By Lisa Densmore Ballard
NASTAR racers traveling to Steamboat later this month, or traveling anywhere to compete this season, know that hitting the gates can also hit the wallet. But what they may not know is that there are scholarship programs to help support dreams of gold.
Take Hailey Duke, a Ketchum local and Olympian who was sidelined last winter after shoulder and knee injuries, but hoped to compete at the U.S. Alpine National Championships in the east later that month if she could find the money. It would be her last major event before retiring at age 30 to go to college.
During the 2015 Phillips 66 Masters National Championships in Sun Valley, a roomful of random masters racers, most of whom had never met Duke donated $1,150 to send her to Nationals.
That’s just one example of how masters racers have helped fund the goals of not only U.S. Ski Team members, but athletes at every level, and for many years. Here’s a primer on two ways that juniors can hit pay day — or at least help pave the way to the podium.
Far West Scholarship Program
Since 1992, the Far West Masters Scholarship Program has awarded more than $1 million in support of aspiring Far West ski racers. In 2016, about $50,000 will be distributed to fund training and racing opportunities from regional to international levels. The program also administers the Jeff Wattenmaker Scholarship. Named for masters racer Jeff Wattenmaker, it’s a $10,000 stipend ($2,500 per year for four years) for collegiate ski racers.
“The money is important to these athletes, but it’s not the real value,” says Eddie Mozen, who oversees the Far West Masters Scholarship Program with fellow masters racers Miles Anderson and Doug Fulton. “Ski racing teaches kids how to be motivated. It develops kids who will contribute to society, the next doctors, lawyers. They see someone else supporting them besides mom and dad. They learn to work with sponsors. We have a code of conduct, too. If a kid messes up, he gets a year of probation. Most then become successful.”
Initially, the money for the Far West Masters Scholarship Program came from direct donations by masters racers. Over time, the program has incorporated such fundraisers as a season-long raffle for both ski-related and non-skiing products and services, and a dual race for masters and scholarship winners. The scholarship fund is also supported by an impressive list of sponsors, including ski manufacturers, clothing and gear companies and businesses outside the ski industry, such as wineries.
The scholarships are awarded based on financial need, ski racing potential and exemplary work ethic. There’s one more catch: the recipients must forerun a masters race and speak about their hopes and goals at the awards ceremony at the event.
Far West Scholarship winners have run the gamut from budding juniors to U.S. Ski Team members. Travis Ganong, Marco Sullivan, Tim Jitloff and Stacey Cook are among the World Cuppers who have received masters support through the scholarship program.
Today, they each give back to it, primarily by donating their extra U.S. Ski Team clothing, which either goes to a needy racer or gets auctioned off to raise money for the scholarship fund. Cook also coaches at the Far West Masters’ annual pre-season camp at Copper Mountain for 20 masters and 20 junior racers.
“The masters and juniors share rooms and hill space,” says Mozen. “They make relationships. The masters get to ski with some hot juniors, and for the juniors, at the end of the day, it’s more about the mentoring off the race hill than getting the cash.”
New England Masters Ski Racing Foundation
This is one of the newest scholarship programs, with the first three grants from the New England Masters Ski Racing Foundation (NEMSRF) awarded in 2014 to developing athletes Rylee McCormack, a student at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine; Quest Holding, a high school racer in Woodstock, Vt., with hopes of becoming a USSA competitor; and Mikayla Lathrop, a student at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont who was named to the U16 National Training Group.
NEMSRF’s goal is to create an endowment of $250,000 by 2019 for the support of New England racers age 18 and younger. This year, the three grants totaled $1,500 ($500 per athlete), modest compared to the Far West Program, but a start. And like the Far West program, the scholarship winners are encouraged to mix with masters racers, forerunning a masters race and attending the New England Masters’ year-end banquet.
“I coach a group of 60 kids, ages 8 to 12, at Mount Sunapee,” says Greg Gill, a longtime masters racer and NEMSRF president. “They’re contemplating if they want to ski race, do freestyle, or continue skiing as a life sport. This is a way for masters racers to help fill the pipeline with future racers, to put kids on the podium. The benefits are long-term and draw athletes into a program that breeds success.”
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