Ski areas have a marketing saying that gets trotted out in springtime: “Ski season isn’t over–it’s just warming up.” It’s a plea to weekend skiers that it is not yet time to abandon their skis for golf clubs. Coaches make the same plea to ski racers, but with a higher purpose in mind than amortizing operating costs. Now that all the qualifying races are done, the stress levels have returned to normal, athletes are at the peak of their form and snow and weather conditions are the best they’ve been all year, this is the ideal time to bank high quality miles.
And yet, as soon as “championships” are over, many kids and parents flip the switch into spring sports even though the fields are still buried in snow. I love that kids are picking up their baseball mitts and lacrosse sticks, and I totally understand and respect the need to mix it up after a long winter. But I urge you, young ski racers and your keepers, not to check out of skiing right now. Consider all the time invested in getting to this point, to the peak of your abilities, and capitalize on that strong foundation now that the going is easy. Skill development, especially at a young age is all about volume and repetition, and, most importantly, fun. In springtime it’s all here for the taking.
Some of the very best memories (and pictures) from my entire ski racing career—from way before I knew it would become a career—are of spring skiing and racing. When people ask what made me a successful ski racer, it’s not that complicated. I skied a lot. In fact, I’d credit most of my early success to just plain miles. I didn’t go to a summer camp until I was 15, but our entire family skied through Memorial Day every year, making a trip to Mammoth for that last, sunny, chapped-lipped long weekend. We could ride spring like that every year in the west. We can ride it this year in the east. When you have the opportunity, take it. Carve Diem! If you still need more convincing here’s my pitch:
Conditions are at their best: Remember those early December days when we paid full-pop to ski on a white ribbon of death that felt like gravel on concrete, and waited in huge lines for the privilege? Yeah so do I. How about the scramble to get a few runs of training before a black January night swallowed our meager daylight? And let’s not forget training in the gale force winds and freezing rain. Flash forward to spring skiing with your pick of ballroom-smooth empty slopes, miles of mushy bumps and acres of trees to explore. If we made it through all that, don’t we deserve some of this?
Skiers are at their best: There is a good reason World Cup skiers test new gear right at the end of the season. Like them, that’s when your technique is solid, your equipment is dialed in and you still have your training momentum. All the lessons of the season are fresh yet the pressure of performing at the big races is off. This gives you the freedom to relax and train, as well as race in some of the best races of the year. Which brings us to…
Awesome Races: Springtime is for “Point Bonanzas,” laid back races where college and even World Cup racers traditionally make guest appearances, stacking the field and generating huge opportunities for younger racers. It’s not all about the points of course—just watching the big guns in action is itself worth the entry fee. And the races are just plain fun! All the spiritual wounds of the season are healed, and it’s back to the elemental joy of skiing and straight up competition.
It’s Free! This is the best and perhaps most overlooked part of the deal. Right about now parents are eagerly making arrangements for summer camps that cost, at a minimum, $200/ day, before airfare. And yet, they potentially give away a solid three weeks of prime training that requires minimal or no travel and is absolutely free. Athletes can rebuild their technique or take on an entirely new level of skills by running through a training block much like they do in the early season, and do so with the benefit of a full mountain’s worth of terrain.
And furthermore…Summer training is great, and essential at a certain point, but it can’t replace spring skiing. Boots respond differently in summer temperatures, and salted summer snow just isn’t the same as winter or spring snow. Plus, the terrain in spring skiing, with trees, steeps, stupid-big air and giant mushy bumps far surpasses anything you can build into summer skiing. Just today we trained a 175 gate slalom, simply because we could, and I am quite sure there will be many spontaneous Big Airs and Chinese Downhills in the coming weeks. Does it all count as “Deliberate Practice?” Probably not. Will it contribute towards unintentional progress? Absolutely and inevitably.
So please, if you want to get the most of all your hard work this year, stay out there and soak up the good stuff. You’re not done yet—you’re just warming up.