The transition from Mighty Mite to U14 to U16 and beyond
For many of our families with younger athletes, what happens with our older athletes is a huge mystery. Thank you to Jeff James, Board Treasurer and parent to Aiden James (U16) for this insightful post on some of the differences that our athletes can look forward to as they transition to the older age categories.
Just like kids moving from Elementary School to Middle School, the transition from Mighty Mites to U14s is an exciting time for young racers as they feel more grown up and they get to start traveling more and competing in bigger races. Further changes are in order as racers transition from U14 to U16 although the U14 program is designed to ease racers into the junior ranks. Regardless, these changes are exciting times! However, there are also several changes that can be a bit confusing and overwhelming as well. Below is information about changes that come with this transition and other helpful information. Most of the info is geared toward new U14s with specific U16 info noted.
If your racer is not already registered with USSA, it will be necessary to sign up to compete in Junior races. This is important because it allows racers to start deducting points from the default 999 point total all racers start with. As a racers points drop, the result is more favorable start positions which all racers love! In addition, you will start to receive additional information about equipment changes, training opportunities and advice, and regular updates about what’s going on with the US Ski Team. You can sign up at ussa.org
This is probably the most visible part of transitioning from Mighty Mites to U14, especially from the young racer’s point of view. At SPAC, all U14s and up wear a jacket with green accent rather than orange accents. Jacket orders typically go in in the spring and sometimes in the early fall.
The U14 level is where equipment regulations first come into play. The good thing is that U14s have very few regulations and boys and girls have the same regulations. The primary rules for U14s deal with minimum ski length for slalom (130cm), and minimum turn radius (17m) for all other skis. Although many mighty mites have SL and GS specific skis, there may still be some that use a single pair of skis for all events. If that’s the case, they will need to purchase at least one pair of skis that meets the minimum turn radius for non SL events.
U16 racers have more defined equipment rules, although boys and girls still have the same regulations. Minimum ski length for SL remains 130cm. There is no minimum ski length for GS skis, but skis used for GS must have a minimum turn radius of 17m. For SG events, the minimum ski length is 183cm with a minimum turn radius of 30m. The SG rules also apply for downhill events.
Another change starting at the U14 level is that several athletes start using specific pairs of skis for training and racing. However, it is by no means required and plenty of successful racers on SPAC do not have separate pairs of skis. One of the best sources of information about skis is our SPAC coaching staff which sees the racers at both training and races all season and can provide input regarding equipment for a specific athlete.
This is one area where new investment may well be required. All athletes U14 and older must us helmets that meet the latest FIS regulations for GS, SG, and DH events. Helmets that meet the regulations have a non-removable sticker attached. Aside from the obvious safety benefits of the new helmets, the other good thing about this regulation is that you can continue to use older helmets in good condition for SL events and leave the chin bar attached, thus removing the need to add and remove chin bars every time training changes.
Racers that have low enough point totals (primarily second year U14s and up) may qualify for an elite pass. These passes cost more than the typical Stevens Pass season pass but allow the racer to ski at various mountains without the need to purchase an additional ticket. Races that honor elite passes include Mt. Spokane and the Sun Cup week at Mt. Bachelor. The point totals that are required for an elite pass change from year to year but are generally somewhere below 200. It is a good idea to check in the spring to see if a given racer is expected to qualify, then assess the likely travel schedule for the upcoming season.
Some Mighty Mites start attending camps as U12s, but many more begin just prior to the U14 level. SPAC typically runs a summer camp at Mt. Hood in late June, and a Junior camp for U16s and up during Thanksgiving week. The primary benefit of attending camps is that the instruction is daily and continuous. Skiing for several days back to back really helps to solidify changes in a racer’s skiing. For example, during the course of a 6 day camp, a racer get the equivalent training of three full weekends but with no time in between to forget what was learned the prior weekend. Several SPAC racers have dramatically improved their skiing and their enjoyment of the sport through attendance at camps.
As racers transition into the Junior program (U14 and up), the training becomes more focused and runs an hour longer than the typical Mighty Mite training day, concluding at 3pm. Most Juniors also train on either Thursday or Friday nights as well. The decision on how much to train is an individual one. At least 2 days (Saturday & Sunday) is preferred, but each family has to decide for themselves regarding additional training. In order for training to be effective, it needs to be targeted and consistent. If extra training during the week is causing your racer problems at school or they are unable to focus due to other commitments, mid-week training may not be the best thing. It can also be counterproductive if excess training is causing the racer to feel that skiing is becoming more like a job than something done for fun and excitement. Many racers naturally develop the desire for additional training as time goes on, but it’s best to let that desire be the driver of additional training as opposed to pushing the “need” for additional training.
Introduction to Speed
Although some races are starting to put together some easier SG events for U12s, the real introduction to speed begins at the U14 level. SPAC typically offers specific SG training at Christmas camp and two or three additional times during the season. These training sessions take place early in the morning, before Stevens Pass opens to the general public. Racers usually arrive at about 6:15am, meet at the SPAC shack at 6:45am, and board the lifts at7:00am for training that runs until about 8:45am. These training sessions are important to all athletes, especially new U14 racers, and attendance should be a priority.
The transition from Mighty Mites to Juniors is an exciting time that comes with many changes. The major changes are outlined here, but it is likely you have individual questions that pertain specifically to your racer and/or family. Feel free to reach out to Juniors coaches or racer parents with older racers that have been around for a few years and will be able to provide additional insight into racing at the U14 level and up.