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Opinion: USCSA changes would improve experience

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Photo Courtesy Gabby Dodd

Photo Courtesy Gabby Dodd

This March marked the 40th annual United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championships at Lake Placid, New York. For parents, friends, and community members, it’s an exciting time to watch an athlete they know and care about compete at a national event on a live broadcast. For Sierra Nevada College snow sports athletes, it’s an opportunity to travel, experience a potentially new resort, and represent the school.

However, how many people have actually heard of USCSA before coming to SNC? I sure didn’t. Like many in the freeski or snowboard community, I only knew of the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA), which is the largest snowboard and freeski community in the world, according to its website, with more than 32 series and 500 events held each year at 120 different resorts. USASA claims that all 26 athletes on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team got their start competing with the organization. Their events truly bring a variety of competition with more than 5,000 registered members.

Although the collegiate association was established 11 years prior to USASA, it hasn’t made much of a name for itself. This isn’t totally their fault given that there are only so many colleges that have ski and snowboard teams, or clubs which can afford to participate in their events. Yet, after 40 years, you would think some better marketing would be implemented. Even the history tab on the USCSA website is blank except for the message, “The USCSA is currently in the process of building our organization history.” The message has been there since I first heard about the organization two years ago.

Little Respect for Freestyle

Something I have noticed with USCSA, is that they don’t seem to care about freestyle ski and snowboard events.

SNC’s freestyle teams haven’t seen much competition. This year we had only one competition prior to regionals and nationals, held at Boreal Mountain Resort. Again, USCSA isn’t all to blame. There are a multitude of issues which cause event cancellations: weather, uncooperative resorts, funding, lack of competition from other schools, etc. However, even at the one event we did have at Boreal, I felt a lack of effort was put into the course. It was loosely closed off with one simple rope, and not a single sign letting confused tourists know a competition was in progress. The only way you could tell something was going on were the bib numbers of the athletes. Even then, a few random people would duck the rope trying to hit the park when there was time between athletes dropping in for their runs.

Even the USCSA description on its homepage fails to mention that they are also a federation for freestyle ski and snowboard: “The USCSA is the sports federation for collegiate team ski racing and snowboarding in America. We are made up of more than 175 member colleges and universities.”
Of these 175 member schools, it seems to me almost all compete in racing. It’s not USCSA’s fault that there aren’t more schools with freestyle teams, but freestyle isn’t even mentioned in the description. The racers, on the other hand, have many more events throughout the season and have much more competition, especially at nationals. This year at nationals there were more than 100 men from different schools present for alpine racing, compared to men’s freeski with only 26 participants.

1st, 2nd, 3rd- Period.

Other than modern-day youth soccer programs, USCSA is the only organization I have ever heard of that treats everyone like a winner.

During award nights at nationals, USCSA usually announces your name, brings you on podium and gives you a sheet of paper for coming in anywhere from 1st through 10th – and sometimes even 15th place – depending on how many people participated. Am I the only one who finds this a bit ridiculous?

I understand, maybe 10th place is still a tearjerker for grandma and grandpa who want to see you get up on stage, but come on. Any other event I can think of is just 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and on to the next event awards. It just makes more sense. Anything more than that is almost embarrassing to announce to a crowd of people. I would much rather give my support for those who received the traditional podium than hear my name for 10th place. Leave me out of it, I don’t need the paper.

Organizational Issues

The most frustrating thing to me is USCSA’s lack of organization in everything.

At many events, I’m always asking if anyone knows what’s going on. No one ever seems to be on the same page about times and judging formats (or, one time, where the course was) until the last minute.

At nationals, commentators would often call out the name of the wrong trick during a slopestyle or rail jam event and would often get the names wrong of the people competing. During the day of my slopestyle event I couldn’t compete due to a bad stomach illness. I watched the live stream from the team house and discovered that somehow I qualified in first place to move onto finals without even being there. The mistake eventually got solved, and I got a good laugh out of it, but that’s not the type of thing that should happen at a national event. To me, so many mistakes make me question the professionalism and seriousness of the association.

Also, this year many of the course features for different events were not up to par with the quality that a national event should have, which resulted in significant challenges for athletes. There seemed to be a lack of organization between Whiteface Mountain, the host resort, and USCSA. I suspect the abundance of injuries that befell so many SNC may be connected to poor course design and maintenance, as well as weather and snow conditions.

There’s Still Hope

I think the one thing that USCSA seemed to get right at nationals was the opening ceremony held at the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. It had lots of food like burgers, macaroni and cheese, salad, etc., and fire pits set up to roast marshmallows for s’mores. It had a DJ with a small dance floor and lights, and organizers coordinated a spectacular show as ski jumpers were sending off of the 70-meter hill overlooking the event. A fireworks show brought the night to a close.

For the future, I think USCSA has so much room for improvement. With more effort the national championships would be more worthwhile for schools to attend. It appears to have decent sponsorships for its events, especially Patagonia, but if USCSA can acquire more financial support with sponsors, it could use that money to create scholarship contests for schools to cut the financial costs of sending athletes to nationals, it would have the potential to keep more schools around and inspire other colleges near resorts that don’t have big budgets to create ski and snowboard teams. They also need to market themselves better in order for people to know and respect the USCSA logo and what it represents.

I think a lot of people see USCSA as a “beer league” rather than a well-respected collegiate athletic association. It’s time to make a change.

Editor Gabby Dodd competes on SNC Tahoe’s freestyle ski team.

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