Being a parent of ski racers could blow your mind if you let it. When our kids were too young to know any better, I was actively steering them away from ski racing, even though my husband and I were both ski racers. They caught the ski bug anyway. Then I started to reflect on my life as a ski racer and realized there are so many wonderful life lessons that came out of the racing experience. I supported my kids’ passion for the sport.
Parents in other sports and even parents of ski racers are befuddled by the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn to travel to a ski area where you spend the whole day, no matter how cold and heinous the weather. If the weather is nice, parents have the joy skiing on our own. If the weather is stinky, we chat with other fun parents in the lodge or get some work done with access to hot tea and bathrooms. Kids rally for the cold because that is what it takes to enjoy whizzing down a hill through gates, trying new tricks in the terrain park and spending a day hooting and jamming with their buddies.
Waking up early quickly becomes a habit. After some tired mornings with not enough sleep, most kids naturally start choosing to go to bed at a reasonable time. Ski racers occasionally choose to do homework on Saturday evenings to avoid the Sunday night blues (a.k.a. the depression that oozes in anticipation of school on Monday morning compounded by homework obligations).
The best gift of ski racing is developing resilience. Most race runs don’t actually work out for one reason or another. As a racer, you have two runs and about a minute for each one to align your physical, emotional and intellectual selves to thrive in a race. There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong – getting ejected out of your skis, missing a gate, being thrown off by a nasty rut, having a very slow time because you picked the wrong line, being distracted by your lunch plan or having an off day – to name a few. When it doesn’t go the way you hoped, you pick yourself up off the snow and do it again. I attribute most of my own ability to take risks and endure setbacks to my experiences as a ski racer.
As a person with some challenges in the areas of focus and attention, I was fully reliant on making lists to manage my gear as a racer. I can relate to kids struggling with the stuff. And they should be the ones struggling. Ski racing is a gear circus. On top of skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, gloves, coat, ski pants and extra layers, one needs to wrangle a lunch and drink or a solid chunk of change to acquire lunch in the cafeteria. Some parents drive themselves mad or feel their full sense of purpose as a parent taking care of all of this by being the source of all gear, money and food. The sight of daunted parents with coolers, gear bags and an open wallet by 7:15 is common. It is called: We-are-here-all-day-and-I-don’t-want-one-pesky-thing-to-make-this-day-any-more-challenging-when-I-could-be-home-watching-the-Patriots-and-I-had-to-park-800 yards-from-this-damn-lodge-in-the-fucking-rain (or some variation of a gallant effort to avoid a snag on a snaggy day for an already snaggy sport).
The friendships that come out of a life as a ski racer are amazing and last your whole lifetime (even if you don’t want them to). A ski club of boys and girls becomes a community within a community, which helps kids feel more at ease moving through middle school and high school. Your posse of teammates becomes a family with all the love, conflict, fun and challenge that go with any group spending inordinate amounts of time together.
Parents can’t really chase their kids around all day keeping tabs. Kids ski with each other and with their coach. During that time, they are working out social stuff, making choices, living with the consequences and figuring out how they want to be in the world without hovering parents. Occasionally we get to ride the lift with our kids, but they are gone once we are at the top. As a middle-aged washed up ski racer, my personal goal is to keep my femur attached to my lower leg, so I don’t actually ski “with” my kids very much. I get an occasional lift ride, share some lodge hang, watch them zing through the terrain park or watch them rip down the course on their own. But I do get to ski and chat with the fun parents.
Ski racing is helping our kids develop self-sufficiency with time management and gear wrangling despite the fact that it can be painful to watch how they approach their race days. Everyone has his/her own way of taking care of business. Our oldest kid has a habit of rolling in to the start zone in the knick of time. On one occasion, three coaches were asking all his teammates where he might be. When he showed up, one coach said, “Perfect timing. You have twenty skiers to go.” This would give him time to stretch, get mentally ready and have his bindings checked. Instead of hunkering in with the rest of the skiers, he peeled off to squeeze in one more run leaving the coaches speechless. Somehow, he made it back around with two racers to go just the way he likes it.
It will bite him in the ass one day when he misses the start and is disqualified, but he will accept that. As a parent, if I squawk about how I think he should do his ski life, it is less likely that he will consider my idea that being early helps one prepare for the unexpected. Projecting my panic approach to preparation is a distracting setback from his perspective. I have learned to not engage. Instead, I ask my kids questions about what it was like for them their race runs and love them up no matter what the results.