MyXC (Minnesota Youth Ski League) was founded in 1993 with a team of volunteers that included former US Ski Team Coach, Steve Gaskill. It's now the largest youth cross-country skiing program in the country, with over 3000 kids, ages 4-13, skiing in 45 community-based clubs that span the entire Midwest. The League offers a unique "club-in-a-box" model, where everything one needs to start a youth ski club or program is provided (insurance, non-profit status, SafeSport training and compliance, 8-week curriculum with six skill levels, bibs, hats, equipment, volunteer incentives, etc). This model allows a few volunteers to easily get a club off the ground in their community and sustain it, by sharing the structured and well-defined roles within the club.
Our most famous alumni is Jessie Diggins, who skied for years at the MyXC club at Willow River State Park. But even though we are capable of creating Olympic Gold Medalists, our primary goal is to create life-long skiers.
MyXC: Creating Life-long skiers
It sounds simple, but it's not as easy as one might think. The right exposure at the right time and the engagement of families and the community are critical.
The the three most important factors are:
1. Gradual exposure to the skills, complexity, time/family commitments,
and expenses of the sport.
2. "Ski for Sport" programs during the skill development window of 9-13 years old.
With entry between 9 - 11 being optimal.
3. Staying in a program or club through growth spurts and beyond.
The pathway for gradual exposure is Ski for Fun. Ski for Sport. Ski for Life.
MyXC's "Ski for Fun" program is SkiSparks (for ages 4-13). It sparks a passion for cross-country skiing, engages families, and creates community. Cost and time commitment are low. Equipment investment is relatively small and low maintenance. But we also ask parents to volunteer. Our game-based curriculum can turn a parent-with-skis into a youth coach. Involving parents as volunteers (coaching or non-coaching) when the tasks are simple set up a club's volunteer base. SkiSparks meetings are not "lessons", they are club-based community events. When the family is involved, a child will likely continue skiing. And with lots of parents around, there's support for kids whose parents can't make the commitment.
"Ski for Sport" programs like MyXC's Skiwerx, teach skiing as a sport and focus on training and racing skill development. Most other sports have this phase (think soccer for 9-13 year olds), but skiing, especially in the Midwest, has lacked it. Skiers at this level ski for 12-14 weeks per winter, pay a higher program fee (for certified coaches), own or rent waxable classic and skating skis, and get to try racing.
If a child has been in a SkiSparks club, joining Skiwerx is a natural progression. The family knows their child enjoys skiing, they have been volunteering and enjoying the ski community, and they are willing to commit more time and money.
Why 9-13 is Important?
The answer is physical, psychological, financial, educational and social. Children are skill sponges at this age. Most sports start specialized programming at ages 9-11. Because skills are so much easier to acquire in this window, kids have a more positive experience in the sport and identify as ski racers. This is socially important as peers start to identify with other sports. And parents need to see a transparent and integrated structure so they feel comfortable and enthusiastic about dedicating more time, effort, and money. Programs start educating parents and skiers about the sport, its worldwide culture, appropriate events (racing formats and distances), memberships, waxing, facilities, governing bodies, etc. It's crucial to do this in Skiwerx (or similar program), before things get more expensive and complicated in the junior years.
Staying on Track
The idea of MyXC is to introduce skills before a child's growth spurt. But it is critical that the community keep that child skiing for at least 1-2 years after their growth spurt, too. For girls, that's at least 15, and for boys about 17. These years are focused on using the skills acquired during the skill development window to develop an aerobic and strength base. Consolidating skills and competence will give the skier the confidence they need to be healthy, active adults.
Want to Learn More?
SkiPost: In your experience with MYSL, what are the most important factors when it comes to retaining young athletes? What are the key elements in fostering returning participation by both parents and athletes
Education of the parents (or grandparents) and caregivers is key. For a beginning ski family, this has to do with how to dress, what to expect on the trails, where to buy your ski pass, tips for staying warm, properly fitting equipment, the importance of volunteering, etc.
Experienced skiing parents also need to be trained on how to coach young children, how games work to teach technique, why classic skiing is so important, and why its appropriate for young skiers to race short distances!
And the skiers need to have fun. We do this through a games-based curriculum, grouping skiers with peers, and recruiting Junior Coaches (teenagers) to engage the kids with lots of energy..
SkiPost: What suggestions or recommendations would you have for a motivated volunteer in a smaller community who would like to create or boost their local youth ski club?
Give us a call and we can get you started! Our clubs range in size from 12 to 180 kids and can be in any state.
We've also created a MyXC online SafeSport volunteer training program and we are an inexpensive source of liability insurance for youth programs within larger clubs.
SkiPost: Parent education and buy-in seems integral at MYSL, have you had to overcome any struggles or learned any lessons in how to make parent/caretakers' involvement streamlined?
We actively try to resist a culture of a "drop off" program. We don't want parents to leave and do errands during club time. We do not use the term "lesson", for example. Our clubs are completely volunteer run. If you want a lot of volunteers at the youth level, then most families need to volunteer. We had over 900 registered and trained volunteers last year and we are very proud of that.
We also clearly define the volunteer roles that are necessary to run a youth ski club. We have ten defined roles (smaller clubs can have one person doing multiple roles). This way, the volunteer knows exactly what their responsibilities will be and they get satisfaction from filling a critical need. The MyXC staff (there are two of us) and the clubs collaborate to refine these roles.
We've added two new roles for the upcoming season; a Director; to help with administrative details and attendance, which will be very important for Covid-19 tracing. And an Outreach Coordinator; to expose skiing to more diverse populations within the community. The beauty of our league is now we have an Outreach Coordinator in every club (45 of them!). And they can share their knowledge to strengthen everyone's experience.