Australian Alpine Racing Review
AUSTRALIAN alpine and skier cross athletes will have a revised pathway through the ranks to the elite level after a comprehensive evaluation and recommendation by new Ski & Snowboard (SSA) Alpine Director Mick Branch.
Mr Branch said the main purpose was to undertake a complete review of the Australian Alpine system for the development of athletes and re-examine the goals of alpine. Part of the equation was to look at best practice from around the world and in other sports and make a series of recommendations for future implementation.
After being appointed to the position in July 2017, Branch has set about understanding why Australia have not produced more elite skiers, especially in the alpine discipline. We have strong athletes in skier cross as was highlighted by Sami Kennedy-Sim at the Winter Olympics.
Part of the process was communicating with the racing community, race clubs and coaches, key resort personnel, Australian Institute of Sport and Australian Sports Commission. Head Olympic Winter Institute Skier Cross Coach Shawn Fleming was involved in the review with Mr Branch.
In a 17-page report submitted at the end of last winter and accepted by the SSA board and other key parties, the changes will largely come into effect this 2018 Australian season. There is a new defined athlete pathway and one of the many changes will see removal of early season SSA children’s races from the racing calendar. This will allow junior racers to concentrate more on skills development. There will still be the usual resort scheduled races.
Mr Branch said this will see SSA work closely not only with the Australian race club programs, but also resort ski schools to shift the emphasis towards an increased focus on skill acquisition from a young age.
“Additionally, the focus on athletic development shifts from pure physical benchmarking to increased physical literacy with education and exposure to best practices at age appropriate phases,” said Branch. “These changes are informed by evidencebased research and are supported by the AIS.”
The last Australian Alpine Review by Mark Sharp in 2008 identified aspects that needed to be addressed, and although a series of recommendations were addressed by SSA, the ability to truly align the culture with best practice at every phase in the pathway has not been achieved.
Historically there has been an unwillingness to take ownership towards long term outcomes from the club level of the sport. Coupled with community and clubs shared short term focus rather than long term development, this has hindered the need for a cultural shift within the sport.
On completion of the 2017 review the main recommendations were to create an SSA Children’s Development Watchlist (not publicly published) to identify potential athletes rather than selecting a SSA national children’s team or squad.
By removing the national children’s squad, it will take away the emphasis on race results rather than developing long term skill. A revision of the national alpine ski team selection will also take place to reflect aspirational milestones and realistic benchmarks.
A restructure of the early season races to allow for more skill development rather than more races. The SSA children’s series has now been scheduled in September at Thredbo for 2018 as the SSA Children’s Carnival. The FIS races for older racers will happen across the same dates at Perisher this year.
This will also alleviate costs for families associated with attending multiple races across the resorts during winter and allow more on snow training for athletes.
SSA will introduce a club recognition scheme to ensure all clubs are working in line with the national vision and best practices. Education will also be implemented with coaches of young athletes and parents to show the long-term success of skills development.
Now that the Australian Alpine Vision has a structured pathway, let’s hope with support for alpine and ski cross athletes they can develop more champion skiers.
Harry Laidlaw hits the gate in a 2016 GS FIS race.