The Midwest may seem like an unlikely source of ski racing talent, but the sport’s current superstar, Lindsey Vonn, started racing in Minnesota. Her original home hill, not mountain, Buck Hill ski area near Minneapolis, actually has produced several Olympians.
Even considering the lack of vertical, the Midwest region does not lack passion for the sport. While Midwesterners are among the many destination skiers, they also ski close to home. Like Vonn, Midwest kids grow up learning to ski on their hometown hills, then skiing and riding on local race teams.
Although Wilmot Mountain near Chicago and Milwaukee is also really more of a hill at 230 vertical feet, the Wisconsin ski area features another thriving race program for kids.
Ranging from 8 to 18 years old, about 60 youngsters take part in the junior racing program. Of those 60, about 20 juniors take their sport quite seriously, according to Gary Lieder, Wilmot’s snowsports school leader. Practice times run for 4 hours on Saturdays and Sundays, plus a couple of evenings per week on a lighted course. Wilmot also has a Mighty Mite program on Sundays for little aspiring racers, ages 6 to 8. Some dedicated team members even go to Mount Hood in Oregon for an annual summer training camp.
“Racing here is a big thing and we put a lot of resources into it to make it successful,” says Lieder. In fact, Wilmot has one slope almost exclusively dedicated to racing. Many of the coaches have collegiate racing experience. “The coaches come from all walks of life professionally and they have a passion for racing and so they want to pass that on to young people,” Lieder says.
Racers from Wilmot and other ski areas around the Midwest compete in slalom and giant slalom events at a series of races. Numerous Midwest venues such as Chestnut Mountain, Cascade Mountain and Tyrol Basin host races. A select few skiers each year even advance to national junior races.
Other options for Midwest youth to join local racing leagues include the following:
- Caberfae Peaks in Michigan operates a program for Cadillac area community schools on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
- Afton Alps in Minnesota offers seven leagues that operate for eight weeks for all ages. There is also a Tuesday night race clinic available to brush up your skills.
- The Hurricane Racing Team operates youth camps in the fall and winter seasons in Colorado, Oregon AND the upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Kids with a passion for skiing can hone their skills no matter the vertical of their home mountain and go on to enjoy the sport for many years and can even continue to race at an amateur or professional level.
Much like Vonn who moved to the Rockies in her teens, some of most promising racers do outgrow the Midwest and earn scholarships to private prep schools with ski programs in the East. According to Wilmot’s head coach and program director Bob Robicsek, three Wilmot racers are now at Gould Academy in Maine and another two attend Stratton Mountain School in Vermont. Several program alumni now race in the collegiate ranks at schools such as Babson College, Castleton State College of Vermont and Bates College.
Wilmot also hosts an enthusiastic group of adult racers who train two nights a week. For racers with special needs, the ski area hosts an annual Special Olympics race that draws a strong showing of participants and volunteers.
We’d love to hear from other Midwesterners about other programs! Are you or your kids a future gold medal winner coming out of a Midwest race program?
Great article Eric….I’m a big fan of anyone who supports and pays acclaim to the rippers that come out of the midwest. I grew up in Indiana, and there is something to be said for the many great athletes the midwest manages to cultivate overall. With regards to ski racing, I imagine much of it may be the less than ideal access to sub standard training grounds that breeds such capable kiddos on sticks, accompanied with little people who aspire to one day branch out & enjoy some of the most fantastic experiences/places the world has to offer. I imagine there is an innate sense of appreciation from the start from kids that grow up there, along with their parents who make such efforts to expose them, and coaches who have such a visceral passion for the sport & love nothing more than finding those diamonds in the rough.
I love that you chose to write about those hidden hubs that are often the foundation & creation of great sports & athetes. I look forward to your next article & following your work going forward.