Since my visit to Mount Abram to watch some of the Friday night high school racing, I have talked with parents, coaches and organizers.

When I think about a comparison with other sports, somethings become apparent. Consider the high school football player. He is arrayed in hundreds of dollars worth of padding, a uniform and a helmet. He is dressed in expensive gear that the school buys. He plays on a field, some lit at taxpayer expense. The basketball player is in a heated gym, again furnished by the taxpayer. The swimmer might have only his Speedo, but pools are costly. And, how about hockey rinks and hockey players equipment?

I don’t begrudge these athletes the money spent on their sports. I mention them only to make the point that high school skiers and their parents foot the bill for some of the most expensive equipment in sports. And to be competitive they need more than a single pair of skis. High school skiers compete in slalom and giant slalom,  and if they want to contend for the Skimeister crown, they must also run cross country.

Slalom skis are shorter and stiffer than giant slalom models to suit the difference in courses. In the slalom, skiers make rapid turns, while in the GS, the gates are set further apart, which demands less frequent turns, but the ability to carry speed while carving. At the World Cup level, the minimum length for men’s SL skis is 165 cms and GS 185 cms. That gives you the idea of the difference in length, but they also differ in flex and sidecut. The high school racer who can afford only a single pair of skis is at a distinct disadvantage. Ken Jacques, who operates Ski Depot with his brother Ron, says they try to compromise with a combi ski, a compromise between a GS and a slalom going about halfway between the length difference.

A quick look at some catalogs provides a good picture of the costs of outfitting a high school alpine racer. This outfit has only a single pair of skis. Let’s start with boots. The Dalbello Scorpion SR 130 flex goes for $699. A Volkl Race Stock SL lists for $899 with a race plate and the Marker Comp 16.0 EPS binding at $269. That gives us the basics, boots, skis and bindings for $1,867. But it doesn’t end there. Proper socks run $20-25, gloves $90-250, helmet $60-290, chin guard $35, goggles $75-140, forearm guards $59, poles, $90-140 and poles guards $35-60. Now add in dress. GS suits can be $300-500 or more.

Taking averages for these items can run the total cost up $4,500. Find shops that will take 30 percent off and the cost still adds up to more than $3000, and the racer still needs warm-ups and a jacket because you don’t just ride the lifts and stand around at the start without something a lot warmer than a race suit. Tuning and waxing is also imperative requiring tools, a waxing iron and wax.

Fortunately, there are shops that specialize in working with racers. They go out of their way to make it as affordable as possible. Ski Depot in Jay and Myrick’s Skiers’ Edge in Auburn are two good examples. Racers without the funds buy used skis, hunt for demos or special deals where shops have bought race ski closeouts. Thanks to technology moving down, recreational skiers can get very good skis and bindings for $400-600, but those skis won’t do for serious racing. There are also booster’s clubs that play a key role.

I talked with Amy Booth of Cumberland, whose son Luke was the first skimeister in the history of Greely High School. With today’s tight budgets every kid in sports has to pay a participation fee, with the fee for skiing $200. The local booster club supplements the program and offers some scholarships to kids whose families can’t afford the fee. They have a ski sale and a food sale among their fundraisers. She pointed out that unlike other sports, skiing has no fan base other than parents.

I also caught up with Jodd Bowles, who runs the junior racing programs at Lost Valley and coaches the middle school ski team in Auburn. He was in the midst of preparing for a special middle school championship taking place this past week at Black Mountain and Lost Valley with a banquet for 250 athletes at the Lewiston Armory. While the school pays his stipend, entry and training fees and transportation, there is still a lot of equipment involved, such as timing and gates. The Auburn Ski Association and the Auburn Nordic Ski Association both play key roles in funding and providing volunteers. Parents also take part.

There is a lot more to this story, but not enough space. This vacation week will see the state ski championships decided. It will involve hundreds of volunteers. The alpine racing will take place at Mt. Abram and Saddleback, Tuesday and Wednesday and it’s a chance to see some really fine ski racing.

See you on the slopes.

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