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Northern Rockies

The Travel Hack That Keeps Ski Racing Families On the Slopes

Ski racing can be intense and stressful, but savvy skiers and their families use racing as a way to explore new ski resorts.

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On race day, the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and a glimpse outside the window catches the moon illuminating the snow crystals
shimmering in the frigid, pre-dawn temps. Coffee gets poured in the thermos, a hasty lunch is made, followed by a scramble to pack up all the gear strewn around the night before: race skis, trainers, free skis, poles, shin guards, arm guards, race suit, spine protector, gloves, ski boots, toe warmers, hand warmers, zip-off pants, down jacket, team jacket, helmet, goggles, water, lunch. Phew.

Also Read: How to Get Your Kid to Love Skiing, According to Daron Rahlves

The alpenglow highlights the mountain ridgetops as racers arrive at the resort. Sleepy kids shoulder heavy boot bags, delicately balancing two pairs of skis across the icy parking lot. Racers need to find their team, their bib, and hope the resort can find their e-signed liability waiver. While the kids are jamming their feet into tight boots and racing outside to load the early chair, smart parents are sipping coffee and studying the trail map, devising a plan to sneak in some runs and be back by the time their skier pushes out of the start shack.

Ski race familiesThe Kellys, who live in Boulder, take advantage of all of the ski resorts their son Dylan’s racing career has brought them to. (Photo: Aaron Dodds)

Race day for a ski racer can be intense, but the savvy race family—and racer—can separate from the intensity by skiing for the pure fun of it. Many passionate skiers have figured out how to enjoy the mountain experience even while supporting their athlete. A family like the Kellys, from Boulder, Colo., turns every one of their son Dylan’s ski races into a road trip. 

Darren and Dana both grew up taking big ski trips with their families—Darren driving from Texas to Colorado, Utah, or Wyoming to ski, and Dana taking week-long “Wedel” lessons in Europe from the military base in Germany where her dad was stationed. It was only natural for this skiing couple to raise their child on skis. “When Dylan was young, he didn’t have a choice because we were going skiing. But he was hooked immediately and loved it,” says Darren. “He’d see the kids racing at our local hill, Eldora, and say ‘I want to do that.’ It helped that his preschool was owned by (U.S. Ski Team member) Storm Klomhaus’ mom. When Storm came to the daycare, Dylan got to hear about how she traveled all over for ski races.”

Related: These Are the U.S. Ski Academies Grooming Future Olympians

Dylan developed solid ski skills with his parents before he entered the Eldora Mountain Ski Club’s junior race program at age 7. The race program gave him discipline and helped hone his technical and tactical skills in the gates, but it also enhanced his freeskiing. “It was really fun to race at other mountains and then go freeski with my family and friends,” says Dylan. “If you’re at another resort, you might as well ski.” His parents love the fact that with ski racing, unlike say, soccer, you can watch a race or practice and actually get to participate in the sport. “It’s the best thing ever for parents,” says Darren.

Ski race families
Another race, another chance to squeeze in some freeskiing laps, this time at Colo.’s Loveland Ski Area. (Photo: Aaron Dodds)

Darren and Dana both work at the University of Colorado and readily admit that ski racing is expensive. Dylan has never owned a new pair of race skis; in the ski racing community, it’s possible to get hand-me-down or borrowed skis from older racers. When traveling for races, the Kellys book lodging in advance, sometimes with other race families to split the cost. They always search for a buddy pass or discounted race parent tickets. They cook their own food instead of going to restaurants and they often tailgate in the parking lot or put a sandwich in their pocket for lunch. “We make choices to make it work because it’s our priority,” says Darren. “We sacrifice other things in life to ski.”

What the Kellys are doing is part of the art of the ski racing family, and it’s hardly a new concept. 

When Olympian Travis Ganong was growing up outside Palisades Tahoe, his family spent their winters traveling to their kids’ ski races. Travis’ parents, Rick and Janice Ganong, met on a UC Santa Barbara ski club trip. After Rick finished medical school, they settled in Tahoe so they could ski, and Rick could practice medicine. They had four kids, two who made the U.S. Ski Team. When their daughter Megan raced on the World Cup circuit, Rick  volunteered his time as a U.S. team doctor.  

“We were thrilled to go to these iconic places,” says Jan Ganong, recalling trips to Wengen, Garmisch, Beaver Creek, and Lake Louise.

“Neither of us wants to stand around at the bottom of a race and be nervous. So, we get up early and go skiing and get back in time to see the race. We want to be there to support Travis, but we also want to go skiing because we love it so much.”

Ski race families
The writer and her daughter, Trinity, who has also traveled on the youth racing circuit. (Photo: Aaron Dodds)

While ski racing has given the Ganong family the impetus to travel around the world, the Kelly family’s travel radius is significantly smaller than that of a World Cup  athlete. They make the most out of every experience, but some are more memorable than others—like the time it snowed several feet at Breckenridge and the entire event was canceled. The Kellys got in the lift line and snagged fresh tracks all morning.

“A bunch of kids and parents free-skied together all weekend and no one seemed upset by not racing,” says Darren. Dylan and his teammates skied fast and confidently, pointing their fat skis down the fall line, just like they learned to do in the race course. They whooped and hollered after each run, laughing and high-fiving in the lift line. 

In that moment, nothing else mattered—not the long drive, the early mornings, the car full of gear, the expense of traveling, the stress of competition—only family and friends sharing the pure joy of a serendipitous powder day, grateful to be in just the right place at just the right time.

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