Following a yearlong study by an independent sport task force, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association introduced sweeping nordic membership changes with broader offerings and prices as low as $15. This summer the USSA brought on experienced nordic leader Robert Lazzaroni to help grow USSA Nordic programs. A veteran of two decades in the cross country ski industry, he was Rossignol nordic division manager and, most recently, program manager at the Utah Olympic Park where he was instrumental in Park City Nordic being awarded the USSA’s Club of the Year honor last season.
Robert, welcome to the USSA. You started in August and are starting to roll out new programs already.
It’s been a smooth transition to bring my skills from the nordic ski industry to the USSA. The membership task force did a good job in opening the door to the possibilities and it’s been fun to start the process of engaging clubs and divisions, ski instructors, touring centers, ski industry, races organizers and retailers to grow our sport.
What were some of the outcomes of the task force?
The group represented all areas of our sport from athletes to clubs to industry and more. The key focus was ‘how do we grow our sport.’ We have over 20,000 nordic skiers actively competing but only a small percentage are USSA members. We now have memberships as low as $15 and have lowered the competitor membership from $150 to $95.
(Interview continues below)
Why is membership growth important?
Nordic skiing is a family – we’re all very close. We’re proud of our sport heroes. We need to give our entire family an opportunity to feel the pride of supporting our national team and the development system that helped them reach the top. Now, for just $15, you can be a part of their success.
What’s important for USSA competitors?
One of the most important elements of a sport program is having high quality, fair competitions. USSA events like Junior Nationals, the nationwide USSA SuperTour and the annual USSA Cross Country Ski Championships are excellent events produced by the USSA and our clubs.
Are you adding new benefits?
Last year we introduced USSA Rewards, a great discount program from our sponsors. This season we’re adding a fun program where every week we’ll do an opportunity drawing from all members who have just registered and award a lucky winner with free product from one of our sponsors.
What are some of the ‘behind the scenes’ programs implemented by the USSA?
Sport education has become much stronger with excellent cross country level 100 and 200 programs. We’ve modified our Club Liability Insurance Program (CLIP) to offer clubs more relevant coverage and pricing. And we keep a keen focus on SafeSport, with education and background screening, to ensure we provide kids and families with a safe environment.
How important is partnership?
The USSA can’t do this alone. We need to grow our partnership with the ski industry. Our new partnership with the American Birkebeiner is thriving. Soon we’ll announce partnerships with CXC (Central Cross Country) and NENSA (New England Nordic Ski Association) to work together on sport growth and membership. Our current partnership with NNF (National Nordic Foundation) is fundamental for the development of our athletes.
How can America help beyond membership?
First, we hope fans and skiers alike simply start with a USSA nordic membership for $15. But we’ve also expanded our fundraising efforts with the ability for donors to now give specifically to cross country, for example. We’re also developing a program similar to the alpine Gold Pass – a single pass with access to nordic ski areas nationwide with money going to support our nordic athletes.
Finally, Robert, where do you see this heading?
We have a great national team and excellent events here in the USA. There’s a wonderful spirit for nordic skiing. I just think about what we could do to help kids prosper in the sport if we had 10,000 members working together towards their success. Skiers and fans can learn more about USSA Nordic programs at: my.ussa.org/joinnordic