SkiTrax - - Contents - By J.D. Down­ing

by J.D. Down­ing

Ear­lier this sea­son, sev­eral in­ci­dents in the Pa­cific North­west caused me to re­flect on how many times each ski sea­son Mas­ters skiers have the chance to ei­ther move our sport for­ward or take it sev­eral steps back. In­creas­ingly, I have to ad­mit I'm wor­ried that we are seeing far too much of the lat­ter and not enough of the for­mer. I'd like to help change that.

Last year, I ded­i­cated an en­tire column to Mas­ters be­com­ing proac­tive in­stead of com­pla­cent when it comes to big-pic­ture is­sues such as cli­mate change and cross-coun­try-ski re­siliency in an in­creas­ingly com­plex world. I still firmly be­lieve we all need to be­come re­ally cre­ative and very in­volved in these way-big­ger-than-just-cross-coun­try is­sues so as to have a chance to pre­vent our sport from mud­dling on through the com­ing years. But this sea­son, I'd like to also ad­vo­cate that Mas­ters be­come much more knowl­edge­able about things closer to home.

Let's start with ski ar­eas. There are many Mas­ters skiers around the world who do not bother to learn much, if any­thing, about the ac­tual man­age­ment or op­er­a­tions at the places they ski. I'm not just talk­ing about ca­sual skiers who go out a cou­ple times a win­ter; I'm talk­ing about hard­core Mas­ters who ski triple-digit days each win­ter.

You get into a con­ver­sa­tion about, say, groom­ing, and all you tend to hear is how hor­ri­ble the groom­ing is at one place and how won­der­ful the groom­ing is some­where else. But what you al­most never hear is an ob­jec­tive eval­u­a­tion of the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges ver­sus op­por­tu­ni­ties that dif­fer­ent ski ar­eas face. Snow and weather, eco­nomic re­al­i­ties, man­age­ment con­trol, and so on all play a vi­tal role in the daily end prod­uct we see as skiers.

What I'd like to see is more Mas­ters ac­tu­ally tak­ing the time to learn some­thing about the unique equa­tion their lo­cal ski ar­eas face each win­ter. Buy your lo­cal ski-area man­ager a hot or cold bev­er­age and just sit down to chat – prefer­ably in the late sea­son when ski­ing ac­tiv­ity has qui­eted down. Or bet­ter yet, sug­gest that the ski area of­fer a late-fall pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion over­view on its op­er­a­tions. Quite re­cently, I've seen a cou­ple of talks about cross-coun­try groom­ing very well at­tended, prov­ing that Mas­ters are in­ter­ested in these top­ics.

De­vel­op­ing a broader un­der­stand­ing goes be­yond ski ar­eas to ski re­tail­ers, ski-ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, race or­ga­ni­za­tions and re­gional/na­tional/in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions. I'm not say­ing ev­ery Mas­ters skier needs to be a 365/24/7 ex­pert on all things cross-coun­try. But I do be­lieve that tak­ing the time to learn even just a lit­tle bit more about ev­ery­thing we can in our sport makes a pow­er­ful dif­fer­ence to the good.

Re­gard­ing re­tail­ers, as a cus­tomer, it can re­ally help if you un­der­stand the paper-thin mar­gins of cross-coun­try sales world­wide. Ev­ery­one loves a good deal, but a knowl­edge­able Mas­ters skier un­der­stands that the only way to can get a great price on new skis is ac­tively help­ing the cross-coun­try in­dus­try to sell more new skis to new cus­tomers. If we take the po­si­tion that it's some­one else's prob­lem to sell ski gear, then we'll get the con­tin­u­ing con­trac­tion and con­sol­i­da­tion of the in­dus­try that hurts grass­roots de­vel­op­ment and prod­uct in­no­va­tion world­wide. Con­versely, when I just oc­ca­sion­ally talk up the ben­e­fits I see with this or that piece of gear, I'll help peo­ple and busi­nesses from the lo­cal to in­ter­na­tional level that ul­ti­mately pay my ef­forts for­ward by mak­ing our sport stronger.

In the same vein, if we take the time to re­ally un­der­stand lo­cal, re­gional and na­tional ski-ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions, we can much bet­ter de­cide where, when, and how our time, money and other re­sources are best al­lo­cated. I'm on roughly 100 ski-re­lated mail­ing lists, and in the last cou­ple months of each year, I am urged to do­nate money to lit­er­ally ev­ery one of these en­ti­ties. In my case, what's par­tic­u­larly funny is that I'm also out there, hat in hand, for sev­eral ski or­ga­ni­za­tions my­self!

Tak­ing the time and mak­ing the ef­fort to be­come more knowl­edge­able al­low more Mas­ters to make a grounded de­ci­sion when it comes to how to al­lo­cate re­sources. You'll make bet­ter de­ci­sions re­gard­ing which bat­tles to pick when is­sues come up. Knowl­edge also al­lows you to be­come ac­tively in­volved when con­sol­i­da­tion and greater co­op­er­a­tion with dif­fer­ent groups is the smart thing to do.

With race or­ga­ni­za­tion, ba­sic knowl­edge that pro­vides con­struc­tive feed­back is the gold-medal stan­dard for a racer, ver­sus a sce­nario where a racer just whines and com­plains. Once again, if you take the time and make the ef­fort, you'll learn why de­ci­sions are be­ing made. You'll also dis­cover the ar­eas where your in­put will pro­duce bet­ter out­comes in the fu­ture. When it comes to rac­ing, vol­un­teer­ing is of­ten the best way to be­come ed­u­cated. With win­ter as short as it is, some­times you just need ask some ques­tions and ob­tain some back­ground be­fore you launch into your lat­est “this is what they should be do­ing” the­sis.

Fi­nally, re­gional/na­tional/in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions un­ques­tion­ably need more Mas­ters to care enough to find out more. Since I'm lead­ing both en­ti­ties now, I'd like to think that both the U.S.A. Mas­ters as­so­ci­a­tion – Amer­i­can XC Skiers – and the World Mas­ters XC Ski As­so­ci­a­tion do at least a de­cent job at pro­vid­ing good in­for­ma­tion to any skier who pays at­ten­tion. But it al­ways helps when skiers them­selves are ac­tively seek­ing more knowl­edge about what their rep­re­sen­ta­tive groups are do­ing on their be­half.

We have a won­der­ful sport, yet it can only stay that way if ev­ery Mas­ters skier makes even a small ef­fort to keep our fu­ture bright and snowy.

Re­gional/na­tional/in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions un­ques­tion­ably need more Mas­ters to care enough to find out more be­cause you can make a dif­fer­ence.

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