Managing the cost of ski racing is possible. However, while the ski academy tuition may be a drop in the bucket for some families, the price is huge for many. On February 18, 2022, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled – “US Alpine Ski Racing’s $500,000 Per Kid Problem”. The report reveals that athletes and their parents need to honestly consider the costs of pursuing a career in ski racing. Since my “real job” is in financial services, I think it’s important to help parents understand what they will be up against.
If a family’s household income is $200,000 a year, it’s in the top 10% of American earners. However, deduct federal, state, FICA, health insurance, and other deductions, and the actual net income in that bracket is about $135,000 per year. Therefore, if we look at two of the top ski academies, one in the East and one in the West, tuition for the 2022-23 school year comes to just over $62,000, or about 46% of the family’s annual net income.
A good financial planner will tell their clients not to spend more than 25-30% of their income on their mortgage. They will recommend that families spend no more than 35-40% on all debt combined, including cars, boats, student loans, etc. This recommendation does not even take into account pension and education savings contributions. While many ski academies offer financial assistance, what happens when a family has two or three kids racing? Having several children competing can make the ski academy option problematic. These economic challenges are the very reality for many well-meaning high-income parents.
My analysis is not intended to discourage ski racers from participating in a ski academy program. I do, however, suggest that parents and their child athletes have candid discussions about the potential costs and the reality of their goals. For example, if an athlete’s goal is to run at the NCAA level, they must also understand that there are obstacles.
NCAA skiing is amazing but has realities
Currently, there are two NCAA divisions with EISA (14 schools) and RMISA (8 schools), making 22 programs. Since each team typically starts six skiers per gender, approximately 264 NCAA starting points exist nationwide. Now consider foreign athletes, including our Canadian neighbors, who fill many NCAA starting spots. Quickly, the number of positions for American athletes becomes even smaller. Also, when making a plan and budget, consider that some NCAA schools do not offer athletic scholarships.
Sure, other sports like golf are expensive, but the NCAA has over 800 teams on the course.
A good alternative is available
The good news is that there are many very affordable clubs across the country with excellent training and coaching with costs ranging from under $1,000 to $5,000+. These options help manage the cost of ski racing. Grassroots club programs in the United States have many of the same training facilities and equipment (designated practice hill, timing, gates, B-net, etc.) as the more exclusive academy programs. Skiing under the lights after school is a way for families to significantly cut costs. I trained at Song Mountain in upstate New York for a few seasons and Otto’s race track is one of the best training facilities. We ski dragged into the gates at night with a short lift and steep hilly terrain. I’ve experienced more training at Song Mountain in two hours under the lights than many athletes in a much longer session.
The US development system will eventually find you if you are exceptionally fast. The most successful US Ski Team racers started out as members of a wide variety of programs.
Good personal experience including collegiate races
As a parent and coach, I had to consider the same budgetary framework for my three ski racing kids. Although we considered the ski academy option, they could still ski five to six days a week as club athletes. They attended summer camps at Mt. Hood and were on the snow in November each year. While NCAA programs are more selective and limited, USCSSA ski racing has stepped up to fill the void for many college racers. My three kids then raced for an outstanding USCSSA team. Even if they had attended a ski academy, they probably would have ended up skiing for the same college programs. Considering all the options and doing the math was key to keeping ski racing within the family budget.