Skiing Life After High School

by Allie Rykken
February 10, 2023

To the High School Skier who Didn’t Make State,

The Minnesota State High School League is a big deal. Or at least it feels like that. There’s a ton of time and energy and passion that goes into it, from the athletes to coaches to parents and administrators and bus drivers, the list goes on. And don’t get me wrong, I gained a lot from being on a Nordic Ski team in high school. The community and connection of teammates, mentorships from coaches, fitness and all the social emotional learning that comes from setting goals and going after them, the trip and race experiences were all teachable and wonderful parts of my development as an athlete and person.

Here comes the “but.” But. I can’t help but feel every year around Sections the energy - the intensity, the dreams, the disappointment. In high school, I both made it to State and didn’t make it to State. I have a lot of feelings of solidarity toward all the skiers that train hard all year long, and don’t quite make that State meet. It’s a huge bummer. I don’t mean don’t make things feel important, because having passionate goals are important too, but I hope we can all recognize the need to put a greater emphasis on all of the reasons to ski besides winning or qualifying. I also don’t mean to take away anything from the incredible humans that did make it, and this next message goes to everyone.

I want to throw it out there: Skiing life after high school only gets better.

This is just my experience, but I don’t think it’s so uncommon. By the end of high school, I was burned out on skiing. I had skied my whole life and my feelings were hurt that I wasn’t skiing as fast as I thought I “should” be, so I went to college and tried all sorts of alternative sports: fitness classes, cycling, triathlons, swimming, rock climbing. As winter came, I decided that maybe I could ski a little bit, but no racing and certainly not skate skiing. I joined the U of M Ski Club where we took a weeklong trip to Cable to ski on the Birkie trails, and we lived and breathed skiing, eating, sleeping, playing weird cabin games and cards, ski games where the tackling and diving was comparable to rugby, and by the end of the week, I had been talked into skiing the Seeley Hills Classic, and the long one at that. I thought I was done racing, who needed it, but this 42K was intriguing, different. The challenge of a long adventure through the majestic hills and trees of Northern Wisconsin won me over. It took me a long, long time. I believe I stopped halfway and told my mother that I didn’t want to do the second half, but I finished and at the end, my whole team was waiting for me and screaming at me like I’d never screamed at before to finish this race as strong as I could. And I was hooked. I went to a race almost every weekend that year, because the team - my friends - went, the ski community itself was kind and fun and encouraging, and I mean who doesn’t want to ski a race where you could win a rosemaled ax next to Paul Bunyon? The potential is exhilarating.

Since then, I do continue to race the citizen races, although it isn’t the primary reason I ski. I ski because I like the way my body feels doing it. I like gliding up and down hills and around winding trails in the woods. I like that every ski outing is different, even if it’s on the same trail. I realized that maybe back in high school, it wasn’t that I wasn’t fast - maybe I wasn’t fast at 5Ks. Maybe all those years of hard work take time to see pay off. Maybe my body was still catching up after working hard to grow. There’s an article I read recently that included the concept of health vs. fitness, particularly in female athletes. Maybe trying to train six days a week, in addition to maintaining a high academic standard and social calendar, was not the prime answer for my health.

And it’s not just racing. Skiing can be so many things. It can be a trip to a yurt on the Gunflint Trail. It can be skiing through Wirth Park or any of the wonderful parks that populate the Twin Cities area. It can be skiing down your street after a big snowstorm. It can be volunteering at your local MyXC club. It can be going to the Luminary Loppet. It can be finding a quiet singletrack in the woods, or punching out a workout with hundreds of others at a man-made loop. I am personally just discovering long lists of ski trails in Minnesota alone that I’ve never even heard of in my 30+ years of skiing. There are many ski clubs to join, but the Twin Cities Ski Club is one that tickles me the most. One example of why: during their fitness testing in the fall, they also added personality testing and grouped people based on certain personality characteristics. How delightful is that?

I love skiing in my mid-30s so much more than I did as a high schooler, and I really loved skiing back then. The pressure of results-driven performance resulted in me loving it a lot less. To all of you feeling discouraged this week, I hope you can remember why you like skiing aside from the results on a page. Find your why and I can guarantee that you will have a lifetime of wonderful skiing experiences.

A skier in her mid-thirties who sees you working hard and dreaming big - keep going!