Climbing into The Gondola at Winter Park, I thought I had the car all to myself.  But at the last minute, a young teenage girl climbed in with me.  She sported a sleek, lycra racing suit and carried long straight skis with her.

“I guess you’re racing today?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s a high school race.  I’m from Steamboat.”

Being only familiar with ski racing at the World Cup Level, I felt curious about what that was like.  I’d often thought if I had grown up in Colorado, I might have ski raced in school.

“So which races do you compete in?” I said.

“At the high school level, we only compete in GS and slalom.  Today we are racing in the the giant slalom.”

“Yeah, I could see those skis are a lot longer than what I ski on.  I’m guessing your slalom skis are a lot shorter.”

“They are.  I like the slalom better, because I like making the short turns.  Plus, today’s course is really long, almost a minute and a half.  It’s really tiring.”

“So do you race in groups like they do in the World Cup?” I asked.

I felt so ignorant of what this girl’s world was like compared to my midwestern upbringing.

“We have groups that we race in, and of course, we race twice.”

“How long does the entire race last?”

“Probably until 3 p.m.”

“Wow, that’s a long time.  I guess there are a lot of kids competing, then?”

“Yes, and not everyone is super fast.  To make sure the race is finished on time, they start you on the race course, before the previous person finished.  Sometimes, you end up passing the skier ahead of you.  Then you have to race again.”

“Oh my God, I never realized that could happen.  That must be really tiring to have to do it an extra time.”

“Yeah, it can be.”

With that, the Gondola reached the top.

“Good luck to you!” I yelled after the budding ski racer.

As I thought about our conversation, I realized some things I never knew before.  I guess ski racing in Colorado is a lot like Little League Baseball in other parts of the country.  It’s something that’s second nature to kids growing up here.  Everyone participates, whether you’re a future superstar or not.

In the spirit of that, kids race who maybe will ever be on a race team again after leaving high school.  But they get to be part of a team, part of a competition and have fun on the slopes, whether they are the fastest or not.

For some reason, as I continue my career teaching small children how to ski, that thought comforted me.  It doesn’t matter how quickly they get it, or how fast they go, what matters is they are putting themselves out there.