January 18, 2006

U.S. Ski Association Going Downhill: The controversy over Bode Miller's remark about skiing "wasted" has exposed a fissure between the free-spirited American ski-town culture that produces champions like Miller and the increasingly corporate face of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, lil_brown_bat writes in her latest SportsFilter column.

posted by rcade to other at 09:28 AM - 19 comments

You paint a really nice picture of the ski-bum life here:

In the United States, the largest part of skiing culture is also the least visible part. The segment that gets the attention is the glamorous world of fashionistas and slope-side condos, valet parking at the base lodge, Lexus SUVs, five-star restaurants, six-dollar beers and seven-figure salaries. This is the image that most people have of skiing, but it's not where you'll find the roots of most American ski racers. They come instead from the world of the lifties, the instructors, the bartenders and waiters, the guys who run the snow guns and drive the groomers, and all the small-town folks for whom the mountain towns are home. It is a world that is all but invisible to those who don't inhabit it -- but the people in it know their own, even when one of them is raised to international prominence.

I don't think enough Americans appreciate the greatness of Miller, though I hope he takes a bunch of gold home from Torino to remind them.

posted by rcade at 09:40 AM on January 18, 2006

Very nice article l_b_b. Thanks for giving me a good reason to avoid work for an all too brief period. They come instead from the world of the lifties, the instructors, the bartenders and waiters, the guys who run the snow guns and drive the groomers Hey, what about us ski rental dudes? Without us, there would've been ill-waxed skis, dull edges and bindings set waaay off for your weight. It would've been an orgy of broken legs without us. Unless you were mean to us.

posted by NoMich at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2006

Frank DeFord had a terrific piece on NPR this morning.

posted by yerfatma at 10:36 AM on January 18, 2006

I have bartended in a ski-resort town for seven years. Cant tell you how many times we would stop for a few beers between runs. Around here we worry more about avalanches and oil-drilling(in the shadow of the Tetons no less,ugh) than a drink or two. Tho, come to think of it, almost every one I know, knows someone with a DUI. Hmm....good thing I dont drive. Much love for lifties, groomers, rental guys(I own my own gear), waitresses(my favorites know who they are), movie ticket window guy, bartenders, the guy who always has something to "burn", good dogs and hi-speed quad detachable chairlifts with those nice cushions. Go big or go home.

posted by GoBirds at 10:39 AM on January 18, 2006

A nice article. It gave this midwest guy, who has never skiied, some insight inot the wolrd of Skiing. Thanks for taking the time to write about something that you surely love.

posted by daddisamm at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2006

This may be specific to my browser but there is some broken HTML here. At the phrase called Miller's comment's "unacceptable" The href property inside the preceding "a" tag does not have a closed quote; on my browser here at work that makes the text above disappear and renders the rest of the article as a (broken) link. Difficult to read. Can somebody fix it?

posted by Amateur at 11:22 AM on January 18, 2006

1. Really nice article; I immediately recognized the subculture you're talking about. I know a lot of Duluth-area folks who live the lifestyle, with fat-tired bikes subbing in for skis (and snowboards) during the summer. I always think it'd be a cool world to live in. 2. The Frank Deford bit that yerfatma links to was so awesome that, when I heard it, I started pumping my fist and yelling "fuck, yeah, Deford!" to my steering wheel.

posted by cobra! at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2006

Excellent piece lbb! The writing was crisp and passionate and your points well articulated. Very enjoyable read and caused me to get my dander up about how Marolt's vision for "corporate excellence" conflicts with the nature of the talent that really makes the U.S. Ski Team go. I say right-on Bode, screw the corporate czar crap. Just win!

posted by skydivedad at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2006

Amateur: I fixed the link. Let me know if it renders properly.

posted by rcade at 11:31 AM on January 18, 2006

Yeah! Thanks rcade.

posted by Amateur at 11:32 AM on January 18, 2006

OK, now to the piece. Beautiful work lbb and I think you are right on about a whole bunch of stuff. But aren't you damning Marolt based on a single incident? What has life been like for Bode Miller in the big picture? the world's best will fail to thrive under a regime that punishes outspokenness and rewards a sterile and safe conformity So the USSA "punishes outspokenness" and "rewards conformity?" Based on what? The whole 60 Minutes flap is a mystery to me, I'll admit. But I don't see any evidence that the USSA's reaction was about making Miller conform, or taming his outspokenness. They didn't force Miller to tell the world that he'd stop partying, and he didn't apologize for drinking. All he did, really, was make it clear that he doesn't condone racing while drunk -- and presuming that's true, what principle has he compromised by saying so? And I don't really see how Miller's 60 Minutes comments could be called "outspokenness." He wasn't criticizing the USSA's code of behaviour; he was asked about his partying and whether it has ever interfered with his performance, and he answered the question. Is that what you call speaking out? In support of or against ... what, exactly? Earlier this winter Miller got into a whole different pile of shit when he more or less told everybody that they should relax a little bit about doping, that maybe a system that imposes lifetime bans for cold medications has gone over the line just a little bit. He even went so far as to suggest that EPO would make skiing safer, if it was legal. And those comments were repeated (or expanded upon) several times, including the 60 Minutes interview. My point is not to criticize Miller -- actually this is a debate worth having and some of these things need to be said. It's an excellent example of Bode Miller being an outspoken athlete, and good for him. But although some individuals within the corporation were disgruntled by Miller's comments, to say the least, the USSA did ... nothing. Miller's outspokenness on that issue was not punished, was it? I know that you have criticized the USSA for a code of conduct that is hypocritical and unrealistic. I know that ski racers around the world like to party (as do most athletes, I would add) and I agree that the USSA should have a reasonable policy about alcohol use by its adult athletes. But as far as enforcing some kind of "safe and sterile conformity" amongst the athletes, I think that the USSA is probably smart enough to recognize that the counterculture image of its best skiers and snowboarders is actually good for business. If Miller and the USSA part ways, it won't be because he's pushed out by the "marketing wonks."

posted by Amateur at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2006

Great article l_b_b. That is the one thing I dislike about Olympics and pro sports...God forbid anyone says anything that goes against the "corporate image". Amateur makes some good points in their 12:53 p cst post; but it all comes down to the same thing... conform or ultimately you won't get to play. You can't make a square peg fit a round hole. I wish Bode the best and hope he brings home all the gold he can! That will quiet the critics.

posted by steelergirl at 01:06 PM on January 18, 2006

Great article...check. Bike shorts...in the mail. Nice job, l_b_b.

posted by The_Black_Hand at 01:29 PM on January 18, 2006

Aw jeez guys...you're making me blush. Really. Thanks so much for your kind words; I really respect y'all's opinion, and praise from these particular sources means a great deal to me. Thanks. yerfatma, thanks for posting the DeFord link. I heard just the tail end of it this AM, and thought it was great stuff. Amateur, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I may be using artistic license to create a false dichotomy. Put it this way, I sure wasn't a fly on the wall during any conversations with Miller and the Powers That Be. It is the case that Miller was given an ultimatum, however, that involved getting with the program, or getting out of the program(source: men's head coach Phil McNichol, in comments quoted by Ski Racing's Nate Vinton). I agree that the US Ski Team is aware of the value of the wild-and-wooly image; OTOH, Bill Marolt said that his phone was ringing off the hook with angry sponsors on the other end, and cited that as a justification for his crackdown. He didn't name any of those sponsors, so I wonder if Marolt isn't possibly doing a Usenet ("lots of people have sent me email saying that they agree with me"). Or he could just be reaping the inevitable rewards of a thankless job in which you can please nobody, and I'm just another armchair critic taking potshots at him for the crime of not being able to please everyone. Anyway, it was fun to write, and thanks again for all your kind words.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 03:42 PM on January 18, 2006

Excellent article, Miz bat.

posted by chicobangs at 04:34 PM on January 18, 2006

it was fun to write That shows!

posted by Amateur at 09:57 PM on January 18, 2006

Great article. It's nice to see your passion come out in this way. I have never really paid attention to this sport but you personally are opening my limited eyes and I appreciate it. It is a big world out there and there is always something to learn. Thank You!!!

posted by skydivemom at 04:41 PM on January 19, 2006

Great article LBB... Although for the past year I had envisioned you as a guy.... Ain't the internet a strange place? It's a curious situation to be sure, but the Olympians do also represent the country they're from, and that should most likely have some sort of standards of conduct. I think if you were to compare the US program to others around the world, we are probably one of the more lightly regimented programs. The only flipside of this is that it's so hard to get press for these guys that this kind of press can only be good for Skiing. But I think in any other sport, if a current athelete came out and claimed to be "wasted" during play, they would be expected to clarify that statement. "Cots QB Manning claims he was 'wasted' in a game against the Vikings" Can you imagine that headline?? And even if the story is that he was so drunk Saturday that he was just hung over on Sunday, we expect more from atheletes. They're the ones who like to make that it's all about clean living and sacrifice... Miller has also made some comments that should give people pause when considering him for the team. "So whether somebody wants me to get five gold medals or whatever it is, I sort of feel like they’re all other people’s concerns and issues, not really mine." Would you want an employee who said well, making money is your goal, but I'm not really about that. The Ski asn. does have a responsability to field a team that will bring home as many medals as possible. I would be concerned if one of my Skiiers took such a lassiez-faire attitude towards it. Then to have him come out and publicly announce that he takes competition even less seriously that imagined... Bode Miller may have incredible talent... Would this be an issue if a marginal Skiier made the same comments and had been let go?? I'm thinking a few people would say, "Well, X wasn't that great a skiier, and when you see that he really didn't have the dedication..." It seems like on some level we're arguing that Miller's outstanding talent require that we apply some different standard of commitment and conduct. Were I in Marolt's shoes, I may well be thinking I'd rather have a team of 4 dedicated guys than the guys and a prodigy... From today's NYT: "But the party at the Londoner has been costly for American skiing. In 1997, the Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe was sidelined for most of the season after cutting his thumb on broken glass while trying to jump over the bar. In 2004, Rahlves got so sick afterward that he lost his advantage in the downhill standings. Rahlves had the flu, but he admitted that the Londoner experience had made him vulnerable, and made him commit afterward to reducing his in-season drinking." It would seem that the alcohol soaked culture in Skiing can be very detrimental to a team's performance. That would concern me if I had sponsors on the line for big money and it all hinged on Bode Miller not killing himself trying to ski "wasted". As a sponsor, what do you think when you hear that a guy you've invested a few Million in likes to go 90 MPH in dangerous conditions without all of his faculties. If he does kill himself acting foolish, do you want your logo on his helmet?? For those of us who will never even come close to being in the Olympics... Whay would you train so hard to get to the World Cup, and then sabotage your own performance when you lead after the most difficult stage? For a 28 year old Miller, I think this demonstrates a lack of maturity and the perspective that comes with it. Representing your country isn't a right, it's a privelage. Many of us would just be proud to be chosen. I'd rather see that opportunity go to someone who was willing to respect it, work for it, and would truly appreciate it. Finally, would you want your employees telling potential customers, "Yeah, well filling out orders when you're wasted isn't easy..." Miller is a PROFESSIONAL skiier, time to start acting professional about it. If that means he has to be a borderline alcoholic to do so, maybe we should see how that part of the skiing culture can be changed. Homophobia and Racism have been rampant in Football... Is that just part of the "tradition"?? Should we not censure NFL players who make anti-gay comments because we can't alienate the best players... Should we just accept steroids as part of the culture, or even drugs? Hey get used to it, the NFL is a bunch of multi-millionaires with friends in the ghetto. Pete Rozelle is just trying to make football "corporate"... Cocaine is a part of the NFL culture. Yes, Miller should have apologized. I'm farnkly more concerned at his lack of respect for the sport than anything else. It's something I think he'll regret later in life too.

posted by LostInDaJungle at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2006

As a sponsor, what do you think when you hear that a guy you've invested a few Million in likes to go 90 MPH in dangerous conditions without all of his faculties. As a sponsor, you might begin by checking your facts, such as what Miller meant by "wasted" and what he had to say about drinking the night before a downhill (i.e., he doesn't do it). I suspect that's what Miller's sponsors did, and they're not perturbed in the least. If he does kill himself acting foolish, do you want your logo on his helmet?? As I already explained in the FPP thread on this topic, Miller was never in the least danger of killing himself. He was on a closed course, racing slalom, with a hangover, and he came very close to winning the race. Someone who is skiing on the edge of killing himself does not win a World Cup slalom. Finally, would you want your employees telling potential customers, "Yeah, well filling out orders when you're wasted isn't easy..." Miller is not an employee of the US Ski Team. They do not provide him with a single dollar in compensation. Miller is a PROFESSIONAL skiier That depends on how you define "professional". He does not earn a salary from anyone. He has sponsors, and when he finishes in the top ten, he wins prize money. Yes, Miller should have apologized. I'm farnkly more concerned at his lack of respect for the sport than anything else. It's something I think he'll regret later in life too. Clearly you've never been in Kitz for the Hahnenkamm. If you hate the presence of alcohol, or the idea of people having a beer after a race or a game, then probably ski racing is not a sport you want to follow. Baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey...they're all good.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 04:38 PM on January 20, 2006

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