Scott Snow — what a great name for an alpine ski racer! And, Scott Snow just happens to be the youngest member of the US Men’s Alpine Ski Team. Sitting down with Scott’s father, Shep, over dinner during the Birds of Prey World Cup Ski Race, I asked him what it is like to have a son on the US Ski Team. What I discover during our conversation about the costs involved and sacrifices from the family shocks me.
Pay to the Order of the US Ski Team
Scott pays his own way on the team. In fact, only the top 5 or 6 athletes on the team don’t pay their own way. Shep writes a check to the US Ski Team for $22,000 per season. Not included in this price are any plane tickets home (from North America and Europe) during the season and a host of other, smaller expenses which will total about $5,000-6,000. For example, the athletes cook their own meals on the road. When cooking facilities or grocery stores aren’t readily available, the athletes eat out. An 18-year-old ski racer eats a couple of entrées in a European resort town after a day of training, and those bills add up quickly.
“Scott could have gone to Harvard — twice — for what we’ve spent on racing,” Shep says. Knowing they are not a rich family, I press him on how they paid and continue to pay these bills. Shep explains that the family follows a strict household budget as well as putting all bonuses, tax refunds and windfalls in the envelope. But personal savings are only a small part of the story.
“I always knew it was coming.”
Scott started skiing by himself at the age of 2. At the age of 4, his family moved to their current hometown of Sagle, ID. Scott skied 140 days that year. In fact, Scott stopped attending traditional school in 5th grade, opting for homeschooling and spending over 130 days per year skiing with Shep. Let me emphasize that point again; Scott stopped attending regular school in 5th grade to ski and train during his childhood. That’s how much work Scott put into his ski racing before joining the US Ski Team.
Early on, Shep earned his USSA coaching license, allowing Scott (and his older sister, Bonnie) to race as “Independents” rather than join an expensive and structured ski racing club. When he was 7, Scott won his first national championship at the NASTAR finals in Beaver Creek. Given his talent and dedication, the family knew Scott would likely have a career as a ski racer.
“I want to go fast”
At the age of 14, Scott firmly decided to pursue a career as a racer, aiming for the World Cup and the Olympics. At that point, the family redirected his college savings toward the expenses associated with racing, including travel and race entry fees. Seeing Bonnie enjoying great success with school as well as developing a strong interest in military service gave the family hope that her college expenses would be covered (Scott’s other two siblings are out of college). Sure enough, Bonnie received a full ride with academic and Army ROTC scholarships to Montana State University, where she currently studies Chemical Engineering.
“The bottom line is that if Bonnie hadn’t received an ROTC scholarship to college, Scott would not be on the US Ski Team,” Shep continues. “We never told Scott that his goal was unattainable. He is very aware of the sacrifices made by other family members, but we never want to ladle on the guilt. Let’s just say that our family weighs expenses a little differently than others.”
Of course, Scott also contributes. He works all summer (he has two jobs) besides being available for all sorts of odd jobs like landscaping, minor construction and selling firewood in his hometown of Sagle, ID. Being able to squat 500 lbs certainly has its advantages in the job market! Scott also sells his old ski gear, contributing his earnings to the envelope.
“We really receive wonderful support from gear manufacturers,” Shep enthuses. “As he’s gotten older and faster, sponsors now offer him everything he needs from long underwear, socks, back protectors, helmets and goggles to skis. I think Atomic has given him $16,000 in skis per year! Plus, we never could have done it without the help of the T2 Foundation. In fact, I know World Cup athletes who would not be there right now if the Foundation had not helped out. We also receive all kinds of support from generous friends, family and local businesses.”
“The greatest ski racer in the world has probably never put a pair on,” quips Shep.
This is where the story of Scott’s racing success diverges a bit from the many similar stories of young, successful athletes and their families. While coaching Scott and Bonnie when both were young, Shep quickly became aware of a number of other local kids who were interested in ski racing. Skiing is an expensive sport and most of these kids could barely afford a season pass, much less membership in a USSA ski club. Shep knew many folks and businesses were willing help out good kids. So, he went from coaching Scott and Bonnie as “Independents” to founding and coaching the Independence Racing Team in 2000.
“You’d be amazed what you can make happen,” he exclaims when he speaks about the Independence Racing Team. The team is made up of “blue collar kids” who wouldn’t normally have the money to ski race. In the US, ski racing is normally reserved for kids from wealthier families. “We don’t bother with uniforms or any of that unnecessary stuff,” Shep says. “And the kids work during the summer at fundraisers to earn enough money so that they can race during the winter.”
So what started out as a way to reduce the cost of Scott and Bonnie’s ski racing became a full-fledged USSA alpine racing team. The Independence Racing Team boasts over 85 alumni, 100 USSA medals, and 5 Junior Olympians in only 12 years! Shep is currently the full time director and coaches kids 6-14 years old five days a week.
While the Snow family story is one of great successes and sacrifices, it’s also an incredible story of generosity. The Snows didn’t just support Scott; they supported many aspiring athletes – who would not have had the chance to race otherwise – and opened up the sport of alpine ski racing in the process.
What’s happening now
Having finished High School last spring, Scott continues racing for the US Ski Team on the long climb upward toward World Cup and Olympic racing (read how this is done in this excellent blog post by Shep). He heads back to Europe later this winter, finishing up his season at speed events here in the US. You can follow his personal blog here and his racing here.
The Snows (including Scott who is en route to the World junior Alpine Ski Championships in Italy) will be at Bryce Resort over the Presidents’ Day weekend.
A personal note
Scott learned how to ski at Bryce Resort — on Kent’s old red plastic skis. We’ve watched Scott grow and are deeply proud of his athletic accomplishments. We are prouder still of the kind, fun, thoughtful young man he’s become over the years. Knowing how much it means to Scott to have the opportunity to race on the US Ski Team and how much his mother, father and siblings support him, we’ve also made a commitment to support him. If you would like to contribute to Scott via the Independence Racing Team, follow this link.