Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Boots Off

Eventually, every athlete leaves the field of play. Last year, watching Didier Cuche take his ceremonial final run at World Cup Finals on wooden skis, leather boots, and a wool suit, all borrowed from a nearby ski museum, was not only entertaining to watch and one hell of a way to retire, but also beautiful. Few athletes get to leave the sport when they want, and even fewer get to leave with their boots on. Didier got to do both, and although I was healthy at the time of his retirement, still five days before my next big knee injury, I knew the significance of what he was doing. A week later it was only more apparent, and writing this exactly a year since my last ACL surgery, it's nothing short of inspiring.

I'm headed to business school in the fall. I was able to tell a story to the admissions committee at the Tuck School of Business about an independent skier who set his goal on being a part of the White Circus, even if it meant having to operate outside the development system of the US Ski Team. I spoke about holding fundraisers and landing sponsors, and how no two years were funded the same way. I explained that I was in charge of budgeting, coordinating, and executing my own international travel schedule to support a world class training and racing program, and that even with all the meticulous planning, that the ability to change plans on a moment's notice had just as much value. I wrote about the team aspect of ski racing and how individual world ranks, while they are the measuring stick of success and the gatekeeper of career progression, are anything but individual. Those rankings are the hard work of coaches who have dedicated their lives towards making others faster, and of other athletes who genuinely have your best interests at heart.

Anecdotes and stories from the road spilled onto my application. Situations that didn't seem like a big deal at the time turned into great vignettes for life as an independent skier. For one, the cost-efficiencies Adam Cole, Dane Spencer, and I employed in Alpe di Suisi, a valley notorious for steep hotel prices, by seeking out guesthouses on local farms. Greeting the farmer's doorstep with bad German and big American smiles, we found comfort in large lofts above the barn that were a fraction of the cost of a hotel, had a full kitchen, wifi, and were immaculately clean (we were in S├╝dtirol after all). During my interview, I argued that the cadence of ski racing and the inherent downtime creates a great environment for entrepreneurial thinking. I talked about rooming with Jimmy Cochran at the World Cup in Bansko, and the time we spent tweaking his delivery methods and operations for his growing maple syrup business, Slopeside Syrup, back home in VT. I could have just as easily talked about the countless chairlift and t-bar rides spent with Warner Nickerson and others comparing marketing strategies, sharing creative ways to land sponsorships, or my personal favorite: how to beat the airlines. There are a million stories like these in the ski world.

All of those experiences pale in comparison to the ones shared while working as a youth mentor with In The Arena. Any time I wanted to feel sorry for myself about the opportunities I might not have had given my independent status, I could point to the Hazen Union Track and Field team in Hardwick, VT that I coached one Spring after breaking my collarbone at NorAm Finals. With no track and no field of their own to train on, the team was ecstatic when I laid down a 200m oval around the school parking lot with sidewalk chalk (turns out high school geometry does come in handy). With training shirts that read "No Track, No Field, No Problem", the Hazen team held their own at plenty of meets, including the Vermont state championships where they recorded 18 personal records to round out the season. Some of them now compete in track and field at college.

In short, it wasn't hard to find things to talk about. Ski racing and everything that goes with it prepares you for a lot more than how to get down the hill quickly.

The choice to make this pivot in my life wasn't an easy one. I don't know that anything will compare to being a ski racer, but I am excited about the new challenges in front of me and I feel lucky as hell to have taken the ride this far. I'm still not able to completely hang them up, I did after all get my FIS license for this upcoming season. I'm just going to have to pick my races carefully, as my uncontested streak of victories over baby brother is unblemished and I'd like to keep it that way.

I'm looking forward to continue representing the athletes as the Alpine Athlete Rep to the USSA, that hasn't slowed a bit. Just because I won't be in the starting gate as often doesn't mean that the problems affecting the sport go away, or even that they get put in the rear view mirror. We don't all get to walk away from the sport on our own terms, but I've realized through this last year of rehabbing and trying to get back that you never truly leave the sport if you don't want to, and that this cuts both ways. The same people who supported me when I was racing were the same people encouraging me to get back on snow, and they're the same people offering their support now. Ski racing is the community I feel at home with, the one where conversations from the previous spring can pick up the next fall, or a year later, on a dime without pretense or formality. The sport is about skiing your best, but it requires working with others and giving honest feedback, as well as receiving it. No [Charles], you didn't have a good run. Yes, I actually did ski out of my mind. Those are some of the best conversations I've ever had, with my friends and competitors (I'm looking at you Greg Hardy). What more could you ask for.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Post-Congress Action Items

Since the USSA Congress, things have moved into action-item mode. The meetings were a great way share ideas and identify ways to take our sport forward, but all the talking and planning is for not without executing these ideas and seeing if they produce results.

Specifically, I have been focused on a couple of things. Last Friday, I spoke with Lynn Dorsey Bleil, the senior partner at McKinsey & Company tasked with carrying out The Report, for about an hour about the study and the task force charged with implementing the recommendations. I reiterated that, as the athlete rep, I didn't agree with the number of athletes that were sampled in relation to the other perspectives, but that any report which identified a need to focus more on the clubs and the end-user was a good one. Lynn was receptive to my comments and was very helpful explaining the process they used to reach the athlete's thoughts, and assured me that while the number of athletes could have been larger, that the quality of the input they received was substantial. We agreed to work together going forward in order to provide targeted feedback for future projects and initiatives.

I am seeking out specific January European races as they get put on the 2014 winter competition schedule, in order to submit them for an expanded quota request. Of course ze Germans have their entire schedule out, but other countries are lacking (let's go AUT and ITA!). January is a time of year when the USA international race quota of 10 spots per race are constantly oversubscribed. With the priority that the USST, USST D-Team, and now sponsored regional projects and USSA Academy members have to these spots, an American skier not on the Team or involved in these projects has even less of a chance to showcase his or her talents abroad.

Finally, I am working with Chip Knight, Dartmouth coach and the USOC athlete rep to the USSA Board of Directors and incidentally my former coach, on the particulars of a collegiate-USST relationship for the next spring and summer. Also, he was able to communicate some details from the EISA meeting, held last week, in which the issues of the Eastern NCAA collegiate circuit were discussed, specifically the "host obligations" agreement for holding a carnival and the preparation of the hill. As the collegiate circuit penalty and quality of field gets better and better, it is increasingly important the conditions and quality of race continue to evolve as well. There isn't a lot of opposition to this idea, but cost constraints of hosting these events and negotiating with the host sites will require some creative thinking to solve these issues.

There has been some interest in filling out positions as athlete reps on the regional boards, and I continue for people to reach out to me (charleschristianson@gmail.com) with any questions about the role and what it would mean. I have gotten a lot of positive response from other members at the Congress about the renewed engagement of all the athlete reps recently. I have no base to compare from, but this opportunity to further affect policy is an opportunity that we should not pass up.

Whether you're on a glacier or a lake, enjoy the summer!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hammertime at the Congress

The USSA Congress is absolutely nuts. It’s 5 days of back-to-back-to-back meetings that addresses every conceivable area of the sport of ski racing, from the width of a slalom pole (and the designation that it shouldn’t be referred as a gate) to the size of the collegiate quota for US Nationals if the NCAA champion doesn’t attend to disciplinary actions if an athlete at a USSA-affiliated camp uses marijuana in a state like Washington or Colorado after it is legalized (sorry hippies, it’s still a no-no) to my personal favorite, a request for more involvement with ski racing with Big Ten schools. I’m envisioning a night slalom in the Big House now...Add in the equally, if not more, important meetings and meals with the constituency, USSA coaches and officials, trustees, college coaches, etc., and it makes for a very involved couple of days. In all, the Congress was a fantastic experience and I think it was useful in creating policy to shape ski racing in the US in a more positive way.


Working with Chip Knight and Gina Gassman, the athlete reps to the USOC and USSA, respectively, we staffed many of the committees to hit the minimum 20% requirement of athlete representation as mandated by the Ted Stevens Amateur Athletic Act. I am now formally an athlete rep to following alpine committees: Executive Committee, Development and Education Subcommittee, Collegiate Working Group, Quotas and Selections Committee, and Judicial Committee. I’m told this is a lot of work, but each of these subcommittees is important, and I can’t think of one that I shouldn't be on. Besides, I sat in on each of these committees this year, many of them had 2 or even three sessions, so if I didn’t collapse this time then might as well keep chugging!

Also, it has been recommended that there be athlete representation on each regional board. The current alpine athlete reps and I have been asked to submit recommendations to the USSA to fill out these positions (we might even choose them, it’s yet to be determined). I think the idea of athlete involvement on the regional level is a great one, and necessary to ensure that the end-user of the product of USSA ski racing is being considered in every decision making process. One only needs to have competed in the last 10 years to be eligible, so I encourage any and everyone who takes the future of their sport seriously to contact me (charleschristianson@gmail.com) and I will explain in further detail what being an a regional athlete rep would entail, and all the ass-kicking that you can do with a voice and a vote.

One of the best parts about the Congress was the amount of engagement that the USSA officials expressed and wanted to have with myself and the other athlete reps. Scott Macartney said it best when he stated, “there is no ‘man behind the curtain’ at the USSA.” That is not to say that I agree with all of the policies of the USSA, we certainly have more work to do in a lot of areas, but I never experienced a moment where the opportunity to engage the appropriate people wasn’t available. Luke Bodensteiner, USSA Executive Vice President of Athletics, was very helpful in directing me toward which parties would best handle each concern that I brought forth on behalf of the athletes. Through this I addressed certain issues off-line, like billing practices for unfunded USST athletes, creating opportunities for collegiate skiers to train with the Team, and putting in requests to expand quotas to certain European January races that are historically oversubscribed.

In terms of formal motions put forth during the Congress, it was fitting that Gina and I sponsored a motion to support a student USSA license for USCSA athletes, specifically, "to support Student License with USSA and collegiate head tax component program for affordable collegiate ski racing”. The USCSA, a group of 178 colleges across the country boasting a 4,700 member group of largely self-organized, funded, and coached collegiate ski racers and snowboarders, left the USSA last year after a shift in the head-tax policy increased costs by a factor of 3-4 for each team in an effort not to price the teams out the sport. I, along with many others, believe that our sport’s national governing body is most complete when it represents all groups of the ski racing groups in this country. The task force charged with deploying the findings of the McKinsey report is going to take on assessing the viability of this proposed USSA license tier, from the cost structure to the access that this type of license will provide. I look forward to learning these findings and moving one step closer toward including the USCSA back under the umbrella of the USSA.

I want to thank everyone who helped me get up to speed and allowing me to be a more effective athlete rep than I otherwise would be. It was great to learn that many issues can be discussed in an open and productive setting, and I look forward to more opportunities to represent the athlete’s voice in these discussions. Time to do some serious follow up!


Monday, May 6, 2013

Gearing up for the USSA Congress


In a little more than a week the powers that be in US Skiing will meet in Park City, UT for the annual USSA Congress. The 5-day event is open to all USSA members and features meetings of sport committees and subcommittees, as well as the USSA Board of Directors. Here is a link to the schedule. Over the past couple of months, I have gotten the chance to meet or speak with a number of people involved in the USSA, most notably Dexter Paine (Chairman, Board of Directors), Bill Marolt (CEO), Luke Bodensteiner (Executive VP, Athletics), Darryl Landstrom (Chairman, Alpine Sport Committee) and various trustees, all of whom have have been helpful explaining the complexities of the USSA and what they see as the most pressing issues. I consider it a privilege to engage the top executives in the sport as the Athlete Rep on how to continue moving US Skiing in a positive direction and share the feedback that I have received from USSA members on this topic thus far.

My tentative schedule at the Congress is to serve on the Athlete's Advisory Council, the Board of Directors, and focus on the subcommittees and working groups within the Alpine Sport Committee that are most relevant to my role as Alpine Athlete Rep: the Development and Education Subcommittee, the Collegiate Working Group, and the Quotas and Selections Working Group. I have been in touch with the chair of all three groups to announce my intentions and learn the best way I can serve in these meetings. This may involve presenting in front of the group, or simply advising on issues, each group has their own format. 

As you might have guessed, navigating what committee or working group to sit on or speak at is no easy feat. A lot of the alignment of working groups and subcommittees has come under review, not just within the USSA but their regional structure and partnership with local clubs. The latter was  addressed in the McKinsey Study released a little over a week ago. The consulting firm proposed a more streamlined approach of governance in accordance with a best practice NGB model, as well as suggestions for improved communications and strengthened club and member value. I support any type of process that achieves these goals, and I am excited to see what the result of the actions the USSA takes to make this happen. However, I was disappointed to see that out of the 100 interviews performed by McKinsey, only 8 were with parents or athletes of the USSA. More alarming was the fact that this "perspective" of USSA stakeholders was not evaluated using traditional interviews, but through their own analysis of a 2012 USSA general survey. McKinsey also groups interviews with Board members and other USSAs who were parents or athletes into this bucket (I was not interviewed), bringing into question how relevant they saw this group in providing input toward building a better organizational structure. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that the need for a broader communication with the members was still an outcome of this report. Also impressive is the fact that the USSA has already sought to implement these changes to strengthen the communication and transparency between them and the regional and club levels. It's good to hear that people are listening, should make for an interesting week!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mammoth Invitational


Every year I try ski my last day of the season at Mammoth Mountain, in California. While other mountains are shutting down operations for the season, or should be shutting down from poor snow coverage, Mammoth is different. The mountain boasts 100 percent open terrain, cold temps at night, lots of April sun...and it's in California. This makes for a perfect time to host the Mammoth Invitational, a 3-day fundraiser benefiting the Mammoth Lakes Community Fund, which provides funding for educational and athletic programs for the local youth. The participants, mostly from LA, are paired up with a professional skier as a coach, and compete in numerous activities from a biathlon to an alpine ski race to casino night.


The pro alpine race can get rather serious (Dave Chodunsky got me by three hundredths for the overall...damn him), but with about 13 ways to "win" each event, having a good costume can be just as important as having a fast time. As one of the pro coaches, my job is to make sure my group is having a good time, and maybe teach a thing or two about ski technique. This being my third year volunteering at the event, I've worked with groups that wanted to train gates and do one-ski drills during a snow storm, and others that simply wanted someone to go big mountain skiing with.

This year's group, the Go Go Glacier Girls, were definitely into matching outfits and having a good time, but also happened to be some of the best skiers at the event. Armed with some, shall we say, loud team clothing options, we skied all over Mammoth for two days and had a great time at the accompanying events.

I was a little hesitant to wear this costume, and really felt that I could have taken the title without my technicolor fur leggings (the headdress was gone by the time I got to the top of the lift)...

But if this is what the winner's team is wearing to banquet night, then I'm not so sure I lost after all, haha, nice look Dave!

With World Cup victories, Olympic medals, or X Games golds are all represented within the pool of coaches at the event, the opportunity to be included with the amazing group of other athletes and professional ski coaches is humbling. I hope to continue working with the program in the future, and can't think of a better way to spend time giving back to the sport that has provided me with so much. Here's to a wrap on the ski season!

Oh hey Glen Plake, nice bus

Monday, April 8, 2013

Final Four



Here's to the nerds.

Especially those that win awards, like tickets to the Final Four. The NCAA, in an effort to promote their student-athlete objective, recently established an award that honors the top GPA earner in each sport. The prize: two tickets to the Final Four men's basketball tournament. As I am almost 5 years removed from my college career, I never had the opportunity to win this newly created award (that, and my freshman fall econ grade quickly put an end to this ever happening to me). However, Andreas Haug, a good friend from Norway and current student at Colorado University, was in fact the winner of this prize, boasting an impressive GPA of 3.98 and a starting member of CU's 2 national skiing championships in the last three years. And as a displaced Norweigan, he needed an energetic friend who had an intimate knowledge (or at least a baseline) of basketball knowledge and enjoyed big time competitions. Guess who he asked...

That's right, this weekend Andreas and I enjoyed all that was Bracketville in ATL. Outdoor concerts from Zac Brown Band to Ludacris, watching a basketball game with a capacity crowd at the Georgia Dome, and lower bowl tickets to two a night of great competition, the trip was all that we could have hoped for. Big time collegiate sports are alive and well.

A lot of the fun for me was the ability to play tour guide to Andreas, as he had never before been to the South, and didn't really follow basketball. I prepped him throughout the week with video clips of everything from Lil' Jon to the ESPN documentary on the Fab Five. By Saturday night he actually knew some of the college basketball greats being honored at halftime (as a newly minted Michigan fan he booed Christian Laettner) and had eaten meals of chicken and waffles to catfish.

I'm really hoping that Andreas keeps his grades up this year, and most importantly that that he needs a tour guide to next year's Final Four in Dallas. Andreas and I were remarking that skiing has allowed us to travel the world and experience so many different things that we would otherwise never be a part of. This certainly fell into that category.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Business Trip

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Conference Room A

I love California. Especially in March, and especially in the mountains. This last week Squaw Valley hosted the US Alpine Championships, putting on a great event with all the flare that one would expect from a Cali destination ski area known for big mountain skiing, a deep passion for ski racing, and having fun in the process (name another ski area that throws pool parties…at the top of the mountain).

US Nationals is the last time of year when the majority of the ski racing community is gathered in one spot, making it an ideal venue to meet with athletes and learn about current issues. These meetings took place on a chairlift, at the race finish, at the banquet, or later at night. I selflessly threw myself into as many of these social situations as I could, and got the chance to speak with a lot of athletes who shared their experiences from this season. I also got the chance to speak with the USSA staff members, most notably Bill Marolt for almost an hour.
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 College athlete and industry meeting with Robby Kelley's brother Tim, and Super Rep Ethan Korpi

With the USSA Congress less than 2 months away, this was a great way to start formalizing thoughts and opinions to communicate on behalf of the athletes during these meetings. I am also in the process of learning as much as I can about the Alpine Sport Committee, in charge of discussing current and proposed policy, and which subcommittees I should ask to speak at. Darryl Landstrom, the Chairman of the ASC, has been very helpful instructing me on the procedure and format of the meetings throughout the week . At first glance the organizational structure can be a bit confusing, but with proper guidance it has become much clearer.

I encourage any USSA athlete to contact me directly about any issue he or she might have regarding their position within the USSA organization or the USST. The earlier that I can learn about the issues the better, in order to give each issue the time it deserves.

 Cheers to all of the athletes on a great season of ski racing. I am looking forward to being in Vail next weekend and then rounding out the season back in Mammoth Mountain at the Mammoth Invitational in April. If anyone would like to meet during these times, maybe discus things between ripping some turns, let me know!