Who are the Lobos? You may ask yourself as a fan of sport, as a ski racer or a skier why do I care?
On Thursday, April 13 the Athletic Director of the University of New Mexico cut a 47-year old ski program that included both alpine and nordic ski programs for women and men.
So why should we care? We should be shocked that poor administrative decisions and budgeting are solved by cutting an athletic program – where the athletes pay the price. We should be outraged in an era of Title IX that a female athletic program is cast aside. We should be calling for accountability. And we should be demanding that any college or university puts athletes first. But as skiers and ski racers, we should be prepared to step up and fight hard for our ski racing programs.
We need to show, through overwhelming public reaction, that we care. We care about the athletes who made a commitment to the University of New Mexico, moved to Albuquerque and were ready to put four years of their lives into racing for their ski team and for their university …. to become Lobos.
We care about an NCAA ski system that has strength – which it does – with the growing interest in the Eastern Collegiate Ski Association, with new institutions working hard to join, with athletes at a wider number of colleges and universities qualifying for the NCAA Finals, for the growing number of Carnivals. That we care about a robust Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, that has tremendous strength in the quality of competition.
We care about the well-being of our communities. That each NCAA Invitational or Carnival is an important part of the fabric of our ski family. They bring revenue and profile to host ski resorts and the surrounding hotels and restaurants. Red River Ski Area is the training venue for the UNM Lobos and is the host resort for the UNM Invitational. The ski area is owned by Drew Judycki, a young skier from Massachusetts who first came to New Mexico as a college student. The reach of each NCAA Invitational and the broad international following of NCAA ski racing puts ski resorts on the map, has significant economic impact and builds tremendous pride.
The skiing community cares about instilling excellence in our youth and skiing student-athletes across the US lead the NCAA. Skiing student-athletes hold the highest ranking for all NCAA sports nationally (by quite a wide margin). The Lobos Ski Team are ranked at the top in academics at UNM — the women’s team has a collective 3.9 GPA, while the men own a mark of 3.6.
Note: in chart above, MSK is men’s skiing; WSK is women’s skiing
We care that NCAA skiing is now confirmed as a viable pathway to international excellence in alpine and cross country. The number of athletes that call themselves NCAA student-athletes or have graduated from NCAA skiing and are members of National Teams and compete in Olympic, World Championship or World Cup events, has never been higher. The list is impressive, led by 2017 World Championship bronze medalist Lief-Kristian Haugen (Denver) and the USA’s top slalom skier and 10th in the 2017 Championships in GS – David Chodounsky (Dartmouth). Other NCAA alumni who are making their mark on the world stage are from New Mexico (Joonas Rasinen 2013 NCAA SL Champion), Vermont (2017 European Cup overall winner Kristina Riis-Johannessen), Colorado (David Ketterer), Utah (Mark Engel), Westminster (Gulio Bosca). A similar list of exceptional athletes comes from cross country. (here is a link to a story in Faster Skier which captures the human cost and potential loss to US sport in Nordic skiing: http://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/after-the-podium-brenna-egan-and-the-human-cost-of-cutting-skiing/)
Over the past decade, the quality of athlete competing in NCAA skiing has lifted to the point where it is viable to race for four years, gain maturity and strength and return to a National Team and be competitive at the highest level. “The NCAA pathway makes a lot of sense”, David Chodounsky told me at Copper Mountain this past November. “It gave me time to mature physically, which I needed. So when I graduated, I had my degree and I was ready both physically and mentally to make a long-term commitment to ski racing excellence.” For those who are keen on stats, Chodounsky scored his first World Cup points at 27.
But where we, in the alpine ski racing community, should really care, is the broad impact of NCAA racing on our system in North America. The robust NCAA programs ensure the Nor-Am Tour is a viable and healthy step for all young athletes as they aim for the highest levels. The competition, the point profile, the diversity of nations and skill strengthen the Nor-Am, making the step to National Teams and beyond substantively more robust. We need a strong NCAA system to keep the Nor-Am strong.
It has been put forward that “there are now less than 35 ski programs that compete in NCAA”. This leaves a false impression. In fact, NCAA skiing has been growing with several schools clamoring to be added. The western conference (RMSIA) has seen Alaska survive a budget scare through public support for the program. Westminster is joining this season. Certainly, some schools do only offer partial programs, as several compete only in alpine or nordic. But this is not a relevant reason to discontinue a program, nor is the fact the team trains at a location 3 hours away from campus – in the nearby mountains – this is a reality all ski racers face throughout their careers.
Yes, it “only” affects 18 athletes, but this decision – if it stands – makes it very challenging for any of these athletes to maintain a high performance program or compete on the NCAA circuit without coaching or team support.
We need our National Ski Associations, regional and provincial programs, all ski clubs, athletes and parents to step up and show we care. As of last Thursday, we are all Lobos, to show our solidarity with the athletes, coaches and the families.
Sign the petition to show UNM we care about the Lobos Ski Team and NCAA skiing.
Link to petition: http://www.change.org/p/unm-board-of-regents-save-the-university-of-new-mexico-ski-team
The Daily Lobo: http://www.dailylobo.com/article/2017/04/17-unm-cuts-skiing
Ski Racing: http://www.skiracing.com/stories/new-mexico-to-discontinue-ncaa-mens-and-womens-skiing