The concept for the updated age-appropriate course setting rules initiated in recent years is to establish course setting dimensions that will support and reinforce the skill development targets that will best prepare athletes for competition later in their racing career. They take into account numerous factors, including skier's physical development, cognitive abilities, varying maturation rates, and equipment. The guidelines were also evaluated against children's rules applied internationally.
Here are some key concepts:
Competition should validate training. And training should focus on age-appropriate skill development that prepares skiers for the future demands of racing.
Variety is important. Children should train over a variety of turn radii and turn shapes. Many coaches felt constricted by the new rules, but in fact there is still a large range to work to develop skilled, versatile racers. Kombi is excellent in this regard, and is used for children's racing internationally.
Shorter can be better. Short courses have many advantages over long courses for young racers, particularly for phases 3 and younger in the Alpine Training System. Young racers can concentrate on the task all the way through a shorter course. Time differentials are smaller, meaning more racers feel that they are in touch with the leader and all racers are pushed to race at high intensity. Physiologically, the lactate system is not developed in skiers until after puberty, so they cannot race at the same physical intensity over a long course as an older racer would. Finally, shorter courses can mean more repetition. Take a traditional full length hill and break it into two or three courses and you may double or triple the productive repetition your skiers receive. Shorter course on race day makes the event run faster, so skills competition can be integrated or extra time is available for freeskiing.
Shorter is the world standard. While distances between gates at the elite levels and junior levels internationally have shortened, particularly in GS and SL, the U.S. has been slower to adapt to these changes.
There is a logical progression as racers get older and gain experience. The standards are designed to prepare athletes for the next level. An 80 pound skier on 140cm multi-event skis on a 27 meter distance GS course will be using timing and techniques much closer to that of super G for a full-size skier. To practice skills the skier will use for GS in the future, they must use shorter distances.
Some traditional race venues do not meet the needs of young skiers. The updated rules are designed for shorter courses, as reflected in the vertical drop maximums. Coaches should work with their home ski area to ensure the venue is appropriate for the age and level of race.
For a great reference on course setting based on each developmental phase, click here.