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High School Ski Racing & Chasing Gates

Sidelined at a recent high school ski race, it dawned on me how ridiculous racing is. All the downsides of downhill skiing are essential aspects of alpine racing. Let’s see, you wait at the top of the mountain while others ski, then wait some more in anticipate of your turn. Then you ski in the same icy rutted trenches as everyone else because the gates dictate the must ski path. Creativity is rarely encouraged.

Did I mention that you have stripped off your warm winter jacket, and are now embarrassingly underdressed for the elements in thin, tight, stretchy, unflattering lycra one piece suits in neon colors? Body armor and gate whacking, gee the fun keeps coming, helps you win.

So you skid and scrape and skate and tuck your way towards the finish with no time to take in the view of the particular venue. It could be Wachussett or Whistler, you aren’t exploring the unique terrain of that resort, just the race hill, one trail all day.


So you fly across the finish line and wait – this time for your time which is the sole criteria of your skiing. No style points or good attitude marks are awarded. Odds are in your favor that you will eventually injure your ACL or MCL pdq. If you are lucky, and don’t DNF (read: crash) then you get to go do it again, taking two runs while others on the mountain are bagging bountiful vertical on their trails of choice.

Let's not forget the early ski race mornings commuting on dark, often snowy roads to get to the ski area first thing for race registration and ski tuning. Of course, you have already obsessed over the perfect ski tune the night before the big ski race, the sharpest edges and the precise ski wax for race day temperatures and snow conditions. You inevitably slice your fingers on your sharp metal edges and burn yourself with hot ski wax or Petex in the process. But you will have the same metal filings under your finger nails as all the other racers.

Pre and post ski race - whether a racer yourself or a ski racer parent, you deal with a full scale of emotions: excitement, stress, anxiety, hot seats, cold chills, upset stomach, to conclude with the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat! If you don't win, place or finish the ski race, prepare for big let down and exhaustion after the previous night's restless sleep in anticipation. Are we having fun yet?


OK, I’m not a complete gate hater. I was a ski racer myself. I know the camaraderie and discipline that develop within racing. You learn precise ski technique, edging, the importance of physical fitness and hard work. Most importantly - you hope to learn how to steel your nerves and channel that untamed energy into power when its your turn in the ski race starting gate all the way to the finish - all 50 seconds.  

I’m just glad my son is done chasing sticks on stellar ski days so we can go ski wherever we want on the moutnain. There is still healthy competition, and camaraderie. For all you gatekeeper moms and dads sidelined and standing in the cold, I will wave to you when I ski by.


All Stories by Heather Burke
All Photography by Greg Burke

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