The annual U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association Congress concluded in Park City, Utah, last weekend, bringing a few changes to the American race calendar and rulebook for the 2013-2014 season. USSA Nordic Manager Joey Caterinichio called the outcomes from the meetings the result of a productive three days — “one of our better congresses” — with country-wide participation from coaches of all competitive levels.
“I had a lot of compliments from coaches,” Caterinichio said. “They said there’s been times they wanted to be gone after the second day, but they felt it was so productive that every single one of them stayed the whole meeting. It was just a really productive meeting, which is hard to do sometimes.”
One of the coaches in attendance was Brian Tate, director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Tate sits on the Junior National Oversight Committee and he agreed that it was a constructive Congress.
“As a club director I make the effort to attend the USSA Congress to hear the plans and strategy our sport’s governing body and national team have in store for the next year and beyond,” Tate said.
“As a club coach, I do not have a ton of contact with the U.S. Ski Team coaching staff, so the Congress is an opportunity to hear the state of affairs, so to speak. They do a good job highlighting the past season and shed light onto the coming season.”
Revamped National Race Calendar
The biggest item on the agenda last week was the SuperTour calendar, which has been reworked to make more sense “athletically and developmentally.” The schedule now breaks down into two-week racing blocks that alternate with breaks to allow athletes to go home and recover or race regionally.
The geographic distribution of races is also designed to be more even amongst regions, so that athletes within each have equal opportunity to compete against higher caliber skiers. The calendar is arranged two years out to allow coaches more time to prepare their travel schedules.
“We spent a long time going over the philosophy of what we want the calendar to look like in the future,” Caterinichio said. “The whole nation had input on this calendar. It seems small, but it’s huge.”
Before this year, Caterinichio says the SuperTour was designed from the venue backwards; the shape of the calendar depended on who wanted to host a race at a given time. Now that coaches have agreed on a basic schedule that makes sense for them and there are more race organizers willing to host events around the country, the process has been allowed to reverse; Caterinichio approached venues to fill in specific dates on the SuperTour and build a domestic race calendar that makes sense for the athletes competing in it.
“For athletes and professional teams using the SuperTour schedule as our domestic racing series to get to the World Cup to continue racing, the current calendar does not make sense, athletically, to go with timing rest and getting our top athletes together in one spot,” Caterinichio said. “So we needed to build in some breaks.”
The rest periods were designed to both allow top athletes a travel break and to strengthen regional races by giving local junior skiers the chance to face tougher competition against the top athletes that will not be able to return home.
“Now we’ve got a good plan for the national calendar down to the regional calendars,” Caterinichio said. “Top skiers can race regionally and I think it will help everybody. It will help college and junior racers and not only keep their regions strong but also…strengthen the nation as a whole.”
Practically speaking, this means that several mainstays of the SuperTour had to either change their dates to fit the new design or be left off completely. The Madison, Wisc., sprints now fall a week later, for example, while Aspen, Colo., and the Tour de Twin Cities are no longer part of the tour.
2013-2014 Calendar Draft:
November 29-Dec. 1 West Yellowstone, Mont.
December 7-8 Bozeman, Mont.
January 4-10 U.S. Nationals, Soldier Hollow, Utah
January 17-19 Regional
January 26 Regional
February 1-2 Regional
February 8-9 Madison, Wisc.
February 15-16 Battle Creek, St. Paul, Minn.
February 22 American Birkebiener, Hayward, Wisc.
March 23-29 SuperTour Finals, TBA (Leading bid from Anchorage, Alaska. Sun Valley and some Eastern sites as “backup”)
2014-2015 Calendar Draft:
November 29-Dec. 1 West
December 7-8 West
January 3-9 U.S. Nationals, TBA (Leading bid from Houghton, Mich.)
January 17-19 Regional
January 25-26 Regional
February 1-2 East (Leading bid from Craftsbury, Vt.)
February 8-9 East
February 15-16 Madison, Wisc. (SuperTour prize money, no points)
February 23 American Birkebeiner
March 23-29 SuperTour Finals, TBA (Bid from Anchorage, AK, if not the 2014 host)
SuperTour Finals to Include Club Relay, Two National Championships
One of the recurring discussions at the USSA Congress every year is the timing of U.S. Nationals, and whether it makes sense to have a championship in January when the nation’s best athletes are racing in Europe. Last week the Congress decided to keep January nationals as is, but added a second championship race to SuperTour Finals in the spring, when World Cup athletes are back in the U.S.
As a result, the season-ending race series will not be a mini-tour next year, though Caterinichio says the format change can be revisited again in 2014. That means not more hill climb, and the series will be split into two SuperTour Finals races, a sprint and an interval start, and two national championships.
To complement the final the 30/50 k Championship on the final two days of the series, a club relay will be the second championship race on the schedule. It will include two classic legs and two freestyle legs, and to keep the relay competitive between clubs, the relay will be mixed — two men and two women. It has been proposed that only clubs teams be eligible for the championship, but that unofficial mixed teams will be welcome to race.
New Junior Age Group Nomenclature
In the junior skiing category, the most significant change came in the age-class nomenclature. The “J” age groups have been eliminated in favor of a “U” system, which is more common across junior sports. OJs are now U20s, J1s are U18s, J2s are U16s, and so on.
The Junior National Championships will take place in 2014 at Trapps Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt., and the schedule of races is under review. JNs tried out a new competition schedule this year in Fairbanks but there is a proposal to return to the original event order, beginning with the interval start and ending with the relay.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.