filled the position vacated by Alex Krebs as Eastern Youth Coordinator, and retained Patty Nichols as the Eastern Administrator.

 USSA remains focused on developing the best skiers in the world, skiers that are able to compete at an elite level on the global stage, and our Vermont clubs and academies are committed to supporting that mission and to producing future Olympic gold medalists and World Cup athletes. Our youngest skiers should still wake up every morning dreaming of Olympic glory and of emulating the success of Vermont’s Mikaela Shiffrin, but recognizing that only a fraction of the athletes competing any given weekend across Vermont will go on to race at a World Cup or Olympic level, measuring the success of ski racing should be about more than just this narrow accomplishment.

VARA has joined a national movement advocating for a “twin peaks” approach to ski racing, and our collective governing bodies at national, regional and state level are engaged in serious conversation about the development of a strong participatory performance path (divisional and regional) to run alongside the existing elite performance path (national and international).  Not all young skiers will go on to race Division I or World Cup, and we want to ensure that the experience at all levels is positive, fun, competitive and conducive to a “life-long love” of sport and of ski racing in particular.

Some recent initiatives launched by VARA and USSA that you should be aware of are:

  •  The VARA committees responsible for U16 and USSA scored racing were asked to look at the structure of U16 racing in the state and come up with recommendations to promote broader development opportunities for U16’s and better calendaring of races to increase USSA level racing in the state.  A draft report was presented at the fall Board meeting in October, that proposed eliminating council races for U16’s in favor of a Vermont Cup series of scored USSA races, open to U16’s and older, but with podium recognition and place points awarded separately for U16’s and U18/21’s.  This proposal will replace the existing Council system that currently separates U16’s North and Mid/South.  This draft will undergo revisions throughout the winter before being voted on at the 2015 spring meeting.
  •  VARA Vice-President Kirk Dwyer has been selected to participate in an Elite National Development Task Force, focused on the transition of our elite athletes from regional clubs to the national team.  The task force will look at how we can improve the chances of long-term success for young athletes on an elite track and what emphasis should be placed on regional vs. national training groups for our young development prospects. Kirk has been reporting back to the VARA board and we appreciate his involvement at this national working group level.
  •  An early initiative that Kirk has reported to the board is that the US Ski Team will begin to reemphasize slalom and giant slalom skiing in our younger skiers, moving away from a trend that over emphasizes specialized speed skiing results at a young age.  Research has shown that skiers that excel in tech events (SL and GS) can and do consistently make the transition to world class speed skiing after they reach the full-maturation stage of growth and development (think Bode Miller winning his first World Cup race in slalom, and then becoming a champion speed skier in his later years). By contrast there are virtually no instances where a highly specialized young speed skier has been able to become proficient at tech events in later years.  Speed element skills will continue to play an important role in youth development programs, as all of our children need an introduction to speed and speed element training.  However, development emphasis will return to a fundamental focus on slalom and giant slalom as the base events with particular emphasis on slalom skills in the development pipeline.

These are busy and exciting times in the governance of our sport and VARA board members and coaches remain committed to working at the national, regional and state level to represent the interests of our skiers, our state and our sport. In addition to VARA board member Kirk Dwyer’s involvement on the Elite Development Task Force and the Eastern Alpine Competition Committee, and my own participation on the USSA Governance Task Force, Eastern Alpine Competition Committee and national Alpine Sport Committee, Mike Morin, from the Stratton Mountain School, is Chair of the National Development Committee, and as such is also on the USSA Alpine Sport Committee. Chuck Hughes, of Killington, is an “at large” member of the Alpine Sport Committee, representing the East, and is one of six VARA representatives on the Eastern Alpine Competition Committee. Vermont has a strong voice and is taking an active and constructive role in the deliberations and changes that are coming to our sport. We welcome input, suggestions and feedback from our members.

On November 8th we gathered at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester for our annual awards gala. If you were there you enjoyed an evening of celebration; celebration of the career and accomplishments of Diane Roffe as she was inducted into the VARA Hall of Fame; celebration of the VARA Team 2015 for their accomplishments at national, regional and state level; celebration of our Volunteer of the Year, Alpine Official of the Year and Coaches of the Year. It was a great night but as much as we applaud those who were honored at the Equinox I would like to close by applauding you, the parents, volunteers, coaches and helpers who turn out every weekend to make it possible for our athletes to participate in this amazing sport. Thank you for all you do to .... keep ski racing 1st in Vermont .... and Vermont ski racers 1st in the world. Vermont’s collective commitment to this mission has never been stronger and we are happy to serve the members of our state, region and nation, as we work together to advance and evolve the sport of ski racing at home and in the United States.

Respectfully submitted,

Tao Smith
VARA President
Killington, VT