League and Race Organization
The very first year our family learned to ski, we were riding Jake's lift at Sundance. Our daughter looked down, saw the race kids training in gates, and decided right then that was for her. We've had incredible experiences being a part of youth ski racing, and we'd like to share what we've learned along the way as race parents. This first article in the series covers how our local leagues and races are organized.
Races for child athletes all the way up to the US National Team are sanctioned by the US Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). Like most youth sports, ski racing is split up into age groups as well as into divisions and regions. In Utah, we are part of the Intermountain Division (IMD), which includes Utah, Southern Idaho, and Wyoming. The IMD is a part of the Western Alpine Region.
Youth Ski League (YSL)
The Youth Ski League is the entry level for the youngest ski racers. YSL races are held for U8 (children under 8 years old) through U10 groups. Most races are held locally and only last one day. Each race will include either a slalom or a giant slalom (GS) event. After inspecting, or “slipping,” the course, YSL athletes have one run each. Boys and girls race in separate categories. U12 athletes are welcome to race as guests in the YSL if they choose. At the end of the season, there is a YSL Finals competition.
North and South Series
In the Intermountain Division, races for U12 athletes are split up into a North Series and a South Series. This split allows racers to attend races that are relatively close to home and also helps to manage the number of athletes in each race. The North Series covers Southern Idaho and Wyoming; the South Series covers Utah. U12 races typically last two days, with one day being a slalom event and the other being a GS event. Boys and girls race in separate categories.
Each time a new course is set, racers are allowed a course inspection and two runs for time. Their overall score is their combined time for each event. Once all of the athletes have completed a run, there is a period for the course officials to submit any disqualifications (DQs) or DNFs (did not finish, for racers who did not complete the course).
Athletes complete three races within their series. The top racers in the North and South series are invited to compete in Tri-Divisionals, which includes racers from the Intermountain, Northern, and Pacific Northwest Regions. North and South Series athletes not attending Tri-Divisionals race against each other at IMD Finals.
U14 Qualifying Series
At the U14 level, Utah athletes begin to travel greater distances for races, working to earn points that will qualify them to compete in either Tri-Divisionals or Western Regionals. Athletes who might not qualify for either race are invited to compete in the IMD Finals.
Qualifying races typically last 3 days, and each race includes multiple events. For example, some races might include 3 Super G events, while others might include a mix of slalom and GS events. You can go down the rabbit hole of trying to track a racer's qualifying points, but your coaches will tell you that the best way to succeed is to focus on performance and not results. Wherever your racer places, your job as a supporter is to offer encouragement and leave the coaching to the coaches.
U16 Qualifying Series
Racing at the U16 level is a major commitment of both time and resources. U16 athletes typically train 4-5 times per week and most attend summer training camps. Managing school work and attendance becomes more intense at this level of racing. Throughout the season, athletes participate in a points system and work towards qualifying for Tri-Divisionals or Western Regionals. Athletes who might not qualify for either race are invited to compete in the IMD Finals. Qualifying races are similar to those at the U14 level, except that the courses are more difficult and the gates are larger.
SODA Leagues and Night Races
For athletes who are looking for a more relaxed racing environment, local SODA leagues are a great option. Organizations such as the Arrowhead Ski Team host open night races for youth and adult athletes. The atmosphere is fun, and the prizes are worthwhile.
As supporters, races are as fun as you make them. Sure, there is a lot of waking up early, loading up the car, driving in the weather, and standing around for a glimpse of your athlete. But the joy is in the journey. We’ve found a few items that make life as a ski team supporter that much more fun.
- Buy a good quality cowbell and cheer for all the athletes – especially those that might miss a gate and find themselves hiking!
- Camp chair. You may find yourself standing along the course, but it is nice to have a chair for a home base to store your belongings and take a break.
- Cargo sled. If you are volunteering with the team, you will be hauling a lot of gear from the parking lot. A sled will be the best investment you make.
- Toe warmers. Stick these to the back of your phone to extend the battery life.
- Heated socks. It’s a splurge, but worth it when you are standing around all day in the cold.
- Sunscreen. You will get so sunburned – especially at higher elevations.
- A positive attitude. Don’t be that guy or gal – keep it positive for your kids and those around you.
In the end, you should understand that as a race parent, you are not purchasing a service - you are joining a community. The more you are willing to jump in and help, cheer on other athletes, and fill volunteer assignments, the better the experience will be for everyone.